Over the past few months, I’ve written extensively about the benefits of intermittent fasting, something I’ve been doing in my personal life for two years. I also work closely with a number of people who are currently using intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is a diet where you abstain from consuming calories for an extended period of time. Usually between 12 and 40 hours. The results can be remarkable for those who follow the rules precisely. This means fully understanding that fasting involves consuming nothing but water, black coffee, or unsweetened tea. The key is to avoid anything that triggers an insulin response because insulin helps you store fat.
I met a good friend who just got back from vacationing at a resort in Mexico. Over the past few months of intermittent fasting, he’s lost 27 pounds of body fat, and it shows, especially with his greatly reduced waistline. He told me how in the past at the resort he was unable to walk the nearby mountain trails, but this time he flew off and loved it. Moreover, he once again confided that the intermittent fasting approach is the easiest and most effective thing he has ever done to manage his weight.
So here’s what you need to know about intermittent fasting and how you could benefit from it:
What is the impact of intermittent fasting on the body?
Like many, I was drawn to intermittent fasting not only for the weight management benefits, but for several other healthy aspects as well. It makes sense to me that if I relentlessly consume food at regular intervals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and evening snacks – I send the message to my body that digesting food is a priority. Since digestion, especially of dietary fat, takes many hours, the body is actively engaged in the digestive process from early morning breakfast to evening snacks and many hours beyond.
As a result, the body gets only minimal respite from digestion and only fasts for a few hours, at best, late in its sleep cycle which is short-lived because breakfast is coming soon.
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This is an important consideration because the gut contributes to health in many ways, especially when it comes to boosting the immune system, which happens during fasting. Autophagy, the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells in order to regenerate new, healthier cells, goes hand in hand with increased production of immune cells. A good analogy to autophagy is taking out the trash or cleaning up debris. In this case, the debris is made up of parts of body cells that are damaged and need to be removed so that new cells can grow.
Fasting also promotes the production of human growth hormone, which helps you shed body fat and retain muscle, which is increasingly important for health as we age.
How to practice intermittent fasting?
There are several ways to approach intermittent fasting. My approach is to fast daily and only consume food for a narrow two to four hour window of time. I built this gradually, starting with a bigger window and gradually making it smaller. At around 18 hours of fasting is when the benefits described above kick in and accelerate.
Here’s what I describe about my typical daily approach to intermittent fasting in a previous column: I imagine what I would normally have for breakfast and lunch, plus snacks (energy bars, nuts, etc.) .), and I consume them “after” my first meal of the day at 6 p.m. I drink black coffee periodically throughout the day, which comfortably satisfies me until my dinner.
And, let me add, if I feel like cheating the night away with a treat like a hot fudge sundae, I don’t hesitate.
Also, my workouts are great with no loss of energy, even though I’ve been fasting for several hours before training.
How is intermittent fasting different from other crash diets?
A reader recently wrote to me about intermittent fasting. He wrote: “I have read your books on nutrition, healthy diets and exercise, and you object to crash diets because lack of nutrients leads to loss of muscle mass. Now, I’ve read about your use of intermittent fasting which reduces calorie intake to zero for long periods of time and I’m wondering, how does this differ from the calorie restriction of a crash diet? »
An insightful question worth exploring.
First, on a crash diet, you drastically reduce your calorie intake from maybe 2,000 calories a day to less than half that amount and enter a semi-starvation mode. When you drastically reduce calorie intake, the body struggles to keep your blood sugar, known as glucose, at optimal levels. Blood sugar is critical because the brain relies on glucose as its primary fuel source, and of course the brain is the body’s top priority.
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Glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen. When you eat “normally”, if blood sugar levels drop, glucose is released from the liver to bring it back up. However, during a crash diet, the liver glycogen supply is depleted as the body is in semi-starvation mode. So when the blood sugar level drops, the body becomes alarmed that the liver cannot respond appropriately.
This, in turn, causes the body to take emergency action. The hormone cortisol is released which breaks down muscle into proteins which are further broken down into amino acids. Selective amino acids are transported to the liver and converted into glucose which raises blood sugar levels. In other words, the body breaks down muscle to make glucose and the process is called gluconeogenesis.
Are there any benefits of crash dieting over intermittent fasting?
Crash diets always fail because losing muscle mass is counterproductive and even when you lose a lot of pounds, the fact that you lose several pounds of muscle means you don’t look better. It’s disappointing because when you go on a crash diet with the goal of losing 30 pounds or more, in your mind you imagine yourself going back to the body that had 30 pounds less fat. Your “new” body is nothing like what you expected.
Also, you tend to feel ugly and all you think about is food.
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When you engage in intermittent fasting, you are not cutting calories or going into a semi-starvation mode. On the contrary, although my weight has been reduced, I eat more now than before I started intermittent fasting because I don’t want to lose any more weight. This way, I easily replenish my liver glycogen stores each day and maintain my blood sugar at optimal levels, which preserves my muscle mass.
All it takes is a firm decision to commit to eating at the prescribed times and stick to it.
Contact Bryant Stamford, Professor of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Hanover College, at email@example.com.
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