The Benefits of Fasting and How to Do It Successfully
Intermittent fasting isn’t a new method of losing pounds of fat off of your body, but it is a highly effective method most individuals can employ if they desire short-term weight loss. This dieting method is built on the same principle of taking in fewer calories than the typical amount your body burns during a normal day of activity.
To achieve fat loss and overall weight loss, intermittent fasting severely limits calories during specific periods of time for a period of hours or days. It’s theorized that individuals experience fat loss and weight loss because the body’s metabolism slows down and decreases appetite.
The benefits of fasting can be experienced by almost anyone who sticks to the diet, regardless of their current weight. Those in healthy weight and obese ranges typically lose an additional average of 8.4 pounds of fat over six months when following intermittent fasting rather than a very low-calorie diet (less than 800 calories per day).
Some of the health benefits individuals can expect from following intermittent fasting include:
- Weight Loss
- Better Digestion
- Improved Metabolic Health
- Lower Risk of Disease
- Decreased Inflammation
- Improved Glucose Regulation
- Reduced Blood Pressure
- Stabilized Energy Levels
- Lower Resting Heart Rate
- Increased Lifespan
This article will cover various intermittent fasting methods along with how to successfully complete your fasting. While the benefits are important, it’s also important to consider the risks. Read on to learn more about intermittent fasting and whether it’s right for you.
Disclaimer: The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult a medical professional before beginning any diet regimen, including intermittent fasting.
Modified Fasting: An Alternative To Intermittent Fasting
Before we discuss intermittent fasting, I want to briefly introduce you to a new concept called “modified fasting”. This might be the perfect way for you to start reaping fasting benefits without feeling the deprivation that some people have from more intense fasting methods.
With modified fasting, you’re consuming fewer than 800 calories a day for 3 days. And even though you’re consuming some calories, you still get enormous benefits like autophagy – the body’s way of breaking down all the bad stuff and replacing it with new, healthy cells.
For more information on modified fasting, check out The Flash Fast by Robyn Openshaw (aka The Green Smoothie Girl).
Popular Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting
The 16/8 Method: Fast 16 hours a Day
Every night when you are asleep, you are fasting – whether you know it or not! The average adult sleeps for around eight hours each night (with the actual range being seven to nine hours). The 16/8 method is great for beginners and those who are skeptical about intermittent fasting because it works with your natural body cycle.
Most individuals eat a small breakfast almost immediately after waking up in the morning. They then eat lunch around the middle of the day and then eat a larger dinner in the evening. With the 16/8 method, the first meal of the day is delayed by a few hours and the final meal is several hours before bedtime.
In technical terms, the 16/8 method provides individuals with an eight to 10 hour “eating window” for two to three large meals or five to seven smaller meals. This window should be in the middle eight hours of your day. An example of good “eating windows” include 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. or noon to 8:00 p.m. Meals should only be consumed during the “eating window” to ensure the body has optimal time and energy to digest food during the fasting period.
Fortunately, this method of intermittent fasting is easily customizable. You can set up any “eating window” that works with your activity level, hunger, and sleep schedule. Just make sure you stick with the designated “eating window” as best as you can and as often as you can during the week.
The Warrior Diet: Fast During the Day & Eat a Large, Healthy Meal at Night
The Warrior Diet is a book by Ori Hofmekler that was originally published in 2001. The premise of this diet is to unlock your body’s biological clock. Rather than scheduling specific times to eat, small amounts of fruits and vegetables are consumed during the day to maintain energy levels. Then, a large, healthy meal is consumed at night. The large meal will be digested while you sleep.
In the book, Hofmekler tells readers about the three rules of eating during the warrior diet:
- Rule #1: Always start with subtle-tasting foods and move to more aggressive foods.
- Rule #2: Include as many tastes, textures, colors, and aromas as possible in your main meal.
- Rule #3: Stop eating when you feel much more thirsty than hungry.
Hofmekler describes that this diet works with our bodies’ digestive system and allows for individuals to experience optimal energy throughout their day.
The 5:2 Diet: Fast 2 Days a Week
For those who do not have consistent eating schedules, the 5:2 diet is a great way to work intermittent fasting into a week. For only two days a week, your daily caloric intake is limited to 500 calories. The first meal should be around 200 calories and the second, larger meal should be 300 calories.
With the 5:2 diet, you are taking in up to 25% of your daily caloric requirement. This allows your body to digest food and focus on clearing out any remaining digested items through your system. Fasting days can occur during any time, but there must be a day in between your fasts. During the remaining five days of the week, you should maintain healthy, balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Alternate-Day Fasting: Fast Every Other Day
Fasting can help maintain bowel regularity and a “quick on your feet” feeling. Some individuals chase this feeling by performing alternate-day fasting. As the name implies, individuals fast every other day. Some choose not to eat anything and others choose to enjoy a few hundred calories of healthy food (such as nuts, grains, fruits, and vegetables) to maintain energy levels.
It’s important to consume plenty of fluids during fasting days to avoid dehydration. When your body is going through a fast, it’s important to stay hydrated so all functions of your body can continue to operate.
Eat-Stop-Eat: Complete a 24-Hour Fast
Individuals who want to focus on fasting less often each month may be interested in the Eat-Stop-Eat fasting program. Rather than fasting a few times a week, a 24 hour fast is performed once per week. No food is eaten from breakfast to breakfast, lunch to lunch, or dinner to dinner. Plenty of fluids should be consumed on fasting days and healthy foods should be part of your diet during non-fasting days.
Side effects from this fasting program may include headaches, fatigue, low energy, and irritability, so it’s important to consider your daily routine before jumping into this fast. Some individuals do this fast twice per week, but it is not recommended when you are just starting.
Spontaneous Meal Skipping: Skip Meals As You Please
It’s possible that no intermittent fasting method works with you or your body, and that’s okay! Those who want to experience the benefits of fasting without following a rigid schedule can participate in spontaneous meal skipping.
This fasting method is easy for anyone to follow. Simply don’t eat a meal when you aren’t hungry. You can do this as often as you want. Maybe you skip breakfast every day or simply aren’t in the mood for dinner one night. This is a natural fasting method that doesn’t take much thought or planning.
When you skip a meal, be sure to drink plenty of water and incorporate plenty of healthy food the next day. Your body will appreciate the nutrients!
How to Do Fasting Successfully
When it comes to fasting of any kind, it’s important to set yourself up for success. It’s easy to experience negative side effects if you do not take the proper precautions before your fast.
Some tips to follow include:
- Only fast for a short period of time.
- Enjoy some food on fast days if you need it (100 calories or less).
- Drink enough water and other fluids.
- Walk around or meditate to keep your mind off of temptation.
- Do not feast once your fast is complete.
- Quit your fast immediately if you begin to feel unwell.
- Consume plenty of protein before and after your fast.
- Fill your plate with whole foods on non-fasting days.
- Add supplements to your diet.
- Do not over-exercise on fasting days.
At the very beginning, your body is not used to or prepared for a fast. Your first few fasting periods should be kept short in order to allow your body ample time to adjust. As you become more experienced and better understand your body, you can increase your fasting time. If you don’t feel well, you must stop your fast. This is a solid indicator that your body is not fully prepared to operate on limited calories. You can always start your fast again on a different day when you feel better.
Hydration is key during a fast, no matter how long or short. Without proper hydration, your body will not be able to keep all of its systems operating at maximum capacity. With that being said, when you do fast, you cannot overexert yourself. Your body does not have the energy to complete an extreme routine in the gym, and it certainly does not have the energy to complete heavy tasks around the house. Keep all activities to a minimum, and enjoy a small snack of fruits and/or vegetables if you must engage in a high energy activity during your day.
It’s important to nourish your body on non-fasting days. Your plate should have as many vegetables, fruits, grains, and clean protein on it as possible. Variety is the spice of life, so be sure to mix up the whole foods that you consume. If you feel you are missing out on something, consider adding iron, calcium, and vitamin D supplements or a multi-vitamin to your diet.
One of the most important things to remember when you fast is complete is this: do not overeat or indulge on unhealthy foods. After not eating food for a number of hours (or days), your mind will crave food. Fight the temptation with light exercise or mental training. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. If you aren’t careful, you will have completed your fast for nothing.
Risks of Intermittent Fasting
Just like any diet, intermittent fasting has risks that must be considered. Your health care provider will be able to determine if you are the right candidate. In general, it is advised that these individuals do not participate in intermittent fasting without explicit approval from a medical professional:
- Women who are pregnant, may be pregnant, or breastfeeding
- Women who are attempting to conceive a child
- Women who suffer from or have a history of amenorrhea
- Individuals who need to gain weight (underweight)
- Individuals who have or currently suffer from an eating disorder
- Individuals who are taking any form of prescription medication
- Patients with heart disease or low blood pressure
- Patients with type two diabetes or blood sugar regulation issues
- Adolescents or older adults
Disclaimer: This is not an all-inclusive list of individuals who should not participate in intermittent fasting without their doctor’s approval. Always speak with your health care provider before beginning intermittent fasting.
The greatest risks involved with intermittent fasting are decreased energy levels, unstable moods, increased irritability, headaches, and an overall unwell feeling. Since the body is not used to such low caloric intake, it has not prepared for working without food. Without an appropriate amount of calories coming in, the body experiences a decrease in blood sugar. Low blood sugar causes our brain to have a primal response and seek out food as quickly as possible. However, it can also play on our moods and emotions. Fasting can lead to short comments with spouses or loved ones, which are never enjoyable. As the famous commercial from Snickers goes, “You aren’t you when you’re hungry.”
In addition, fasting causes headaches. These are unpleasant even without fasting, so the addition of hunger doesn’t make the situation any better. Combine headaches and low blood sugar with the need to work out, an entire day of fasting can go from good to bad in a number of hours. The body needs energy, and fasting doesn’t provide your body with the opportunity to take any in. This means your workout will be meager at best and you will not feel well.
Fortunately, fasting is mostly safe. Aside from discomfort, fasting does not hurt the body or its systems. In fact, over time, it will improve how your body digests food and uses its resources. It’s important to understand the risks of fasting come from learning how your body adjusts to your new eating schedule.
Intermittent fasting is the practice of abstaining from food and beverages for specific periods of time. Whether you elect the 16/8 method, warrior diet, 5:2 diet, alternate-day fasting, eat-stop-eat method, or skip meals spontaneously, intermittent fasting offers a range of benefits. From better digestion to more energy, better sleep, improved blood pressure regulation, lower heart rate, and more, intermittent fasting can help you live a longer, healthier life.
It’s important to keep in mind that fasting isn’t for everyone, so be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any fasting regime. Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of healthy, whole foods on non-fasting days. If you feel unwell, always stop fasting and eat a small amount of fruits or vegetables. Listen to your body and you will find that intermittent fasting is effective for achieving your weight management goals.