More and more evidence supports the practice of intermittent fasting not only to lose weight, but also to improve brain function, enhance immune function, and help maintain lean body mass. Are these benefits of intermittent fasting for real?
I have never been on one of the so-called name diets – not that I haven’t needed to lose weight from time to time. But, I’ve found for me simply avoiding high glycemic carbs works well. But, I’ve always wondered if just periodic fasting might not make more sense than trying diets that involve counting calories or grams of fat and carbohydrates. I’m a big believer in the keep it simple, stupid philosophy.
And, simply not eating seems more simple (not necessarily easier, but simpler) than paying attention to everything you eat at all times making sure you are following the principles of most diets. Quite honestly, that seems like just too much work – and I tend to be lazy, but in an industrial way – meaning I look for more effective ways to accomplish something in the least amount of time in the least amount of steps with the least amount of effort (best bang for the buck mindset).
For instance, if you typically eat 3,000 calories a day and decide to fast one day twice a month that’s the equivalent of 21 pounds of weight loss for the year (6,000 calories a month times 12 months divided by 3,500 calories per pound). That’s a pretty good return on your investment for not eating 24 days out of the year.
So what about fasting? One thing for sure, intermittent fasting is more consistent with how our paleo ancestors ate. They might kill an animal and gorge for a few days. But, then they might not eat much for several days. Plus, they had to work for their food – chasing animals or picking nuts and berries – so they were expending more calories than we do pushing a grocery cart down the food aisle at our leisure. Having constant access to food may not be healthy without discipline.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
There are several health benefits to intermittent fasting.
Studies do show that intermittent fasting does lead to significant weight loss with better odds of keeping the weight off as opposed to conventional diets where you eat reduced calories everyday.
Recent studies in Cell Stem Cell show that intermittent fasting (two to four days at a time) stimulated stem cell regeneration and protects against side effects from chemotherapy used in cancer treatments.
Research supported by the National Institute of Aging (NIA) shows that intermittent fasting preserves lean body mass and improves brain function and moods.
Laboratory mice live longer when subjected to intermittent fasting and the results held true regardless of what they ate or how many calories consumed.
Fasting also negates or offsets risk factors for cancer. Not only that, but it appears to also make chemotherapy effective and slow spread of cancer (metastasis).
Fasting makes cells more sensitive to insulin reducing insulin resistance. Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes can even be reversed with fasting. The improved insulin sensitivity contributes to weight loss.
Fasting slows the progression of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. It also improves blood pressure control and cholesterol profile and reduces silent inflammation that contributes to many chronic diseases.
Fasting can improve cognitive function, too and can reduce brain fog that sometimes occurs after meals.
Why Does Fasting Work?
All the answers to that question are not known at this time, but we do know a few things. Fasting leads to less cellular oxidation. Oxidation accelerates aging and contributes to chronic disease. Fasting stimulates release of growth hormone. In fact, 24 hours of fasting raises growth hormone 2,000% in men and 1,300% in women. Growth hormone is largely a repair hormone in adults and also protects lean body mass. Fasting also improve metabolic functions improving blood sugar and cholesterol control. Fasting enables the liver to rest and repair. The liver’s main functions are to process fats and carbohydrates, but we can overwhelm it by rather constant eating.
Are there individuals who should avoid intermittent fasting? Yes, pregnant women, individuals who are underweight, or those who have eating disorders should avoid intermittent fasting.
How to Fast?
Several intermittent fasting strategies already exist.
One growing in popularity is the 5:2 Diet which involves 5 days of normal eating and 2 days of restricted calories in which 25% of the calories normally consumed are eaten. This amounts to about 600 calories for men and 500 calories for women. Another popular fasting plan is the Every Other Day Diet in which you eat no more than 500 calories on the fasting days, but anything you want and as much as you want on the off days. Then there is the 8 Hour Diet in which you eat all your food for the day in an 8 hour span and fasting the remaining 16 hours.
Of course, nothing says you have to follow one of these intermittent fasting diets. You can modify one of these or devise your own plan that is compatible with your schedule and needs.
You may want to start fasting for 12 hours day, then increase it to 14 hours, then 16 hours as your body acclimates to the changes. Some people even eat an entire day’s worth of food in just in 2-4 hours a day.
Also, you don’t have to engage in intermittent fasting everyday. So it is flexible in that regard. But, the more you do it and the more consistent with you the better the health benefits.