I admit it. I’ve been doing various forms of intermittent fasting (IF) for well over 20 years now, and it’s a practice I highly recommend.
Numerous studies conducted on intermittent fasting have cited a reduction in stubborn belly fat, improved brain and heart health, lowered oxidative stress and inflammation, and even anti-aging as a “side effect” of regular intermittent fasting.
I don’t know about you, but I’m SOLD!
So what exactly does intermittent fasting involve, and how can you achieve these extraordinary benefits?
First up, let’s explore the benefits a little further…
(Nb: I’ve cited references to the various studies at the bottom of this article)
1: May Extend Your Life (Anti-Aging)
When you go without food for a short time, your body diverts its energy away from digesting food to cellular repair and the removal of waste material and toxins, a process known as autophagy.
Dr. Colin Champ, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre it like this;
“Think of it as our body’s innate recycling program. Autophagy makes us more efficient machines to get rid of faulty parts, stop cancerous growths, and stop metabolic dysfunction like obesity and diabetes.”
By boosting your body’s autophagy process through intermittent fasting you dampen inflammation, enhance biological function and slow down the aging process.
Researchers have also noted that several genes related to longevity and protection against disease are automatically switched on when your body enters a fasted state.
2: Fat Loss, Including a Reduction in Belly Fat
With intermittent fasting your body regulates hormones in a way that promote fat loss. One hormone that is produced in abundance while fasting is human growth hormone. (HGH)
Human growth hormone increases as much as 5 times above baseline during intermittent fasting.
Why is this significant?
Because the higher your levels of HGH the easier it is to burn fat and maintain lean muscle mass.
While it’s true that that the reduction in overall calories from intermittent fasting will result in some weight loss, there is also a substantial effect on fat loss.
Not only is this due to higher levels of human growth hormone (as outlined above) but because of the significant reduction in insulin (insulin regulates your blood sugars) and the corresponding increase in norepinephrine – the main neurotransmitter produced by the sympathetic nervous system.
This cocktail of hormones initiates the breakdown of stored body fat and uses it as an energy source. This subsequently increases your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) and studies show this can vary from 3.6% at the low end, to an amazing 14% at the higher end!
What’s more, the research indicates that a large percentage of the weight lost from intermittent fasting comes from stored belly fat, the kind that is associated with insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease.
3: Improved Brain and Heart Health
Some studies have shown that intermittent fasting can increase the growth of new nerve cells, thereby increasing brain function.
Intermittent fasting increases levels of a brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a deficiency which is linked to depression, learning difficulties and memory loss.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve a number of risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol profile, inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels.
4: Reduction in Oxidative Stress and Inflammation
Oxidative stress and inflammation is said to be at the heart of chronic disease and accelerated aging.
Several studies show that intermittent fasting can enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress.
Additionally, studies show that intermittent fasting can help fight inflammation.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There are various types of intermittent fasting, however here are 3 of the most popular.
1: Eat-Stop-Eat: Do a 24-hour fast, once or twice a week.
2: The 5:2 Method: Eat normally for 5 days, fast for 2 days.
3: The 16:8 Method: Fast for 16 hours each day.
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting…
Over the years I’ve experimented with various forms of intermittent fasting, namely the 16/8 method and ‘eat-stop-eat.’
With the 16:8 method I finish dinner no later than 7pm, and then won’t eat until 11am the next day. For me that mean’s skipping my breakfast and mid morning snack. Instead I’ll drink plenty of pure filtered water, and sometimes herbal tea.
At present my preference is a full 24 hour fast (eat-stop-eat), which I do from dinner until dinner the next day, once per week, and usually on a non-working day. (Incidentally, studies show that human growth hormone increases by a whopping 2000% over a period of 24 hours – considerably higher than fasting for a lesser time frame).
Sometimes I’ll do a juice only fast, and every so often I’ll do my 3 Day Holiday Detox which consists of juices, smoothies and whole foods.
For me, intermittent fasting is like pushing the ‘reset button.’ I find it to be incredibly energising, it gives me more mental clarity, plus it frees up my time to focus on other things – such as taking care of my two small children, to work on various projects, and occasionally I might even put my feet up!
Plus there’s one other major bonus…the savings to your food bill!
It’s also important to point out that you’ll only obtain benefits from intermittent fasting if you follow a well balanced nutrition plan most of the time. (The 80/20 rule) In other words, if you use intermittent fasting as an excuse to throw all common sense to the wind and overindulge, you’ll probably cancel out the benefits you’d otherwise achieve.
It also helps to be consistent. For example, choose a day of the week that fits with your lifestyle, and then stick with it to see and feel the results.
Nb: I typically lose 1.5kg of body weight after a 24 hour fast, however as my goal is NOT to lose weight, I adjust my portion sizes accordingly for the other 6 days. Here’s what I eat on average day.
What I Personally Recommend
If you’re new to fasting, it’s a good idea to start gradually. For example, once per week you could do a juice fast for breakfast and lunch, followed by eating normally for the rest of the day.
You could then progress to the 16:8 method – as outlined above, and then to a 24 hour fast. (Based on the research a 24 hour fast produces the most profound health benefits)
Nb: If you have insulin resistance and/or find it almost impossible to lose weight, the 16-8 method done every day, or most days, can have very beneficial effects on normalising insulin levels.
Is Fasting Dangerous?
On the contrary. Many leading natural health practitioners recognise the powerful health and anti-aging benefits of intermittent fasting and therefore recommend to their clients.
That being said, intermittent fasting might not be for everyone.
For example, if you have issues with low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) or you suffer from diabetes or adrenal fatigue, please consult with a natural health practitioner. Gentler forms of intermittent fasting or juice fasting may be considered, but always seek advice first.