For decades, nutritionists have recommended eating small meals throughout the day. Continuous snacking, they told us, was key to healthy weight loss. Eating one or two big meals was considered dietary kryptonite. And don’t even think about skipping breakfast!
Recent research, however, suggests the nutritionists were wrong. Today, many scientists recommend the opposite approach: limit caloric intake to just a few hours per day, then fast for the remaining hours. This approach often called “intermittent fasting” brings benefits beyond those of healthy weight loss. Several studies suggest that intermittent fasting can help alleviate medical issues such as diabetes and hypertension, protect the body against cancer and neurological disorders, and perhaps even extend your life span.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
According to Healthline, intermittent fasting is more of an “eating pattern” than a real diet. Essentially, the dieter alternates between fasting and eating at set intervals. There are many ways to go about intermittent fasting, but the most popular are:
- Limit eating to eight hours per day, then fast for the remaining sixteen
- Fast for 24 hours twice a week
- Limit caloric intake to 500 or 600 calories twice a week
Although dieters should be sure not to overeat during feeding periods, intermittent fasting comes with no food restrictions. At last, a diet that includes pasta!
Not only is this diet great for people who want to lose weight without giving up their favorite foods, but it also has some weight-loss advantages over simple calorie restriction. A 2011 study published in Obesity Review found that those who paired calorie restriction with intermittent fasting lost about the same amount of weight as those who simply restricted calories. However, people who practiced intermittent fasting maintained more muscle mass than calorie restriction alone. Other studies show that intermittent fasting reduces more belly fat than other diets and we have long talked about why you should lose your belly fat and about how to lose body fat here on MWHQ in our fitness section.
However, the advantages of intermittent fasting go well beyond the scale and the mirror. This method of dieting results in health benefits far beyond those that accompany weight loss by itself.
More Than a Fad
Ever since the time of the ancient Hebrews and Greeks, people have fasted for spiritual reasons. The advent of fasting for the sake of health is somewhat newer. According to The Western Journal of Medicine, the first recorded instance of fasting prescribed for medical reasons occurred in the 1800s. In 1910, doctors began to prescribe fasts as a way of combating seizures. This treatment worked so well that it is still recommended by many doctors today. As time went on, science more thoroughly explored the science behind fasting and the reason for its surprising health benefits.
The success of intermittent fasting results from, in the words of the New England Journal of Medicine, “flipping the metabolic switch” between burning glucose and fat for fuel. When the body runs out of glucose, it enters a state known as “ketogenesis” and begins to power itself through fat consumption. The process of breaking down fat for energy releases ketones into the bloodstream.
As it turns out, those ketones have a variety of health benefits. Not only do they prevent or lessen seizures, but they also decrease blood pressure and lower heart rate. The presence of ketones also changes the way the body reacts to sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity in a way that other diets do not. In this way, the ancient practice of fasting could help us manage the modern scourges of diabetes and hypertension.
Intermittent fasting might offer some protection against other serious medical issues. The New England Journal of Medicine found that continually switching between consumption of glucose and fat for fuel subjects the body’s cells to low levels of mild stress. This mild stress helps inoculate the body against larger, more serious bodily stress. Studies have observed lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurological disorders in subjects who intermittently fast. Not only will intermittent fasting help dieters stay healthier now, but it might also help them stay healthy in the long run as well.
If recent research on longevity and anti-aging is correct, intermittent fasters might enjoy these long-term health benefits for a longer period of time than most. Studies show that intermittent fasting can extend the lives of mice by up to 80%, and a 2017 Harvard Study suggests the diet might help people live longer too.
Despite the many benefits of intermittent fasting, this diet may not be right for everyone. People with a history of anorexia or other eating disorders should avoid fasting and potentially exacerbating their condition. Social obligations and dinners with friends can make it too difficult for dieters to stick to their allotted meal times. And some people find fasting too unpleasant to be worth the potential benefits. Nonetheless, for those who would like to improve their health and shrink their waistline without giving up all their favorite foods, intermittent fasting might be the ideal weight loss plan.