Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular over the last decade. Some see it as an opportunity to regulate their weight, others as a way to keep their metabolism at peak performance. While there’s still a lot to be discovered on this front, millions of people around the world swear by spending a bigger part of their day in a state of fasting.
So what are the benefits of intermittent fasting? The answer is multifaceted, though it could be boiled down to helping our bodies function better, which offers both short-term and long-term advantages.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
When someone says they’re fasting intermittently, it means they eat and fast in predetermined cycles. The fasting periods are much longer than eating ones, which lets the body use up all the energy from the food you intake and still leaves plenty of time for the restorative processes to happen naturally.
Overconsumption of food is all but normal in modern society. This can lead to a myriad of health problems – from obesity and congestive heart failure to Alzheimer’s – all caused in part by poor nutrition.
Intermittent fasting can help to take a closer look at how we eat and better understand what our bodies truly need to stay healthy. There are different approaches you can take:
- The 16:8 approach: When people talk about intermittent fasting, this is usually what they mean. In this approach, you’re fasting for 16 hours, followed by 8 hours when you can eat normally. If you’re new to the practice, this is a good place to start.
- The 5:2 approach: For this approach, you have 2 days during the week when you’re fasting and 5 days when you go back to your standard eating habits. While it might be a bit hard to stay on course, you can create schedules or use a free intermittent fasting tracker to help you keep an eye on alternating periods of fasting as they come.
- The alternate day approach: You take turns, during which you fast for 24 hours and during the next 24 hours, you eat as you usually would. It may take some time to get used to this approach, so be mindful of the impact it has on your well-being.
Remember that intermittent fasting is a lifestyle, just like exercising and making healthy eating choices. It might take some time to get used to, but the perks could far outweigh the adjustments.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has been around for thousands of years – even Hippocrates and Aristotle talk about the health benefits that come with refraining from food. It’s a common practice in different religions as it helps purge the body and thoughts of everything that doesn’t serve us.
In the previous decade, as fasting got its place in the spotlight, there have been dozens of studies on its benefits. The results are by no means definitive (a lot of the research was done on animals) but there are some conclusions that show significant improvements that intermittent fasting can bring. Here are the most notable ones.
This is probably one of the biggest benefits of intermittent fasting that has been documented.
Insulin is in charge of regulating blood sugar – levels of insulin determine whether the sugar from carbohydrates will be used as fuel or stored as fat. Insulin resistance is common in people struggling with obesity and diabetes, and intermittent fasting can help with regulating it.
When a person has insulin resistance, the body accumulates sugars as fat, creating a whole host of health issues along the way. Prolonged fasting lets insulin do its job, which is to use glucose (sugar) as it was intended – an energy source. When you spend a better part of your day not eating, insulin has the time to level out and your body can function normally.
Because you’re eating less, the number of calories you take in is fewer, and your body has longer periods of time to use it all up. This leads to better insulin regulation, as well as gradual weight loss and diabetes prevention.
Better Heart Health
While it might look unlikely that fasting can help with heart conditions, it can play a big part in their prevention. The way we eat affects our heart function through a series of factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels. If one or more of them is high, the heart can’t function at its optimal level.
Intermittent fasting helps with keeping all of them in check because the food we eat greatly determines our heart’s health. Long periods of fasting make it harder to overeat and consume high quantities of sugar-packed food – this reflects positively on your weight, insulin levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol. All key components of a strong healthy heart.
Reduced Inflammation and Improved Cellular Repair
Intermittent fasting is closely related to autophagy. In this process, your body optimizes cell function by reusing its damaged parts and getting rid of those that can’t be utilized. Think of it as spring cleaning of your cells that lets them stay healthy and fully functional. It’s the ultimate detox!
Autophagy happens when the body doesn’t get enough nutrients, so the cell starts “feeding” on itself. That way, the body takes care of its own “defective materials” and repurposes them, which prevents disease and slows down aging. That’s why you’ll hear people connecting fasting with increased vitality and longevity.
Fasting has a similar role in reducing inflammation in the body, another cause of chronic illness. Overeating has basically become the norm, and when your body gets too much food and too much energy, inflammation rises up to mitigate it (similar to fighting an infection). Prolonged inflammation can lead to some of the most prominent diseases of our time – asthma, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and much more.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting Are Here to Stay
The truth is that intermittent fasting and its many benefits are yet to be explored, but the overall improved sense of well-being is undeniable. Of course, before you start your journey, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor and get their green light.
This practice isn’t a “one size fits all” and your physical and mental health play a big role when deciding to give it a go.
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