How To Know If Intermittent Fasting Is Right For You
The idea of incorporating fasting into your eating routine might seem impossible. Why would you want to restrict yourself from eating for hours at a time?
Despite that line of thinking, though, intermittent Fasting (IF) has grown in popularity over the years — and for good reason.
The growing body of research on IF is promising. Research has connected it with improvements in metabolism (in men), increased growth hormone production (also in men). Studies have even shown IF helping to prevent chronic disease and prolong the health-span of the nervous system.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that IF is a good choice for everyone, though. Keep reading to find out what exactly IF is, the benefits, different ways to do it, and whom it’s best for.
Those following IF concentrate their eating during a specific window of time, and fast the rest of the time.
Intermittent fasting involves restricting your eating to a specific window of time. In others words, you’re alternating between eating and fasting. There are a number of different eating windows that we outline below.
The thing that differentiates IF from other types of diets is that it doesn’t focus on what to eat, but instead when to eat. Before you start indulging in ice cream for breakfast, though, keep in mind that to maximize the benefits of IF, we believe in sticking to mostly whole foods when it comes to your diet.
Your eating and fasting windows differ depending on what method of IF you choose to follow.
There are three common IF methods, all of which involve different fasting to eating ratios. The 16/8 Method involves fasting for 16 hours and eating for eight hours. The 20/4 Method is similar, but the eating time is cut in half — fasting happens during a 20-hour time period, and eating happens in a four-hour window.
Those following the 16/8 method might stop eating at 7pm and break their fast at 11am. Someone following 20/4 might eat from 5pm-9pm and then not eat again until 5pm the next day. It’s important to make sure that you’re eating enough for your body and activity level no matter how small your eating window is. If you’re trying IF for the first time, we recommend starting with a larger eating window.
IF can reduce insulin levels, which can therefore reduce fat storage.
A number of different research articles found that IF can cause weight loss over a span of 3-24 weeks. There are a few reasons this occurs. One is because of how IF impacts insulin levels.
Insulin is a fat storage hormone — we need it, but we don’t want too much of it and we want our cells to be sensitive to it. IF can reduce insulin levels, which reduces fat storage. IF can also increase growth hormone, which not only helps with muscle growth and recovery, but also fat burning.
IF can help us age better and protect us from chronic diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to help reduce inflammatory markers and even help protect against oxidative damage in the body, which is what causes us to age. This not only helps us age more gracefully, but it protects us from chronic diseases.
Another way in which IF can prevent chronic disease is through a waste removal process also known as “autophagy.” One of the most widely researched benefits of IF, this process helps to clean up broken down or dysfunctional proteins that can build up inside our cells. This is beneficial because it has been shown to protect against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, all of the benefits listed above help support brain health as well.
IF is beneficial for people who are overweight, who suffer from diabetes, who struggle with cravings, or who have a very busy schedule.
Two groups of people who might find IF especially helpful are those who are overweight or obese and those who have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, thanks to the fact that IF has been found to help with insulin resistance and fat loss.
People with very busy schedules might also benefit from concentrating their eating to a specific window, allowing them to focus on making quality choices during that time period. If you constantly struggle with cravings or hunger, IF may also be helpful in resetting your hunger and fullness signals.
Women who get regular periods and those with unstable blood sugar levels should be cautious when it comes to IF.
Many people don’t realize that fasting is a stressor on the body. It can be a good stressor, but in some cases it can also cause harm. Women who aren’t on birth control, and therefore have hormones that ebb and flow with their cycle, should be careful with fasting for this reason. During the second half of the cycle, when hormones are high, the body is less resilient to stress. Adding more stress by fasting could cause issues.
Although IF can be beneficial for those with diabetes, if your blood sugar is starting from an uncontrolled place and you’re taking medication, it’s best to consult with your doctor before trying fasting. Most medications reduce blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous if your diet is also doing the same.
If you need to eat a lot to maintain weight or if you’re a competitive athlete, IF might not be the best fit for you.
IF centers around the idea of confining your eating to a relatively small window of time. If your body requires a high number of calories per day — either because you’re an athlete with a rigorous training schedule, or because you’re underweight — fitting all those calories in to a short period might be difficult.
IF might not be the best choice for those who have a history of disordered eating, either. If you’ve used restriction as a means for unhealthy weight loss in the past, fasting might tempt you to go back to similar, harmful behaviors.
If you fall into one of the above categories, you might want to try a more gentle approach to IF.
Falling into one of these categories doesn’t mean you can’t intermittent fast at all. A much gentler method, and a great way to introduce yourself to this concept, is the 12/12 Method. This involves eating in a 12-hour window (8am-8pm for example) and then fasting outside of that window. Most of the fasting occurs while you’re asleep, which makes it easier to stay consistent.
Keep in mind that no matter what category you fall into, you should always consult with your doctor before changing your nutrition.