Intermittent Fasting: The Key To Long-Term Weight Loss?
According to the ancient Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda, people should mend their diets with seasons and detoxify at least once a year. Be it in the name of religion or rituals, fasting helps people rebalance their bodies if practised in the right fashion. Fasting isn’t a new concept. For centuries, people have temporarily restricted their food intake; be it for religious reasons or health reasons. In the past few years, intermittent fasting has gained traction for its incredible effects on disease and aging. Read on to know more!
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting lasting from a few hours to 1-2 days. This pattern does not specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them.
There are different intermittent fasting methods. These are:
- The 5:2 method: Here you normally eat for five days a week and fast for the other 2 days. Even if you eat during fasting days, you should keep your calorie intake between 500-600 calories.
- The Eat-Stop-Eat Method: In this method, all foods are restricted for 24 hours once or twice a week.
- The 16/8 method: This approach dictates that all eating should be done typically within 8 hours and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. It can be done every day or few times in a week.
How does it work?
When you fast, several things happen in your body on the cellular and molecular level. The following changes occur in the body:
- Increase in Human Growth Hormone (HGH): The levels of growth hormone increases as much as 5 times. Studies have shown that fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of the secretion, which aids fat loss and muscle gain.
- A decrease in insulin levels: Sensitivity of insulin improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels make stored body fat more accessible for the body to use and also helps to lower bad cholesterol levels.
- Initiation of cellular repair: When you fast, the cells initiate cellular repair processes like autophagy; wherein the cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build-up within cells. Autophagy helps cleanse waste from the body, provides energy, and potentially fights cancer and other chronic illnesses.
Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss
The most common reason for the implementation of intermittent fasting is weight loss. As you consume fewer calories, intermittent fasting leads to an automatic reduction in weight. Additionally, intermittent fasting changes hormone levels to facilitate weight loss which may be due to the stimulation of certain growth hormones.
In addition to lowering insulin and increasing growth hormone levels, intermittent fasting increases the release of fat burning hormones. As a result, these changes in hormones may increase the metabolic rate of the body in short-term fasting.
Studies have also proven the relationship between intermittent fasting and weight loss. A 2014 review study found that such an eating pattern can cause 3–8% weight loss in a time span of 3–24 weeks, which is a significant amount compared to most weight loss studies. It also showed that people had a 4–7% reduction in their waist circumference, indicating a significant loss of fat.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut into molecules which then enter the bloodstream. The carbohydrates that we eat are broken down into sugar, which is the energy source for the cells in the body. If the cells don’t use all the energy, the excess is stored in our cells as fats. During fasting, our insulin levels go down and our fat cells release the stored sugar to be used as energy. Thus, intermittent fasting forces the insulin levels to drop, so that our body is triggered to the use the stored fat for fulfilling its energy requirements. This causes fat reduction and thereby we lose weight.
How to do intermittent fasting?
Many people find the 16/8 method the simplest and most sustainable way of intermittent fasting. If no health problem occurs during fasting, then maybe you can move on to more advanced fasts like the 24-hour fasts, one or two times per week or only eating 500–600 calories, one or two days per week.
Another easier and simpler approach is to fast whenever it’s convenient — simply skip meals from time to time when you’re not hungry or don’t have the time to cook. However, here are the things you will need to follow to make intermittent fasting effective.
- Avoid foods like sugars and refined grains. Instead, consume healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (a sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet).
- Do not snack and let the body burn fat between meals. Be active throughout your day by incorporating a light exercise routine in the schedule.
- Avoid eating at night time. Even if you do, make sure it’s something healthy.
Will intermittent fasting help me to lose weight?
According to metabolic expert Dr Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, there is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to a window of 8 to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective.
There is some good scientific evidence suggesting that intermittent fasting, when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle can be a particularly effective approach to lose weight.
So, go ahead, incorporate intermittent fasting in your routine, but be careful not to overdo it as it may lead to negative side-effects.