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What Is Intermittent Fasting?

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If there’s one secret a good portion of people want, it’s the secret to losing weight. Not just losing it, but keeping it off. The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut, with everyone clamoring for the next “it” diet. It’s pretty much a constant rotation: diet emerges, diet works for some people, diet gets hugely popular, then starts to fall off in favor of the next quick fix. But most people know the key to sustainable weight loss isn’t a quick fix. It’s a pretty major lifestyle change that encompasses what you eat and moving more. And a healthy diet is about more than shedding a few pounds! It’s about living a healthier, stronger, better life. So what if you could take one of these “fad” diets, and actually turn it into something beneficial that lasts? That’s what experts say you could get from intermittent fasting.

The process of intermittent fasting isn’t exactly new. Researchers have been touting its benefits for years, for everything from weight loss to improved brain health.

The idea is that you eat normally for the majority of the week, then drastically reduce your caloric intake on the remaining days. Experts say this schedule can actually change your body’s cellular and metabolic processes, improving your health and melting away pounds in the process. Benjamin Horne is the director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at Utah’s non-profit Intermountain Healthcare system, and has published research on the positive effects of intermittent fasting. He says, “There continues to be good evidence that intermittent fasting is producing weight-loss benefits, and we also have some evidence that these diets can reduce inflammation, they can reduce blood pressure and resting heart rate, and they seem to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system”.

The majority of the research on intermittent fasting shows that it’s more successful at helping people lose weight than traditional calorie-cutting diets.

A popular schedule among fasters is the 5:2 schedule. For 5 days of the week, you eat regularly. Think breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a couple of snacks. On your two fasting days, you aim for around 500 calories of fat and protein (eggs, fish, nuts, etc.). You can eat the calories whenever you want on fasting days. But most people choose to fast for 16ish hours at a time. So an early dinner, and then nothing until a late breakfast the next day. But no carbs or sugars or bad stuff! You should still try to eat a healthy, balanced diet on your non-fasting days. But you’re not bound to strict rules and don’t have to count calories or cut carbs. It’s like a diet with two built-in cheat days!

Easing into it is probably the easiest way to get started on intermittent fasting. The good news is, there’s not much prep involved, and most people can manage two days of a fairly strict diet, right? As you progress, you can stretch out your fasting times. Research has shown that longer periods of fasting (say, 24 hours at a time) could be even more beneficial than the traditional intermittent fasting schedule.

If you’re ready to make a change and improve your health, intermittent fasting may be the right “diet” for you. But as with any diet, it’s not going to work until you’re ready to commit to it and make it work. And always, always discuss any major changes to your diet or lifestyle with your doctor before getting started!

(Image: iStock / Fascinadora)

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