What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that switches from fasting periods to non-fasting periods. Unlike a food plan, it focuses on when to eat instead of what to eat. Although, some fasting plans consider both.
The concept of fasting has been around throughout human history, as hunter-gatherers had to spend long periods of time without nourishment when food was not readily available.
Intermittent fasting replicates these “lean” periods as it focuses on voluntarily refraining from meals for a set period of time and eating during a set timeframe. This allows the body to conserve energy; less time is allocated for digestion and priority is given to other important processes, such as cell renewal.
Popular fasting methods
There are many different methods to practice intermittent fasting in order to suit one's preferences and lifestyle demands. Most methods are safe for healthy people to practice, provided they stay hydrated.
A popular method known as the "Leangains Protocol,” commonly known as “The 16/8” method,” involves fasting for 16 hours and eating during the day’s remaining eight hours. Many may find this to be an easier method as it can be achieved by eating breakfast later in the day, eating dinner earlier than usual, and avoiding snacking at night.
Alternatively, OMAD is a method that many intermittent fasting newcomers may find more difficult. OMAD refers to the “one-meal-a-day” approach. It consists of fasting for 23 hours and eating a filling meal within a one-hour timeframe. It is said that you can eat any meal during this timeframe, however it is recommended to eat a nutrient-dense one.
Although intermittent fasting approves of the consumption of certain drinks such as water, bone broth, and unsweetened tea and coffee, dry fasting opposes that idea. Dry fasting restricts foods and beverages. Dry fasting can be done with any intermittent fasting method, such as the 16/8 method. It is known to be practiced by different faiths - for example during Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, which prescribes dry fasting from sunrise to sunset.
On the other hand, water fasting is a method that refers to abstaining from food and only ingesting water. Water fasting does not have a set time frame, although it is usually advised to do this fasting technique for around 24-72 hours, depending on the individual.
The Bone Broth Fast involves drinking bone broth as a replacement to meals, whilst completely avoiding food. Bone broth is the stock made from first boiling, then simmering beef, chicken or other animal bones for 24 hours or longer, and it is filled with collagen, amino acids, and minerals, making it an attractive fasting choice. Water and tea (green tea is a bonus!) are permitted during the Bone Broth Fast. The recommended fasting period is two to four days, depending on one's preference.
Another interesting fasting technique by the name of “Fat Fasting” was created by Dr. Atkins, an American physician and cardiologist. Fat fasting is a high-fat, low-calorie diet that people follow for two to five days. It is unlike other fasting techniques listed above, as it does not restrict all foods, and requires refraining from specific foods. On a Fat Fasting diet, it is required to eat fat only, in the form of butter, ghee and MCT oils like coconut, for example.
Benefits of intermittent fasting
Research has shown that intermittent fasting has many evidence-based benefits, weight loss being its main appeal. This occurs by the enhancement of hormone function, as insulin levels during the fasting period decrease in the body, aiding the body in losing fat.
Another important benefit of intermittent fasting that has been illustrated through studies, is that it can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Inflammation and oxidative stress go hand in hand and can contribute to many chronic illnesses and diseases such as heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer's. Oxidative stress also contributes to the hallmarks of aging.
Moreover, intermittent fasting also induces autophagy, which plays a role in the health and maintenance of homeostasis in all of our cells. Autophagy can also prevent age-related symptoms and diseases. As one fasts, the cells begin to “starve,” allowing autophagy to break down the harmful cellular components in the body, such as dysfunctional mitochrondria.