Intermittent Fasting - Facts, Myths, & Everything in Between
Booming globalisation has carried several ideas from one place to another. Yoga from India is almost as popular in the Western Hemisphere. And often, people join the ride without knowing anything significant about it. One such phenomenon that's taken the “health-conscious” citizens of the world by storm is Intermittent Fasting. Let's discuss that!
What is intermittent fasting?
In layman's terms, intermittent fasting is fasting for a brief period. However, what constitutes “a brief period” may differ from person to person. Usually, people following intermittent fasting have two meals a day, with considerable intervals between them. Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine himself, is one of the staunch adherents of intermittent fasting and he eats twice a day at eight hours between meals followed by a 16-hour fast.
How does intermittent fasting work?
According to Mark Mattson, neuroscientist at the John Hopkins School of Medicine, a human body can survive without food for several hours, or even days. Mattson opines that the body initially burns sugar for energy, but later switches to fat, which is what intermittent fasting is all about. Whatever calories in the form of carbohydrate we consume gets broken down into sugars, which the body uses for generating energy.
By consuming food regularly, especially those containing carbohydrate, sugars thus generated don’t get burned easy and gets converted into fat through insulin. Mattson argues that eating at short intervals, say three or four times a day, without much exercise doesn’t give the body enough time to burn the sugar from the last meal. These unused calories get converted to fat, leading to obesity and diseases like diabetes.
Thus, the basic ethos behind intermittent fasting is prolonging the intervals between two meals so that body burns calories consumed in the previous meal and starts burning fat.
Biggest myths about intermittent fasting
It means putting the body into starvation mode
Many believe intermittent fasting puts the body into starvation mode. However, it’s nothing more than a myth. It is all about prolonging the intervals between meals, with a fast of 12-16 hours. Thus, the body simply burns fat until the next meal and does not go into starvation. Health and wellness coach Dr Becky Gillaspy, author of Intermittent Fasting Diet Guide and Cookbook, says that people must consult their doctors only if they intend to extend fasting for more than a day, which is not the case with most practicising intermittent fasting.
Only one way of doing it
Search the internet and you’ll find most of those practicising intermittent fast following a common routine - two meals in the space of eight hours, followed by fasting for 16 hours. But dig just a bit deeper, and you’ll realize that this is not the only way of doing it right. A very popular alternative to two meals a day routine is the 5:2 fasting, which means fasting twice a week. Having less than 600 calories a day twice per week is as good as the daily intermittent fasting routine.
You can eat anything during the eating window
Many people believe that intermittent fasting gives them the leeway to eat whatever they like during their eating window, which is a big mistake. Experts state eating unhealthy could render the efforts worthless, and suggest having a well-balanced diet. Some experts also suggest having a strict Mediterranean diet, meaning the right mixture of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, and lean meat. Ameircan nutritionist and dietician Toni Marinucci says that even give into unhealthy cravings, moderate amounts at the most is what one must allow. Likewise, even if fasting for an entire day, unhealthy eating could not let you gain desired results.
You must restrict water intake too
Many practitioners of intermittent fasting wrongly believe that it means restricting any consumption, including water. However, that’s not the case at all. Intermittent fasting only restricts the consumption of calories, which makes drinking water absolutely safe. In fact, adequate water consumption during intermittent fasting helps improve metabolic activity and accelerates weight loss. Not only water, one can also consume other zero-calorie beverages like black tea or coffee while observing intermittent fasting.
Is intermittent fasting beneficial?
Several studies by reputed institutions suggest that intermittent fasting can be beneficial if done right. Here are three important benefits that are definitely achievable:
Fat and weight loss
The greatest and most obvious benefit of intermittent fasting is weight loss. Once the body runs out of sugars and starts burning fat on a regular basis, you're bound to lose a few kilos, though the process could be slow and testing. The biggest example is technocrat billionaire Elon Musk, who claimed to have lost about nine kilos through intermittent fasting. Elon also claimed that he felt healthier by fasting periodically.
And there’s strong academic evidence too. According to a Harvard article, about 40 research studies have indicated that intermittent fasting proved beneficial for weight loss. In fact, a study also proved intermittent fasting to be more beneficial for weight loss than simply reducing calorie intake.
Reduction in insulin resistance
One of the lesser known benefits of intermittent fasting is that it helps reduce insulin resistance in the body. Insulin resistance is a chronic problem in patients with diabetic and pre-diabetic conditions. Dr Janine Kyrillos, weight management specialist at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College, states that insullin helps store fat, and eating without adequate intervals leads to continuous insulin production. Excess insulin production over a long period causes cells to resist insulin, which leads to even more production of insulin. If left unchecked, insulin requirement of the body goes beyond production capacity, leading to several medical conditions causing the need for injecting insulin into the body. Prolonging the intervals between two meals and/or observing fasts for 12-16 hours regularly causes reduces the requirement of insulin, thus reducing insulin resistance at the cellular level.
Positive hormonal and cellular changes
Having long intervals between meals causes many changes in the body chemistry, including changes in hormone levels. Intermittent fasting causes hormonal changes in the body for two specific reasons - helping the body access fat for generating energy, and facilitating cellular repair. A study suggested that consistent intermittent fasting initiates the removal of waste materials from the cells.
Fasting consistently increases human growth hormone (HGH) levels in the blood, which pushes muscle gain, including skeletal muscle growth, and other developments. Likeiwise, intermittent fasting also causes changes in genes and molecules that promote longevity and resistance against diseases.
- Does intermittent fasting means to starve? No, intermittent fasting doesn’t not mean to starve, but prolonging intervals between two meals and fasting alternatively.
- Do celebrities practice intermittent fasting? If Hugh Jackman and Elon Musk can be counted as celebrities, then yes, celebrities do practise intermittent fasting.
- Can I drink water during the intervals between two meals? Yes, you can consume water and other zero-calorie liquids like black tea or coffee.