Although intermittent fasting has been a known way of life for a large number of people for many years, it has somehow become a ‘trendy’ diet plan to follow in more recent times. The plan has become favoured especially amongst social media users across the globe, which is probably how it’s gained its newfound popularity. But what exactly is it? How does it work? And what benefits does it have? We’ve got a beginners guide for you to find out everything you need to know about intermittent fasting!
What is intermittent fasting and how does it work?
Intermittent fasting is a pretty strict and regimented ‘diet’ plan where you only eat between certain times of the day. Although I say ‘diet’, it’s really more of a lifestyle change rather than a diet specifically. Here’s what I mean…
An intermittent fasting plan usually consists of eating over a set number of hours, and fasting during the rest. Sometimes, intermittent fasting can also occasionally mean limiting the amount of calories that are consumed during the eating period too.
Some people who follow an intermittent fasting plan choose to stick to the guide every day, and others decide to adhere to the lifestyle a few days a week. It really comes down to personal preference and what works best for you. That being said, people who participate in intermittent fasting must be organised and prepared with the food that they are going to eat during each day, as this makes it much easier to stick to!
Let’s look into intermittent fasting in a little more detail…
What effects does it have on the body?
Some questions I’ve heard in the past are – intermittent fasting must have a pretty drastic effect on the body, right? Otherwise why would people be so infatuated by it? Well, it certainly can! When followed correctly, an intermittent fasting plan can seriously help you lose weight. And, it has also been proven to boost brain function and better your blood sugar level control too. When you leave your body to run for a while without having to process food, you allow yourself to have a break from digestion and similar daily functions. And this actually has a ton of health benefits. These include:
- weight loss
- cellular repair processes occur, including eliminating waste and cleansing your insides
- fat burning occurs (and is easier) due to the fact that insulin blood levels drop
- disease fighting molecules are restored
- hormonal changes occur, which also assists fat burning
- potential for increased energy
- potential for better concentration and a ‘cleansed’ mind
- improved gut health
- better heart health (lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure etc)
As you can see, following an intermittent fasting plan hosts a ton of health related benefits, including promoting weight loss. Intermittent fasting for weight loss is usually the main reason that many people decide to follow one of these plans.
Intermittent fasting for weight loss is probably the most common reason people try intermittent fasting in the first place. But, there are some conditions you must adhere to when following intermittent fasting for weight loss. For example, it does not mean eating as much as you possibly can for the 8 hour eating period. It also does not mean you can eat chocolate for breakfast, cake for lunch and fries for dinner! You have to make sure you are sticking to a healthy diet during your eating hours, otherwise it is likely that your weight loss results will not be as satisfactory. Intermittent fasting for weight loss works, yes, but only if you really take it seriously and alter your eating patterns as well as the food you consume.
One of the reasons that intermittent fasting for weight loss works is because it prohibits you from eating late at night, assuming your fasting period ends at a suitable time. Not eating past 6/7pm in the evening allows your body to focus on fat burning, instead of food burning, overnight. This promotes weight loss.
What are the common fasting patterns?
The most popular way to follow an intermittent fasting plan is to stick to the 16/8 rule. This simply means that you have an 8 hour period where you can eat, and then you must fast for the next 16 hours. A lot of people choose their 8 hour eating period to be around 10am – 6pm, with 6pm-10am as their fasting hours. As you can imagine, this takes your body some getting used to!
Some others decide to follow a 20/4 fasting plan. But, this type of intermittent fasting plan is not for everyone. The 20/4 fasting period tends to work for those who already have experience with intermittent fasting. It also works for people who tend to not feel hungry during the day or if they find that eating slows down their productivity. Keep in mind though, that allowing yourself to eat for only 4 hours a day is NOT for beginners, and not for the faint hearted. The 16/8 pattern is much more recommended, especially if you are just starting out. If however, you want to try intermittent fasting for weight loss, and lose weight very quickly, you could try the 20/4 for a SHORT period of time. But again, and I must stress, that following a 20/4 pattern of intermittent fasting for weight loss can be dangerous if you haven’t tried anything like it before. I would also always suggest that you consult a medical professional if you are thinking about trying it.
How does the body adjust to intermittent fasting?
If you are used to eating as and when you please, or you tend to eat a lot, then it will certainly take your body and mind some time to adjust to your new intermittent fasting plan.
At the beginning, it is likely that you will experience hunger pains. Yes, they are a real thing! Hunger pains tend to occur in your upper left side, and are caused when your stomach is pretty much completely empty. It is your body’s way of telling you – hey, I need refueling over here! It happens when your stomach contracts because it is hungry. This also happens because your body is used to running off the glucose that has broken down from the food you eat. And now, that glucose isn’t there to break down anymore. But rest assured that over time, these pains quieten down and should start to disappear.
It is common that you will probably want to give up within the first couple of weeks of your new intermittent fasting plan. But, the best part is that once your body starts to become accustomed a little more, it will start to burn the fat you have stored, instead of the glucose it normally burns. Keep that in mind when you are thinking it’s too hard! It can be tough, and you’re not alone! Most people will experience this when trying intermittent fasting for the first time. Your body will get used to your new lifestyle, you will get there, and hopefully you will see some weight loss along the way – if that is your goal!
Your mind has to get used to a shift too. Willpower is key when it comes to intermittent fasting! Many people who start an intermittent fasting plan aren’t sure if they will be able to carry it through because mentally, it can be tough to start with. Both your mind and body will probably want to cave, but stay strong, you’ve got this!
At the beginning, it is also usual to experience fatigue, low energy levels and perhaps even dizziness. This occurs because your body is used to working on digesting more nutrients than it will be currently getting. Again, these symptoms will subside over time as your body gets used to its new schedule. It really is all about training your mind and body to settle into its new normal.
The most important thing to remember when starting a new intermittent fasting plan is to LISTEN to your body. If, at the beginning, you feel really low in mood and energy, do NOT starve yourself! Allow yourself to build up to your new pattern overtime if necessary. You do not have to start the 16/8 pattern on day one. In fact, you will find the whole thing easier if you work your way up. And you will probably find that you stick to the plan better as well if you do it this way.
What are the pros and cons of an intermittent fasting plan?
We’ve spoken already about some of the health pros that intermittent fasting can have on your body.
As is with any ‘diet’ or lifestyle change, there are going to be some cons that have to be endured. In this case, some of the negatives can include:
- It can be difficult to stick to long-term
- Some people may experience negative hormonal changes which could lead to things such as trouble sleeping, stress or compromised energy levels particularly at the start
- It can have an impact on your social life, as it will restrict you from eating into the evening
- Some people can experience mental health problems when sticking to intermittent fasting, because of its strict nature it could take over your mind and life.
People that should not consider following an intermittent fasting plan include – pregnant women or women that are trying to conceive, children or teenagers, those with a history of mental health problems, those with a history of eating disorders, those who have diabetes or metabolic issues. It also is not recommended for people who live a very active lifestyle because they need more fuel that they burn very frequently.
Celebrities that have benefited from intermittent fasting
As with any form of eating lifestyle, many celebrities have raved about intermittent fasting. Such celebrities that have tried it for themselves include Nicole Kidman, Ben Afflack, Jennifer Lopez, Hugh Jackman, Kourtney Kardashian, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, Justin Theroux, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Vanessa Hudgens and Mindy Kaling, just to name a few!
So what have we learnt? That yes, intermittent fasting can be a great way to lose weight. As well as using intermittent fasting for weight loss, it can also increase brain function and improve concentration levels. As well as this, you will lower your risk of cholesterol and better your heart health. You might even experience a surge in energy too in the long run!
We also know that you need to give both your mind and body a chance to settle a new routine. It will be tough at first, but you will get there with it.
If you are about to embark on an intermittent fasting journey, I wish you the very best of luck!