A Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting

What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting or IF is the practice of eating in a pattern where the person eats and then fasts for a short period. This pattern is repeated in a cycle.

What is the idea behind intermittent fasting?

Fasting is not a new concept. In fact, it has been a part of various religions and groups. Fasting is an important religious practice in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, et cetera. Fasting has also been studded at various occasions in history, especially wartime and times of scarcity, like the Great Irish Potato Famine. Times like these led to the knowledge that the human body can function despite lacking frequent accessibility to food.

Incorporating that knowledge into daily lives, we know that we also do not eat food 24/7. We have specific mealtimes (and the occasional snacking which we can well do without) and then we fast until it is time for the next mealtime. Extending the time period of those fasts, we are enabling our body to learn how to survive on the calories we consume and ensure expenditure of excess calories.

Which foods are allowed to be eaten while intermittent fasting?
You can eat whatever you want. There are absolutely no specifications on the type of food you should eat. Intermittent fasting (IF) only stresses upon the time I’m which you should and should not eat.

Can intermittent fasting be termed as dieting?
Even though intermittent fasting has been known to have splendid weight loss results in many people, however, intermittent fasting can not be termed as dieting. This is due to the fact that IF simply stresses on when a person should of should not eat, rather than telling them what to eat. Instead, intermittent fasting can be called an eating pattern.

How long must one fast while intermittent fasting?
Mostly practised patterns include daily 16-hourly fasts. Some also fast for a whole 24 hours, twice a week. However, the pattern chosen depends on the person solely. Following are some eating patterns that are commonly practised while intermittent fasting:

  • The Leangains Protocol:
    This pattern is also referred to as the 16/8 method. This method breaks your day of 24 hours into two segments: a 16-hour period where you stay hungry, and the 8-hour period where you can eat. You are free to decide when these segments start for you but most people prefer fasting from the time to get up in the morning (you don’t break your fast) and staying hungry until lunchtime. They then get to eat for 8 hours, like from the afternoon to evening until the fasting time arrives again.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat Pattern: 
    This involves fasting for a whole day, i.e. 24 hours, about once or twice (usually twice) a week. To get an idea, think that you’re starting your fast after today’s dinner and staying hungry until tomorrow’s dinner (considering the two dinners to be at the same time).
  • The 5:2 diet:
    Okay, this one is called a diet but it is still an eating pattern because you get to eat whatever you want as long as it is between 500 to 600 calories. This is an easier version of Eat-Stop-Eat pattern as it allows you to consume 500 to 600 calories for two out of seven days of the week, instead of staying completely hungry. I would call it a child’s fast probably. Just make sure that these two days are non-consecutive so you’re not too hard on yourself. Eat as you would normally do for the rest of the five days of the week.

This is the beauty of intermittent fasting. It never pushes you to the limit. It is both doable and effective!

Which pattern of intermittent fasting is mostly preferred?
Whereas the Eat-Stop-Eat Pattern and the 5:2 diet require you to commit longer hours, the 16/8 Method requires you to control your satiety needs for only three-fourth of the day. This is why people prefer it over the former two.

Does intermittent fasting help in weight loss?
Yes, however, intermittent fasting is not called dieting. Rather, it is referred to as an eating pattern.

How does intermittent fasting help in weight loss?
I won’t bore you with the roots of all the sciencey stuff. I’ll just give you the highlights of this beautiful story. So your body is being run and controlled by many chemicals and hormones produced by the brain and glands. These hormones are responsible for breaking down or storing the consumed calories. Once you start eating less, your brain tells your glands to secrete more catabolizing (breaking down and using) hormones. Your consumed carbohydrates, fats and proteins are then broken down and the energy is used to carry out various body tasks and physiology.

What is the science behind this weight loss?
Basically, when your body does not have access to food, it starts depleting its reserves. Our body keeps most of its energy reserves as fat (yes, all that fat is for the harsh weather and what not). Since fat metabolism is controlled by several hormones, your body starts regulating those hormones levels. Of note are Growth Hormone (or Human Growth Hormone or HGH) and insulin. Growth hormone is excreted about five times more than normal whereas insulin levels are lowered. Also, norepinephrine or noradrenaline levels are raised. Consequently, this leads to depletion of fat stores and they are used as energy and heat.

Due to increase in HGH and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), the basal metabolic rate for body is also raised Calories are consumed faster than normal. Concurrent reduction of intake and speedy use of calories leads to weight loss.

Which method helps in weight loss?
Technically, all these methods help in weight loss as there is restriction in calorie intake. Just make sure that you are not binging during your eating time. With your calories in check, you are sure to drop a size or two!

Why is intermittent fasting preferred over dieting?
Intermittent fasting is known to reduce weight without causing any muscle wasting.

Does intermittent fasting have a role other than weight loss?
Yes! Even though most people opt for intermittent fasting to drop their size but it has been around for so long and so many people are on board due to the array of uses it offers.

  • Cellular and Tissue Repair: Intermittent fasting is well known for promoting body repair. It is said that the body cells start their cellular repair processes when the body is fasting. Regular repair is always going on in the body but during fasting, cellular repair processes speed up.
  • Decreased Inflammation: Our body is composed of various cells like T cells and macrophages that try to control an injury or inflammation in the body. However, sometimes, this protective feature of the body can actually get out of control and end up harming the body.
    It is said that intermittent fasting can reduce the incidence of chronic inflammation and play a role in keeping health in check.
  • Altered Gene Expression: There are changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease.
  • Cancer Therapy: Intermittent fasting has been linked to lower oxidants in the body and removal of excess toxins. This can lower chances of cancer.
  • Cardio protective Role: The heart is one of the most important organs we have. Without it, we would all be dead. So, it is very important that we keep it safe and in optimal condition. For this we exercise and try to stay happy. However, the food we eat affects our whole body. Especially if we eat fatty food, there will be an abundance of lipids in the body which will accumulate in the vessels. Resultantly, the vessels would be blocked and there would be excess load on the heart to pump blood. Oxidized LDL and triglycerides would be the main culprit as well as high glucose level. Once we start fasting intermittently, our hormone levels will change and atherosclerosis will also reduce.
  • Anti- aging Property: Lesser oxidants will mean there will be lesser damage at both cellular and tissue level and hence, aging speed might be reduced.
  • Improves Brain Health: Intermittent fasting can increase BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This may also protect against Alzheimer’s disease.


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