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All You Need To Know About Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is most popularly used as a weight loss strategy, but this approach can be incredibly beneficial to our overall health, when used correctly. Here’s everything you need to know. 

Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet as such, but rather an eating pattern involving cycling between periods of eating and fasting. The cycle can vary in duration and structure, though the most popular approach is the 16/18 method. This involves fasting for sixteen hours and eating within an eight-hour window. Historically, as humans we’ve been able to survive and even thrive for long periods of time without eating, however, as our lifestyles have evolved and the popularity of snacking has increased, we’ve become accustomed to grazing for longer periods. 

The thinking behind using intermittent fasting as a tool to aid weight management is that in restricting caloric intake, the body will tap into existing fat stores for energy more efficiently, due to the availability of glucose. It’s also thought that by limiting the eating window, individuals have fewer opportunities to consume calories, or in other words, snack, which as a result reduces our overall caloric intake. 

Enhancing Cellular Repair and Neurological Health

Although fasting is most commonly associated with weight loss, there are a myriad of physiological benefits. These are thought to be due to the mild stress cells are put under whilst fasting. Cells adapt to this by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and possibly resist disease. This is similar to how the cells respond to the stress of exercising.

A study cited in a review published in the National Library of Medicine, details a study in which overweight adults with moderate asthma consumed only 20% of their usual caloric intake on alternate days. Participants adhering to the diet not only lost 8% of their initial body weight across eight weeks, but saw a decrease in markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as an improvement of asthma related symptoms. 

Research has also been carried out into the beneficial effects of fasting on neurons. After 10–16 hours the body will go into its fat stores for energy, releasing fatty acids called ketones which have been shown to protect memory and learning function. 

Improved Insulin Sensitivity 

A study published in the Journal Cell Metabolism investigated the effects of time-restricted feeding on insulin sensitivity in prediabetic men. They found this to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce insulin levels and lower post-meal glucose levels, even without weight loss. 

Ghrelin and Leptin Regulation

Ghrelin is known as the ‘hunger hormone’ which typically tends to increase before meals. Intermittent fasting is thought to lead to a reduction in ghrelin levels, which could contribute to portion control. It’s also thought to affect leptin, the ‘satiety hormone’ involved in signalling hunger to the brain, promoting better appetite regulation. 

Practising Intermittent Fasting Safely 

There are various approaches to intermittent fasting. As aforementioned, the 16/8 time restricted eating method tends to be the most popular. However, other approaches include the 5/2 method, in which caloric intake is restricted on two days of the week. This is similar to alternate-day fasting, in which you alternate between time restricted eating days and non time restricted. 

When approaching intermittent fasting, it’s important to do so safely. Find a method that aligns with your lifestyle and schedule and make it work for you. 

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