Intermittent Fasting (IF) to lose weight: How Effective Is It?

Shedding those extra pounds of fat have always been a challenge and experts have identified a variety of ways to make it happen. Healthy eating, diets and exercise are common ways to combat obesity, but there’s a new idea that’s been slowly but surely gaining a lot of attention – intermittent fasting.

Just about every diet on the planet focuses on what’s on your plate and what you need to get rid of. Intermittent fasting does things in a slightly different way. Instead of dictating what you can and cannot eat, this type of weight loss regime is based on when you eat what you eat. There’s absolutely no restriction as to what you’re consuming; the only limitation is the time. Intermittent fasting is, thus, more of an eating pattern than an actual diet plan.

Intermittent fasting came into the limelight in 2012 in a UK-based documentary Eat, Fast, and Live Longer. Since then, celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé have sworn by intermittent fasting as an effective way to stay fit. In spite of this, it is important to know if intermittent fasting is actually scientifically and clinically validated as an effective means to lose weight.

Intermittent Fasting: How to Approach it

There is no single way to approach intermittent fasting. The basic concept of each of the three main methods described below is to fast for a certain period of time in between eating. However, the methods differ in the duration of the fast.

16/8 method

By far the most practiced and researched method is the 16/8 method. A study published in the Nutrition and Healthy Aging journal investigated the effect of intermittent fasting on a sample of 23 obese individuals. Each individual was instructed to fast for 16 hours straight and to eat whatever they wanted to for the rest of the day. The results of the study found a staggering decrease in blood pressure of the participants as well as a reduced amount of the daily calorie intake.

Eat-Stop-Eat

The second method of intermittent fasting is the Eat-Stop-Eat method which involves fasting for a full 24 hours once or twice a week on alternate days.

5:2 Diet

The 5:2 diet is the third and final method of intermittent fasting which is much less common than the other two. This diet involves the consumption of 500 calories two days a week on non-consecutive days, while the other 5 days include eating as per normal.

Intermittent Fasting: The Physiological Effects on Your Body

A reduced amount of calorie intake is a proven means to lose weight. However, research has shown that intermittent fasting achieves this through various physiological processes. By fasting intermittently, there is an increase in levels of growth hormones, such as human growth hormone and noradrenaline, which aids in lean muscle mass growth and fat loss.

Studies have also found that fasting improves insulin sensitivity, increases the production of norepinephrine, encourages the cell repair and healing process and boosts our immune system and brain health to increase longevity.

Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Weight Loss

We have already established that intermittent fasting elevates the level of certain fat burning hormones. We have also seen that it improves insulin sensitivity and makes stored body fat more accessible. These factors combined make for an excellent weight loss solution.

Although there is still a lot of ongoing research on the efficiency of intermittent fasting as compared to other types of diets, there is not much doubt that it contributes to weight loss. Studies have found that intermittent fasting can increase your metabolic rate by a decent percentage, while others have seen a predominant weight loss pattern and a substantial decrease in waist circumference measurements over a period of 24 weeks.

Improves Heart Health

Studies have found that short-term fasting can reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body, which reduces the risk of heart diseases.

Decreases Insulin Resistance

While some studies oppose to intermittent fasting decreasing insulin resistance, others show that this type of fasting can lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity and thus reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes.

Reduces inflammation

Certain inflammatory markers were found to be reduced in some studies conducted on intermittent fasting.

Anti-aging effects

By boosting the immune system on a cellular level, clinical studies on rats found an increased lifespan of rats that fasted intermittently.

Potential Health Hazards of Intermittent Fasting

Research on the effectiveness and safety of intermittent fasting is still in its infant stages. Thus, it is better to tread carefully when adopting this type of weight loss program.

If you are a diabetic, you might want to discuss intermittent fasting with your doctor first. A study conducted by members of the European Society of Endocrinology found that rats who fasted short-term had damaged beta-cells of their pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin. The same study also found an increase in the amount of abdominal fat. Hence, if you are diabetic or have poor blood sugar regulation, it is best to observe caution.

Women have also been found to be more vulnerable to the side effects of intermittent fasting than men. Intermittent fasting studies on animal subjects found them to be masculinized, less fertile and with irregular menstrual cycles. Fasting is also probably a bad idea if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive.

You should also avoid intermittent fasting if you have a low blood pressure, eating disorders or are underweight.

Getting on Board with Intermittent Fasting

If your mind is made up about trying this new weight loss program, you first need to know how to start. The first step is to choose which of the three methods of intermittent fasting you want to follow. Baby steps are important as you need to understand and listen to the requirements of your body. For this, you might want to start the 16/8 diet once or twice a week, instead of doing it every day so that your body is able to adjust to this new lifestyle change.

It is also important to be wary of the potential side effects and health hazards associated with intermittent fasting. While the evidence is weak, you should still try to avoid fasting if you are a diabetic, pregnant or trying to conceive.


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