Intermittent fasting 101: Everything you need to know about this eating pattern

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular diets that can help you lose weight, and offer several other benefits. Here are all the methods, benefits and side effects you need to know.

When you think of dieting, you mostly think about tweaking what you can eat. Intermittent fasting is one diet which focusses on when you eat! Known to be an effective weight loss diet, it is widely followed by people who choose different timing patterns as per their requirements and convenience. What is the best way to follow intermittent diet, what are its benefits and side effects? Letโ€™s find out.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern where people alternate between periods of eating and fasting. It does not focus on eating specific foods but rather on when to eat them, which is why it is referred to as an eating pattern more than a diet. Some of the most popular methods include the 16/8 method, which is fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window; the 5:2 method, which includes eating normally for five days and restricting your calorie intake for 2 consecutive days. There are other fasting methods that can help you stay fit and healthy.

Also Read: Intermittent fasting is the key to a healthy weight loss journey, hereโ€™s how

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular diets. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Methods of intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) encompasses various methods, each dictating when to eat and when to fast. Here are the methods that you need to know:

1. 16/8 Method

This includes fasting for 16 hours each day and eating within an 8-hour window. It is one of the most popular methods of intermittent fasting. People either skip breakfast or dinner while following this. A study published in the Cell Metabolism found that limiting the feeding window to 8 hours protected from obesity, inflammation, and diabetes.

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2. 5:2 Diet

With the 5:2 fasting method, you consume regular meals for five days and restrict calorie intake to 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days. Also known as the fast diet, restricting calorie intake for two consecutive weeks will also help you lose weight, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity.

3. Eat-stop-eat

A slightly more advanced version of the eating pattern, it involves fasting for a complete 24-hour period once or twice a week.

4. Alternate-day fasting

It includes fasting every other day. You can rotate between days of regular eating and fasting, where fasting days may involve very low-calorie intake or no food at all. A study published in the Nutrition Journal found that alternate-day fasting can help you lose weight and promote heart health.

5. The warrior diet

This one is an extreme form of intermittent fasting. It involves eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and one large meat at night. The eating window is usually around 4 hours. This is good for people who have tried other forms of intermittent fasting. You should consume plenty of vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats.

Each method offers flexibility, allowing individuals to choose the approach that best suits their lifestyle and health goals.

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What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

Here are the health benefits of intermittent fasting that you should know:

1. Weight loss

If you are trying to lose weight, intermittent fasting can help! A study published in the journal Nutrients found that people who followed the 5:2 intermittent fasting method for 12 weeks lost an average of 9 percent of their body weight. IF can help you eat fewer calories while also boosting your metabolism, which contributes to weight loss.

Also Read: Intermittent fasting vs small meals: Which diet is better for weight loss?

2. Promotes heart health

Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world? A study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that following intermittent fasting may improve risk factors such as high blood sugar, blood pressure, triglycerides, and bad cholesterol levels, all of which can increase the risk of heart disease.

3. Reduces diabetes risk

It has been shown that intermittent fasting offers great benefits for insulin resistance, helping reduce your blood sugar levels. A study published by the American Diabetes Association found that it can help improve survival rates among people and protect them against diabetic retinopathy. It may improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce inflammation, potentially lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.

4. May help reduce cancer risk

Cancer happens when cells proliferate and spread into the surrounding tissues. While intermittent fasting would not directly affect cancer growth, it may help control the risk. A study published in the European Journal of Public Health found that intermittent fasting may help prevent cancer. Another study published in the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research found that fasting may reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

5. Promotes brain health

Intermittent fasting may help reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance, all of which will help promote brain health. A study published in the journal Brain and Behaviour found that this fasting method may help increase new growth of nerve cells, which can help benefit your brain health.

6. Prevents Alzheimerโ€™s disease

Alzheimerโ€™s disease is an age-related disorder that affects your brain. It causes a decline in the patientโ€™s memory, thinking, learning, and organizing skills. While there is no cure for the disorder, a 2023 review published in the Nutrition Reviews found that intermittent fasting may delay the onset of the disorder or its severity.

7. May lead to several changes in your body

When you donโ€™t eat for a significant period, it tends to affect different parts of your body, including your hormones, cells, and genes. Intermittent fasting may cause:

  • Drop in your insulin levels, which may help burn fat.
  • Your body may start cellular repair by removing waste material from cells while following this eating pattern.
  • Your human growth hormone (HGH) level may increase, which may promote fat-burning, and muscle gain and offer other benefits.
  • It may lead to changes in your genes that may be beneficial for increasing longevity and providing protection against disease.

8. Simple and convenient

Since intermittent fasting has more to do with when you eat, rather than what to eat, it is relatively simple to follow. It also simplifies meal planning by reducing the number of meals consumed each day.

What you can eat on intermittent fasting?

There are no strict rules about what foods to eat or avoid while following IF. However, it is essential to focus on nutrient-dense foods that support your overall well-being. Whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and colourful fruits and vegetables are some options you can include in your diet. You should also keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

You should avoid eating processed foods, refined sugars, sugary beverages, and unhealthy fats if you want to keep yourself fit and healthy.

exercise after meals
You must eat healthy foods if you are doing intermittent fasting. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Are there any side effects of intermittent fasting?

While following intermittent fasting offers a lot of health benefits, some research has also pointed out that there are certain side effects of following this eating pattern. Some people may experience hunger and cravings, frequent headaches, digestion problems, mood changes, lethargy, bad breath, sleeping problems, dehydration, or malnutrition.

These side effects are more common in people who try to fast for longer periods than mentioned or do not follow the diet properly. If you are a beginner, it is best to start with the simplest fasting method. Also, you should always consult a doctor before choosing the right diet plan for yourself.

Also Read: 5 reasons why is intermittent fasting not working for you!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can I eat junk food during the eating window of intermittent fasting?

No, you cannot eat junk food! While this eating pattern does not restrict you from specific foods, it is important to avoid unhealthy foods and eat healthy foods. You can occasionally treat yourself but it is best to avoid its consumption.

2. Which one is the simplest method of intermittent fasting?

People find the 16/8 fasting method is considered the easiest to follow. It is mostly because it aligns with a personโ€™s daily schedule. Most people already fast while they sleep, so it is convenient to simply skip breakfast and have an early lunch.

3. Does intermittent help one lose weight?

It is believed that this diet can help you lose weight, but it is important to stay active as well. However, doctors donโ€™t recommend to follow it in the long run.

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