Intermittent fasting benefits have been gaining ground online in the last couple of years. But, as with every new diet, a lot of myths and plenty of confusion surround the topic.
Below, we will explain what exactly this diet implies, how it compares to other popular diets, the health benefits it offers, and if there are any downsides to its practice.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not actually a diet. It is an eating pattern, because it doesn’t involve restricting certain food groups or limiting the amount of food you eat. The concept of intermittent fasting revolves around alternating between short periods of eating and longer periods of fasting.
Several different methods of intermittent fasting have been created. There is the 5:2 diet, the eat-stop-eat method, the warrior diet, and spontaneous meal skipping, just to name a few.
In fact, there is so much ignorance on the topic that many people believe the 16/8 method is the only way to practice intermittent fasting. This method consists of fasting every day for 16 hours and limiting your daily eating period to 8 hours.
Within these 8 hours, you can eat as many times as you want, but usually 2-3 meals are involved. As always, these meals should be healthy and not loaded with excess sugars and fat.
Another diet which is often confused with intermittent fasting is the ketogenic diet. Instead of telling you when to eat, this diet tells you what to eat. It involves drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat.
What are the health benefits of intermittent fasting?
The amount of health benefits attributed to this diet is shocking. Let’s take a look at some that have actual scientific support.
One study even showed that intermittent fasting combined with calorie restriction is an effective strategy to help obese women lose weight (3).
This can be explained by the fact that fasting has been proven to increase levels of growth hormone and lower the body’s levels of insulin (4, 5, 6). In turn, the body begins to use fat in order to obtain energy. One study even indicated that fasting can increase your metabolic rate by 3.6% (7). On top of that, this type of diet can lower your total cholesterol and triglycerides (8).
However, weight loss isn’t the only advantage. Studies on lab rats and mice have shown that fasting can counteract disease processes including diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease (9). It can also have anti-inflammatory effects by lowering the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (10).
Fasting can even directly improve the health of your brain and heart. A study recently showed that this type of eating pattern can reduce oxidative damage and increase cellular stress resistance (11). This means that it makes your body more resistant to heart attacks and strokes.
In fact, scientists have proven that intermittent fasting can prevent harmful structural changes that take place within the heart muscle after a heart attack has occurred (12)!
Overall, intermittent fasting might even help you live longer. Although it hasn’t been proven in humans, one study showed an increased growth rate and life span in rats who maintained an intermittent fasting feeding pattern (13).
What are the disadvantages to intermittent fasting?
Unfortunately, not every study conducted on fasting has had positive results. One study showed that fasting leads to obesity and diabetes and worsened the development of spontaneous atherosclerosis in mice (14).
Research also indicates that certain aspects of physical performance and mental health, such as decision-making, can be negatively affected by daily fasting (15).
Also, fasting has been associated with unpleasant side effects (16). It can produce fatigue, dizziness, and low energy levels due to loss of water and glucose rather than fat.
Is intermittent fasting benefits right for me?
As you can see, there are many health benefits to this particular eating pattern. Keep in mind, though, that not everything scientists have discovered about this type of diet is good.
Whether this diet is meant for you or not is simply something you’ll have to see for yourself. It will depend on your current weight, gender, desired weight loss, base pathologies, metabolism rate, side effects produced, and willpower to continue despite continuous hunger.
So, read up on the many different methods, make your choice, and try it out!