Though we’re usually pretty hesitant to share weight loss tips in a blog post (a healthy and sustainable approach to losing weight can vary significantly between people—it’s very much based on bio-individuality and lifestyle!), over 70% of American adults are overweight or obese, and a healthy approach to weight loss is certainly a topic that’s relevant to many of us.
In general, the simple elements of a healthy lifestyle can significantly aid in weight loss and weight management:
- Consuming real, whole foods (emphasizing plenty of fruits & veggies!)
- Limiting processed foods, sugars & refined carbs
- Maintaining an active lifestyle
- Getting enough quality sleep
- Drinking enough water
- Managing stress levels & doing things you enjoy
- Nurturing healthy relationships
The challenge is that, with busy lifestyles, not all of these things happen all the time. And, when the body is out of balance for enough time, hormonal changes start to influence how we store food as fat, and how easily we’re able to use excess fat as fuel (aka lose weight).
Intermittent fasting is a “bio-hack” that’s become popular in the health community recently. Though it sounds like a fad diet (stay away from those!), it’s actually based on biological processes that are more similar to our Paleolithic ancestors’ eating habits than our modern ones.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not so much a “diet” as an eating pattern. It’s the practice of cycling between periods of eating and fasting, in a daily (or weekly) pattern that has been shown to assist in regulating hormone levels and metabolism.
Short-term fasting has been shown to be more effective at speeding metabolism and promoting weight loss than general calorie restriction (which, fairly quickly, slows your body’s metabolism to conserve energy—thus making it harder to lose weight). The practice of intermittent fasting is considered safe, as long as you’re consuming the proper amount of nutrition daily/weekly.
There are several types of intermittent fasting, with different periods of eating and fasting:
Types of intermittent fasting
16/8 Intermittent fasting
This is probably the most popular method of intermittent fasting. It splits the 24-hour day into two periods: an 8-hour period of eating normally and a 16-hour fast.
So, for example, you may eat from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and then fast from 7 p.m. to 11 a.m. the following morning. During your 8-hour period of eating, you eat your normal, healthy diet—for example, lunch, dinner and perhaps an afternoon snack if you usually eat one.
Many people find this to be the easiest form of intermittent fasting to practice. In fact, some people instinctively eat this way, because they don’t feel hungry in the morning.
5:2 Intermittent fasting
This method splits the week into five days of eating a normal, healthy diet and two non-consecutive days of reducing your intake to around 500-600 calories per day.
On the fasting days, eat your food in whatever pattern you prefer (three small meals or two bigger meals), sticking within the “fasting” calorie limit. Some common low-calorie foods for fasting days include soups (miso, vegetable, tomato, etc.), veggies, yogurt, eggs, cauliflower rice, and grilled fish.
This method splits the week into eating a normal, healthy diet for five days and fasting for 24 hours on two non-consecutive days. It’s very similar to the 5:2 method, though can be more challenging to fully fast for 24 hours. Both Eat-Stop-Eat and the 5:2 method can be convenient for scheduling around your weekly activities—you can schedule your two fasting days on days you don’t have workouts, social events, etc.
In each of these forms of intermittent fasting, there are no requirements or restrictions on which foods you eat, but rather when you eat them.
How intermittent fasting affects your health
Though it’s uncommon for many of us today, fasting is actually a natural human experience our bodies have been built to handle. Long before supermarkets, refrigerators and pizza delivery, our hunter-gatherer ancestors routinely went longer periods of time without food, simply because it wasn’t available or easy to preserve. Because of this, the human body evolved to function without food for extended periods of time.
There are several notable biological changes that happen in your body when you fast:
- Hormone levels shift to make stored body fat more accessible as a source of energy.
- Insulin levels drop significantly, increasing insulin sensitivity and promoting healthy blood sugar levels (which also makes stored body fat more accessible).
- Cells initiate important repair processes, removing cellular waste and protecting against disease and malignancy.
- Levels of human growth hormone (HGH) increase substantially, boosting fat loss, muscle growth, and recovery from injury and disease.
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels decrease, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Inflammation in the body decreases (this is important for many reasons, but a big one is reducing risk of chronic disease).
- Some studies show that intermittent fasting has cognitive benefits, including reducing inflammation in the brain, promoting learning and memory, and protecting against neurodegenerative disease.
How intermittent fasting enhances weight loss
Though some people fast for religious or spiritual reasons, most people who try intermittent fasting do so for the purpose of weight loss. There are a few reasons intermittent fasting helps to promote weight loss:
- Eating fewer meals daily or weekly reduces your overall calorie intake.
- Fasting shifts hormone levels to encourage burning fat for energy.
- Short-term fasting can increase metabolic rate.
- Fasting may also regulate levels of leptin, the hormone that influences hunger and appetite.
To some, it can feel concerning to remove a meal from the day, but it’s generally safe—and perhaps even “healthier.” Though calorie needs vary widely by person (based on your bio-individuality and lifestyle), the average American consumes far more calories than we actually need daily.
Tips for intermittent fasting
The method of intermittent fasting that seems to be most widely feasible to maintain consistently is the 16/8 method. Here’s how to practice it, plus some tips for intermittent fasting success:
How to practice 16/8 intermittent fasting
- Eat normally for 8 hours. This typically includes eating your usual lunch and dinner—healthy, balanced meals with plenty of veggies and whole foods. Feel free to have an afternoon snack if that’s something you usually do as well.
- Fast for 16 hours. After dinner, wait 16 hours before eating again—at which point you’ll eat normally for the next 8 hours.
Tips for maximizing the benefit of intermittent fasting
- Ease into your fast. Most people naturally fast about 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. We recommend starting where you’re at and adding an hour or two to your fast daily until you reach 16 hours.
- Set a schedule and do your best to stick to it. This should help to regulate any hunger pangs and create a mental habit of eating at specific times.
- It may take a few days to get used to. During the first few days of intermittent fasting, it’s common to feel hungry, as well as a little slower or weaker than usual. This usually subsides after a few days (though if it doesn’t, be sure to talk with your doctor to determine whether you should continue).
- Be mindful of supplements & medications. Remember that some medications and supplements, particularly fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E & K, are best taken with meals.
- Are you a coffee drinker? Coffee on an empty stomach can be unsettling for some, but the healthy fats in Bulletproof coffee can make it easier on your stomach (and are okay to consume during your fast).
- Drink plenty of water. Remember to continue drinking enough water while fasting.
- Take it easy in your workouts for a few days. It’s generally fine to work out while fasting but pay special attention to how your body’s feeling and stick to more moderate activities if needed. It’s not recommended to start new strenuous workouts while you’re new to intermittent fasting.
- Intermittent fasting isn’t a substitute for a healthy diet. Be sure to still consume a balanced diet of healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
- Intermittent fasting isn’t an excuse to over-eat during the eating period. Try to eat as normally as you would during that period of time.
- Chat with doc. Always talk to your doctor before beginning a new dietary plan.
Is intermittent fasting safe for everyone?
Though generally considered safe and without side effects for most adults, people with certain health conditions should refrain from intermittent fasting until carefully consulting with their doctor. Check with your doctor first if you are: underweight or have a history of disordered eating; have diabetes or struggle with blood sugar regulation; have a thyroid condition; are taking prescription medication; or are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive.
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