Intermittent fasting is a wellness practice that involves periods of eating normally spaced with periods of fasting or refraining from calorie intake. While many people practice intermittent fasting for weight loss, it has many benefits that have nothing to do with weight. Intermittent fasting may increase your energy, improve your metabolism, and increase your overall wellness.
What is intermittent fasting?
Before we talk about the benefits of intermittent fasting, let’s talk about how to incorporate this practice into your life. Many people wonder how long you can do intermittent fasting. There’s no upper time limit, but you should consider sticking with it for at least a couple of weeks to start seeing the benefits!
Once you’ve decided to practice intermittent fasting, the next thing to do is choose a fasting period. This can be the popular 16/8, where you fast for 16 hours and eat regularly for 8. For many people, this is as easy as just not eating after dinner. This is also called water fasting because during the off-periods you can only consume water and other non-caloric beverages.
There’s also 5:2 fasting, where you eat regularly for 5 days of the week and then cut your caloric intake to 500-600 calories for 2 days of the week. Alternate day fasting, where you eat normally one day and then reduce your intake the next, is also an option. It’s important that you pick a fasting period that works for you!
There are four stages of fasting. Knowing how these stages work will help you understand the benefits of this practice because the benefits of fasting come from metabolic changes. When your body goes from using sugar as fuel to using fat and protein as fuel, it sends messages to your cells to start various healing and energetic processes. Most people who practice intermittent fasting will only cycle through the first two stages, but longer periods of fasting may lead to the latter two stages.
Fed stage: This occurs in the first few hours after eating. During this stage, your body digests and stores nutrients in food. Blood sugar levels rise as your body converts and stores glycogen to use as fuel.
Early fasting stage: This stage occurs around 3–4 hours after eating and lasts until around 18 hours after eating. If you are practicing a 16/8 fasting period, your body will cycle between the fed stage and this stage. During this stage, blood sugar levels decline and your body starts to convert stored glycogen into usable glucose.
Fasting stage: This stage occurs from about 18 hours to 2 days of fasting. During this stage, your body starts breaking down fat and protein stores for energy. You may transition into ketosis at this stage if you eat a low-carb diet, which means that your body is using fat as its primary source of energy.
- Long-term fasting stage: After about 48 hours, your body enters the long-term fasting stage. Your body and brain are fueled by the breakdown of fat stores in this stage. It is not recommended to undertake long-term fasts without medical supervision.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Now that you understand what happens during fasting, let’s talk about the many whole-body wellness benefits that can come from it!
Reduced Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Inflammation and oxidation are two major factors that can inhibit your wellness. Inflammation can also cause joint and muscle pain. Both are related to chronic disease, and both can be fought via intermittent fasting. Studies show that different fasting systems produce similar effects on oxidative stress, so you can pick whichever fasting window works best for you. Fasting is also a good way to reduce inflammation without compromising the immune system.
Numerous studies show that fasting is one of the most effective ways to promote cellular autophagy. Autophagy is when the cells recycle proteins and energy for repair and homeostasis, which helps the cells adapt to stress. Metabolic conditions, neurodegenerative diseases, infectious diseases, and even cancers may be improved by the promotion of cellular autophagy.
Heart Health Benefits
Heart disease is the number one killer in the US, and intermittent fasting may help prevent it. We know that various health markers are associated with the risk of health disease, and in animal trials, intermittent fasting has been shown to improve blood sugar levels, blood triglycerides, blood pressure, inflammatory markers, total cholesterol, and “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. In humans, fasting has been shown to protect cardiac health, even after a heart attack.
Resets the Circadian Rhythm
A stable circadian rhythm is vital to overall wellness, and a disrupted circadian rhythm is associated with numerous diseases such as metabolic syndrome and metabolic syndrome-induced cancers. Studies suggest that practicing intermittent fasting can help reset the circadian rhythm, which in turn will help you regulate sleep and have more energy during the day.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to promote the growth of nerve cells in the brain and to protect the brain against stroke damage. Additionally, what’s good for the body is (usually) good for the brain, and in this case, the metabolic benefits of fasting such as improved insulin resistance, improved blood sugar levels, and reduced inflammation and oxidative stress are all great for increased brain function.
Intermittent Fasting Tips
- You can– and should– drink water during your fasting periods. You can also drink coffee or tea, or other non-caloric beverages.
- You can chew gum. While gum does have calories, the amount is so small that it is unlikely to break your fast.
- If you’re wondering what you can eat during intermittent fasting, the answer depends on how you fast and where you are in the fast cycle.
- During normal periods, you can eat as you usually do.
- During water fast periods, you can only have non-caloric beverages.
- During restricted calorie intake periods, you can have all kinds of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, poultry, and other nutritious favorites.
Overall, intermittent fasting is a great way to boost your health and improve your energy levels and total body wellness. It is safe, effective, and can easily be done in a way that fits your lifestyle.