Intermittent fasting has many benefits, and it’s easy to get started — no complicated diets to remember like planning for a Whole30, and no expensive foods to kill your grocery budget. I am just dipping my toe into water fasting and intermittent fasting (IF), so I asked an expert to come over and share today!
Have you ever tried intermittent fasting? If you have not, do you know someone who is fasting on a regular basis?
In the past few years, intermittent fasting has become very popular. Is this just a fad that will pass or are there real health benefits of intermittent fasting?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is something of a fad, but did you know it is rooted in ancient practices?
Fasting has been happening for years, often in connection with religious observance. All the major religions have fasting as a part of their practice in some form.
RELATED: Resources for Lent. Maybe the perfect time to try intermittent fasting this year?
Although fasting specifically for health is not such an ancient practice, it still brings me much reassurance to know it has been done for thousands of years with much success.
Intermittent fasting is different from extended fasting. Intermittent fasting is best understood as fasts of as little as 12 hours and as long as 72 hours. The most common is 16-20 hours, often done daily or 3-6 days/week. You then have between 8 and 4 hours left for 1-2 meals.
RELATED: Tips for completing a Daniel Fast.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has a number of benefits. As more research is done, more benefits are being recognized. I have practiced intermittent fasting since the middle of 2016 and plan to continue the rest of my life.
Fasting is free and simple
One of the best things about fasting is that it is free. If you practice it regularly you will save money.
Although it is not always easy, it is very simple. You simply don’t eat for a set period of time. There are no complicated diets to figure out, which is part of the appeal.
Fasting can lead to weight loss
One of the biggest draws of intermittent fasting is to those who want to lose weight. Weight loss happens when fasting for several reasons.
The most obvious, but not necessarily the most significant, is people often eat less food because they are not eating 3 (or more) meals a day.
What I believe is more significant is that insulin levels are lowered when fasting. Insulin resistance is a very common cause of weight gain and the inability to lose weight. Insulin resistance is tied up with type 2 diabetes, which is a very common problem in the world today, especially in industrialized countries.
Intermittent fasting also keeps metabolism from slowing down and stopping weight loss, which is the most common reason that most diets fail.
I was able to lose 40 lbs over 8 months with intermittent fasting and a low carb diet and have kept it off since 2016, primarily because I have continued to fast.
Intermittent Fasting can prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes
Personally, this is a very significant reason for me to fast. I was able to lower my own blood sugar because the fasting broke the insulin resistance that has been with me for some years now.
With insulin resistance, the cells are no longer sensitive to insulin (which normally works to move glucose into the cells) and so the body produces more and more insulin, which prevents the body from burning fat for energy.
Insulin resistance also leads to type 2 diabetes which is linked with heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and other problems. Fasting lowers insulin levels, the factor behind much of the damage in type 2 diabetes.
Check out this fascinating TEDx talk about intermittent fasting to learn more!
Fasting may improve heart health
This also connects to the insulin resistance mechanism mentioned earlier. With a decrease in insulin resistance, cholesterol levels and triglycerides improve, and thus heart health improves as well.
Another connection is often a lowering of blood pressure, especially when the cause of elevated blood pressure is a build-up of plaque in the arteries and a hardening of those arteries.
Maria Emmerich mentions the connection between insulin resistance, blood pressure, and magnesium in her book Keto-Adapted. Magnesium is a mineral that relaxes muscles in the cells. If the cells are insulin resistant, then more magnesium will be lost out of the body and the blood vessels will constrict, rather than relax, and blood pressure will
Fasting will contribute to the retention of more of that magnesium through breaking insulin resistance, and thus blood pressure may decrease. (Emmerich, Maria, and Craig, Keto-Adapted, p. 84)
Fasting improves memory
Another significant benefit of fasting is that it can benefit your brain and help your body stay young longer. Memory improves with calorie reduction and lower insulin levels.
Our bodies are constantly replacing cells that have reached a certain age. Increased levels of sugar, insulin, and protein can also interfere with the process of this cell replacement.
Fasting can help the body to clear out the old and damaged cells, and then restore them with new replacement cells, a process known as autophagy.
Intermittent Fasting may reduce cancer risks
As mentioned above, fasting clears out old and damaged cells, which includes cells that are prone to cancer. It can turn on certain genes that repair specific tissues and clean out the damaged ones, all cells which are more susceptible to cancer.
Animal studies have shown that intermittent fasting can reduce the incidences of spontaneous cancers.
Fasting improves gut health
Intermittent fasting gives your gut microbes a break from their hard work, so they can focus on cleaning up their populations and increase their diversity. This will boost your overall health and aid in your body’s resistance to the detrimental bacteria.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe for Everyone?
Who should fast:
Really most of us can do some level of intermittent fasting.
It is especially powerful as a tool and lifestyle change for those carrying extra weight and for those with insulin resistance.
You may not know if you have insulin resistance, but I encourage you to look into this area. I have some more information on insulin resistance at Purposeful Nutrition.
Who should not fast:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not be fasting, as the baby needs to be the priority with all calories and nourishment.
- Children under 18 should not be fasting, as they need healthy nourishing food to continue their healthy growth.
- The third category is those who are underweight or malnourished. This also includes those with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, as it can encourage those kinds of eating issues. If you are not sure if you fall into that category, ask a friend or family member if you are underweight or malnourished. Sometimes it is hard for us to be objective about our own bodies.
All 3 of these groups can still focus on going a full 12 hours between the evening meal and breakfast and can avoid frequent snacks, as these both contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Who should be careful with intermittent fasting:
There are several different categories of people who should be cautious about fasting and should consult with their doctor or a medical coach so as to avoid problems.
This includes those with gout, those taking medications, those with diabetes (type 1 or 2) especially if taking medications for that, and those with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Anyone in these categories should consult with their doctor and should fast with close supervision.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
Fasting is not complicated; it’s simply not eating for a period of time. However, a few tips can make it easier to get started:
- Start out with 14 to 16 hours of fasting. Leaving 10 to 8 hours to eat 2 to 3 meals. You can gradually increase your hours of fasting and even throw in a 24 hour fast once in a while.
- Fast as clean as possible. That means no food and only drinking water, black coffee, black tea, green tea, herbal teas (avoid fruity teas), mineral water, plain seltzer, and carbonated water. Avoid all sweeteners when fasting, even the alternative ones. (Make sure your water is clean!)
- Increase healthy fats in your diet, especially before starting a fast as that helps keep you satiated longer and prevent hunger pangs.
- Be flexible and make fasting work for you and your lifestyle.
- Join my free 10-day Intermittent Fasting Challenge.
- Buy my eBook Intermittent Fasting for Better Health.
Jennifer is a happily married homeschooling mother of 4 who lives in a small town in Pennsylvania. She blogs at Purposeful Nutrition. She’s also an RN who’s working to build a health business through blogging, speaking, and health coaching.