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Intermittent Fasting- Benefits, Risks, and Tips for Fasting the Right Way

Hungry frustrated woman trying to lose weight, with a glass of water. Intermittent fasting

Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the latest diet craze to sweep across the globe. This pattern of eating focuses more on when rather than what you eat.

It ditches most of the nutritional dogmas that most of us were brought up with, like feeling guilty when you skip breakfast and eating many mini-meals. 

But what is intermittent fasting, and what are its benefits and risks? Does intermittent fasting work, or is it just another diet fad? Here’s what you need to know before starting intermittent fasting. 

Understanding IF and How it Works 

Intermittent fasting is a diet plan that involves eating only during specified windows of time. The plan involves alternating between periods of fasting and windows of non-fasting. Each of these periods can last a few hours to several days. 

Intermittent fasting is not a specific diet. It does not specify what to eat and what to avoid. Instead, its main focus is when you eat.

It may take different approaches, but each restricts eating during particular windows of time. There’s nothing like one-size-fits-all when it comes to intermittent fasting. As a starter, you’ll probably need to do some trial and error to understand which intermittent fasting plan works best for your lifestyle. 

Popular Intermittent Fasting Plans 

These are the most popular intermittent fasting methods:

5:2 fasting– this approach is also known as the twice-a-week method. It allows you to eat wherever you want for five days of the week but caps your calorie intake at 500 for the remaining two days. The two fasting days are not consecutive. Instead, there is a non-fasting day between them when you can eat normal foods. 

16:8 fasting– in this method, you have an 8-hour eating window followed by a 16-hour fasting period. You’re free to consume unsweetened beverages like plain water, coffee, and tea during fasting. 

Alternate day fasting-this is a form of intermittent fasting where you feast one day and fast the next day. Alternate-day fasting often involves a 12-hour window where you can eat whatever you want, followed by a 36-hour fasting period. Yeah, it’s that challenging. 

24-hour fasting- just as the name suggests, this fasting plan involves going without food for 24 hours straight. And it’s not as challenging as it sounds. An example of a 24-hour fast is fasting from lunch to lunch. 

Possible Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Can Aid in Weight Loss 

Intermittent fasting is a magic pill, especially when burning fat to lose weight. Actually, most people hop on the IF bandwagon for its weight loss benefits. Intermittent fasting promotes weight loss by driving your body from food energy into fat energy. And there’s scientific evidence to back this up. 

A question we commonly come across is, “does intermittent fasting slow down metabolism?” Most proponents of this theory argue that the body may slow its metabolism when it senses starvation.

There’s no evidence to support that. On the contrary, short periods of food restriction may boost metabolism by activating several fat-burning hormones. This may help shed those extra pounds

It Helps Lower Blood Pressure

More and more research now shows that, when done safely, intermittent fasting could significantly lower blood pressure and sugar spikes. The contributing mechanisms are not clear yet. But some experts suggest that fasting increases parasympathetic activity, which is known to help lower blood pressure. 

Has Anti-Aging Benefits 

There is no known antidote to the ageing process just yet. But there are various proven ways of maintaining a youthful appearance, and it is one of them.

Intermittent fasting triggers several changes at the cellular level, including cellular repair, hormonal changes, and gene expression. On top of that, temporary or intermittent fasting has been found to promote healthy DNA and reduce cell damage and inflammation. These changes work together to ward off chronic diseases and promote a longer and healthier life. 

Risks of Intermittent Fasting 

Intermittent fasting may be safe and beneficial. But it has a range of risks and side effects that you should understand before trying. 

Here’s what to expect when you start intermittent fasting; 

Increased hunger and cravings– expect to experience strong feelings of hunger and starvation, especially during the first days of fasting. Often, these feelings are accompanied by cravings for calorie-dense foods. 

High cortisol levels– research results show that fasting plans that cause severe caloric restriction often lead to elevated cortisol levels

Fatigue– intermittent fasting may leave you feeling weak and tired because of low blood sugar levels. Staying hydrated by drinking more water and getting enough sleep during fasting may help reduce this feeling. 

Overeating– binge eating and overeating are other common side effects of intermittent fasting. Overeating during the non-fasting period can lead to a higher calorie intake, which may result in unintentional weight gain.

A few tips for avoiding overeating when intermittent fasting include meal planning, eating in small portions, eating slowly, and staying busy. 

Tips to Do Intermittent Fasting Safely 

Intermittent fasting takes different approaches, and every person’s experience is different. If you’re starting:

i) Experiment with different intermittent schedules. The idea here is to figure out a plan you can thrive in without struggling a lot. The 14:10 and 12:12 intermittent fasting plans are popular with starters because they are more accommodating.

ii) Start slow. A fasting approach with a short eating window may promise faster results. But depending on your lifestyle, it may be challenging to maintain in the long run. It’s advisable to start slow and then gradually transition to plans with longer fasting windows.

iii) Stay hydrated during fasting windows. Drinking lots of water when intermittent fasting can help combat hunger pangs. Besides filling up your stomach, water keeps your cells functioning, which is crucial to success. 

There’s nothing wrong with restricting food consumption to a certain period, provided you’re healthy. But keep in mind that intermittent fasting is not for everyone.

You may not be a candidate if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, diabetic, or have weak immunity. You may also want to look for intermittent fasting alternatives if your work requires intense concentration or you are taking medication that must be taken with or after food.