If you search for the phrase “intermittent fasting” on Google Scholar, 149,000 results will pop up. Scientific research proves how popular the intermittent fasting diet has become. But does the evidence reveal if intermittent fasting actually works?
Current weight loss methods restrict calories, increase physical activity, and often incorporate a comprehensive lifestyle intervention. But intermittent fasting has grown in popularity because it simply limits the hours when you can eat without dramatically changing what you eat, how you exercise, or what sort of lifestyle you live.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent means that something happens at irregular intervals.
Fasting means to abstain from consuming some or all types of food or drink for a certain length of time.
Combining the two words produces intermittent fasting, a diet of alternating cycles of fasting and regular eating.
The fasting period typically runs for 16 hours or 18 hours, so you can only eat food for 8 or 6 hours of the day, respectively. For example, you fast between 6pm and 10am (16 hours), which means you can consume food from 10am to 6pm (8 hours).
There are two types of fasting.
- You consume the same number of calories during the eating hours of an intermittent fast diet as you would on a regular non-diet day.
- Or you consume fewer calories during an intermittent fast diet than you would on a regular non-diet day.
Which type of fasting is better for your health? Let’s see what the evidence says.
Scientific research about intermittent fasting
Want to try intermittent fasting but aren’t sure where to begin? Here’s step one.
Assuming that you consume the same amount of calories during an intermittent fast as you would on a typical day, “intermittent fasting is more effective than traditional calorie restriction for weight loss.” To put that simply, you can eat the exact same things that you are already consuming, but limit your eating to only 6 or 8 hours of the day, science shows that you can lose weight.
The next step is to shift how you think about food. “Beliefs about a healthy eating style can play an important role in shaping dietary patterns.” If you bear a cross that eating three meals a day with snacks in between is the only way to thrive, or if you freak out about how hungry you may be later, you’re not likely to stick with an intermittent fasting diet. However, if you embrace the shifted eating patterns of an intermittent fasting diet – which often looks like eating more food in the evening right before your fast begins – science says you’ll probably stick with this diet for the long haul.
Why stick with an intermittent diet? The scientific evidence is impressive.
- Mice who participated in a 12 hour intermittent fast every other day for 6 weeks lost weight and naturally reduced their calorie intake.
- That same group of mice had a greater resistance to type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and high blood pressure – plus an increased lifespan.
- A diet of intermittent fasting can promote the growth of healthy brain cells (neurogenesis) and protect against acute brain injuries like stroke and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
- 18 hours of fasting and 6 hours of eating triggers a metabolic switch within your body, which results in better resistance to stress, obesity, and cancer.
- Intermittent fasting last little to no impact of your physical athletic performance.
- Fasting from sunset to dawn has been shown to boost your circadian rhythms, immune system, DNA repair, and cognitive functioning.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it is an impressive one! Who doesn’t want to combat unhealthy weight gain, fatal diseases, and unwanted illnesses?
How to start an intermittent fasting diet
First, decide how long you can reasonably fast. For most individuals, they can stop eating after dinner (around 6 or 7pm), and hold off on breakfast until about 10am. But maybe you wake up at 5am and can’t acceptably delay breakfast by 5 hours. Or maybe you go to sleep by 8:30pm and don’t need to eat as late as 7pm.
Next, pick which days you will participate in an intermittent fast. Try starting with only one day per week, then aim for two, and finally shoot for three.
Next, choose to keep your diet the same. It’s much easier to change one habit at a time. Stick with the same diet, the same foods, and the same meals. As the evidence suggested, you’ll naturally curb your calorie intake as you participate in the intermittent fast.
Finally, alter your diet to adjust to your new intermittent fasting schedule. After the intermittent fasting practice becomes a habit, you can better identify what types of meals you want at certain times of the eating period. Alter when and what you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus snacks.
Don’t forget to keep a journal or food log! Track which days you fasted, when you ate, and what you ate. A journal or planner are easy options, but there are plenty of apps that do this same thing.
The goal: a healthy lifestyle
Mama, the goal is a healthy lifestyle. You want to be in great physical shape to see the legacy you are imprinting on your children. You want to play with your kids in the park, have enough energy to talk with your teen late at night, and have a clear mind to stay organized and intentional with your family. Intermittent fasting can do this for you, plus prevent future diseases and increase your overall lifespan!
As always, consult your doctor or physician before changing your diet. And be sure to have regular examinations to ensure you’re consuming enough vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy body.
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