What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
You’ve probably heard of one of the most popular diets in the nutrition world right now, intermittent fasting (IF). Though this type of diet certainly isn’t new, the fad-ish uprising of it’s popularity have left a great deal of guru’s, buzz words, and misinformation floating around on the internet. However when celebrities like Beyonce, Terry Crews, and Hugh Jackman swear by a diet it is definitely worth giving a try. Today we’re going to break down some of the facts about intermittent fasting. You can decide if it’s right for you!
Before we get into the benefits of intermittent fasting it’s important to know how it works. There are many different protocols and standards that define the versions of this diet. The parameters that most people adjust include:
- Time, when to eat and when not to. Most protocols recommend a ratio of 16 hour fast to 8 hours of eating. This could look like skipping breakfast and eating your first meal of the day at 12pm. You then have until 8 pm to eat.
- What counts as fasting, if you’re in your fasting window are you allowed to consume anything? Most diets encourage water during the fast. Many also allow black coffee or tea (hold the cream and sugar) during the fast. Outside of these beverages, some people alse consume MCT or coconut oil, BCAA drinks, or ketone supplements. This will depend on your goals and the approach you take.
- What to eat during meals. This is dependent on the types and frequency of foods that work best for you. If you practice intermittent fasting you will benefit the most by adhering to a diet that eliminates inflammatory foods and refined carbohydrates.
Intermittent Fasting claims to have a great deal of benefits and many people have found it works great for them. There are also a great deal of myths or areas that still need to be verified by science. Most of the benefits of intermittent fasting seem to have more of a correlation with successful diets rather than to be the primary causal factor. As we work our way through the many claimed benefits of IF let’s address what benefits you can count on and which ones to put to the test.
Lower Insulin Resistance/Increase Insulin Sensitivity
If you hear insulin resistance I’m sure you’re thinking two things. One, I know that is important. Two, I don’t have diabetes so how does it apply to me?? Insulin is a hormone responsible for regulating the amount of energy (glucose) in the blood stream. By lowering insulin resistance the body improves its ability to store extra glucose as glycogen (ready to use energy) in the muscle rather than as fat. Intermittent fasting reduces the bodies exposure to energy fluxuations making it more sensitive when you do eat a meal.
You can burn fat while gaining muscle
This is one of those difficult to navigate situations. The fact is that going 16 hours or more without eating will make your body more reliant on fat as a fuel source. The major factor to consider is that the biggest player in gaining or losing both fat and muscle is energy balance. Intermittent fasting combined with healthy food choices and consistent exercise will produce the desired results, but if you’re consuming more calories than your body needs the calories will contribute to both muscle and fat gain.
Better dietary adherence
Many people love to use intermittent fasting simply because it is a great fit for their lifestyle.
Reasons for this vary from one person to another, but one of the key reasons seems to be that it reduces decision fatigue. Most people find themselves making poor dietary choices when they are either in a hurry or tired. By eliminating decision making around food it becomes easier to plan for one or two healthy meals in a day. Food becomes less of a focal point. You start eating to live, not living to eat.
Improve mental clarity
This ties into the powerful effects of insulin on the body. After a meal our body secretes insulin to maintain blood sugar levels in the body. When we are constantly eating we are dependent on a steady supply of glucose to feel energized and awake. Too long without food or an imbalanced meal causes the dreaded brain fog you’ve probably felt an hour or so after lunch. Many people report being more alert and focused when when adapted to an intermittent fasting diet.
Give your gut a rest
A continuous diet of hard to digest foods can leave our digestive tract operating at less than optimal capacity. This leads to low energy levels, poor digestion, and a general inflammatory state. Intermittent fasting gives digestive enzymes and the healthy bacteria in our gut to build up stabilize.
This benefit of IF is about as straightforward as it gets. Eating fewer meals and/or at fewer times of the day will save you time. Not only that but you’d be surprised how much time gets wasted on meals when you’re trying to fit in 5-6 small meals per day. Without the interruption of food you’ll have more time for other activities.
This goes hand in hand with saving time. Fewer meals means more money saved. Even if you are eating bigger portions for lunch and dinner it means a smaller grocery bill and fewer days of the month you have to eat out.
As we’ve addressed some of the benefits of intermittent fasting we also need to play devil’s advocate to why it might now be the right choice for you. Let’s take a look at why you should not try intermittent fasting…
Some populations that may want to avoid IF would be individuals who have had issues with yo-yo dieting, overeating, binge eating, or make poor dietary choices. Some practitioners of intermittent fasting have reported an obsession with food or constant daydreaming about eating during their restricted hours. It is important to consult with your doctor before making any major change to your health including a significant shift in your diet.
Other individuals who may want to steer clear of IF would be individuals who are not consuming sufficient nutrients to address a specific health condition or goal. These could include specific micronutrients like vitamins or minerals. Children, teenagers or anyone who needs more total calories to gain weight may not be able to consume enough food during the limited time window associated with intermittent fasting. If you are a hardgainer, increasing your training volume for a sport, have a job that requires intense physical activity, or are in pregnancy this may not be the diet for you.
Hopefully highlighting some of the benefits of intermittent fasting has given you the information to see if you want to explore it further or shut it down like your high school prom date.