Intermittent Fasting is one of the newer diets claiming to help people lose weight and improve health. Intermittent fasting is also called “alternate day fasting” or “intermittent energy restriction.” It consists of eating very little or nothing at all on certain days of the week or times of the day.
Intermittent fasting has historically been a normal part of life for humans and many organisms. It is a way of tapping into the ancient knowledge that already exists within human biology.
The Many Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Unlike regular diets, fasting is not expensive, inconvenient, time-consuming, or complex. During intermittent fasting, calorie reduction happens naturally through the smaller window of time during which a person eats. Besides helping to better sleep, move more, and reduce how much a person eats, there are many other benefits of intermittent fasting. Health specialists worldwide advocate intermittent fasting for its many benefits like fat loss, disease prevention, anti-aging, cellular repair, improved metabolism, etc.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting helps the body become better adapted to oxidizing fat for energy. Because of the decreased time for eating, insulin levels are lower, allowing adipocytes (fat cells) to release fatty acids. The lower glucose and glycogen levels encourage the body to use these fatty acids to generate energy for the body and brain rather than store the fatty acids in fat cells. As a result, the body uses up fat instead of storing it and soon burn the already stored fat. Intermittent fasting is comparably effortless to sustain, reducing calorie intake, inducing ketosis, lipolysis, autophagy, and other positive bodily responses that work together toward weight loss.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There are several types of intermittent fasting that one can follow. Experimentations are required with a few types to find out which works for a person. Here are the most popular four types:
16/8 (16 Hours Off, 8 Hours On) Fasting
Also known as the daily window fasting, or simply skipping a meal. This is the easiest and most followed method of fasting, where one can eat for a period of eight hours and fast for 16 hours. It is recommended to either eat later in the day, skipping breakfast, or eat an early dinner and not eat again until breakfast the next day.
Alternate Day (24hr Fasting) and 5/2
Alternate day fasting, also known as Eat-Stop-Eat and the Up Day Down Day diet, involves fasting on alternate days of the week and eating unrestricted the other days. For example, Mon-Wed-Fri-Sun is eating days, and Tue-Thurs-Sat is fasting days. This means the last meal for Friday would be dinner, and there will be no food consumption until Saturday dinner or Sunday breakfast. For 5/2 fasting, 2 days of the week is chosen. The caloric intake is reduced to a quarter of the usual daily intake. Someone who typically eats 2000 calories would instead consume 500 calories for two days per week.
Water fasting is the most difficult type of fasting and shouldn’t be done without supervision or support from an expert. Some consider water fasting as the only true fast. The usual goal of a water fast is detoxing and fat reduction. For a period of a few days, fasting allows only the drinking of water. This means the body will be missing out on crucial vitamins and minerals. It is not recommended without any supervision of a health specialist.
Fat fasting is done by taking only healthy fats (olive oils, nuts, seeds, etc.) during the fast, hence the name fat fasting. The body doesn’t distinguish dietary fat from metabolizing dietary fat, and therefore remains in the fasted state. This gives the benefits of fasting while allowing the body’s macro and micronutrients to get into ketosis and all the benefits from brain and body fueled by ketones.
What to Eat During Intermittent Fasting?
Regardless of the method chosen for intermittent fasting, it’s important to apply the same fundamental nutrition principles to intermittent fasting as to other healthy eating plans. Here are a few principles one should adhere to during intermittent fasting:
- Consume minimally processed foods most of the time
- Eat a balance of lean protein, veggies, fruits, smart carbs, and healthy fats
- Create flavorful, delicious meals that you enjoy most
- Eat your meals slowly and mindfully
Intermittent fasting diets don’t mandate specific menus. However, adhering to good eating principles, certain types of foods are best to consume and avoid. Here are three foods to eat on an intermittent fasting diet:
Eating lean protein keeps the body feeling full longer than consuming other foods and will help to maintain or build muscle. Some healthy lean protein sources: chicken breast, plain Greek yogurt, beans, peas, lentils, fish and shellfish, tofu, and tempeh.
As with any eating routine, it’s important to consume highly nutritious foods while intermittent fasting. Fruits are typically are low in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant nutrients), and fiber. These vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can help lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels, and maintain bowel health.
Vegetables can be an important part of an intermittent fasting regimen. Research shows that a diet rich in leafy greens may reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, cognitive decline, and more. The government’s 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, most people should eat 2.5 cups of vegetables daily.
Intermittent Fasting on a Ketogenic Diet
Intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet have similar benefits because of ketosis, the metabolic state of burning fat instead of glucose. The body gets really lazy at its natural process when it is regularly supplied with carbs. During fasting, the body is forced to burn stored fat because there’s no readily available glucose from eating carbohydrates. Fasting triggers several desirable bodily processes such as lipolysis, autophagy, along ketosis. The body gets into ketosis faster through fasting than it would by slowly transitioning to a fat-adapted state.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
Intermittent fasting may not be advisable for an individual for many reasons, like if the person is hypoglycemic or doesn’t have enough fat stores in the body to burn. The benefits of fasting greatly outweigh the downsides and potential dangers. These dangers happen when fasting is done without ample knowledge about how everything works together to be beneficial rather than harmful. However, people with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them. Also, some of the harmful effects/dangers to look out for during intermittent fasting are.
The body needs electrolytes for normal organ function: sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphate. These essential electrolytes are present in supplements and exogenous ketones, and of course, in food. It is recommended to make sure to replenish these even during fasting. Any imbalance might result in negative effects like insomnia, irritability, and fatigue.
Yo-Yo Dieting Results
Fasting may not be ideal if one is prone to binge-eating. Fasting aids weight loss, but unless it is accompanied by a good, balanced food intake on eating windows, one could gain all the weight back or even add to it.
Seeing the fasting results can motivate some people so much that they also decide to exercise, aiming to compound their results. This can result in electrolyte balances and stress, leading to serious issues like blood sugar spikes and even collapse.
Intermittent Fasting Apps
For starting out with intermittent fasting, no matter which method is followed, having the right support and motivation is the key to success. Using apps can be a game-changer in terms of tracking the progress of fasting. All the apps offer different features, so it is recommended to choose what best suits the fasting schedule and information that the user wants to track. Here are the five most popular intermittent fasting apps:
One of the most popular IF apps out there, Zero has all the timers, journals, and tools needed to get started. It is also full of helpful articles on fasting during quarantine, the best beverages to drink during fasting, and how to get better sleep. The basic app is free, but it can be upgraded to Zero Plus ($69.99 a year), including personalized plans plus premium articles and videos.
Another super-popular option, with 17 million downloads, this German-based intermittent fasting app that allows one to frequently switch the type of fasting depending on the goals and needs that day or week. It also offers weekly challenges and trophies to keep up motivation. The list of fasting options is mind-boggling, but to try the more complex ones (Cold Water Jump? Antifragile?) upgrade to the premium plan for $69.99 a year is required.
LIFE Fasting Tracker
Teamwork is the key feature of this IF app. An individual can create social circles to share the fasting experience with friends. This app also uses visual graphics to show when the body is going into the fat-burning phase during fasting, which is a big motivator for some users. The app can be used for free but personal sessions with coaches will cost between $37.50 and $60 for 30 minutes.
Known for its soothing blue-and-green graphics, this IF app contains extensive stats, calendars, and reminders and can link up with Apple Watch. The app tracks the fasting hours, but it also helps keep up the motivation by showing results on a real-time basis. The app pushes the user a little bit for those days when he/she feels like giving up. The app is free, but there is an option to upgrade to the pro level for just $2.99.
Fasting is a basic fasting app with no bells and whistles. This is a good, solid option, including space to write down user thoughts and concerns about the progress. It’s a simple and clean fasting app with all the features a user wants without a bunch of added fluff loaded to make it appear more useful. The ability to make notes, especially help users to focus on what keeps them motivated. It’s free, but it can be upgraded to the premium version for $4.99 a year or $11.99 for a lifetime.
The Bottom Line
There is no need to follow a structured intermittent fasting plan to derive some benefits. Experiment with the different approaches and find something that you enjoy and fits your schedule. It’s recommended to start with the 16/8 method, then later move on to longer fasts. It’s important to experiment and find a method that works for you. At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition. The best diet for you is the one you can stick to in the long run. Intermittent fasting is great for some people, not others. The only way to find out which group you belong to is to try it out.
If you feel good when fasting and find it a sustainable way of eating, it can be a powerful tool to lose weight and improve your health. How much and how fast results manifest may vary. What you do eat during your eating windows should be optimal for your own unique body composition and daily caloric needs. Be mindful and get a read of your tendencies toward food and what your body likes. Progress can be tracked with any of the recommended apps. Intermittent Fasting should be combined with exercise, a nutritious diet composed of vegetables, protein, healthy fats, and plenty of sleep to achieve actual results.