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Intermittent Fasting – Diet Plan, Benefits, and Weight Loss

Intermittent fasting or IF is rapidly becoming the most widespread fitness and health trend. Many people are using IF to lead a better lifestyle, improve health, and lose weight.

There are several studies that have demonstrated the powerful effects that occur on the brain and body due to intermittent fasting. Some studies have even shown that IF can help you live longer.

The following information is your beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

This is an eating pattern that cycles through periods of eating and fasting. The Intermittent Fasting plan doesn’t specify exact foods that you need to eat, but when you ought to eat them.

On this plan, a whole food, nutritious eating regimen is recommended. Hence IF is not a conventional diet, but an eating pattern or habit. In this method, fasting occurs for either 16 hours a day or 24 hours, two times per week.

Fasting is not an unfamiliar practice in human evolution. In fact, it is more commonplace than we know. Our ancient hunter and gatherer humans didn’t have refrigerators, year-round foods or supermarkets. Sometimes they couldn’t find food to eat. In response to this scenario, they learned to function without food for lengthy periods of time.

In modern society, we see fasting occurring for spiritual or religious reasons. For instance, regular fasting is a common practice in many world religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. In fact, when you think about it, periodic fasting is more natural than consuming 3 or more meals every single day.

Intermittent Fasting Methods

There are several ways to perform intermittent fasting. The most popular methods are:

16-8 Method

This is also called the Leangains protocol. To follow, you will skip breakfast and restrict your eating period to 8 hours.

For example, you may eat between 1 to 9 pm but then you will fast for the remaining 16 hours.

5:2 Diet

In this method, you normally eat for five days and restrict your calorie intake to 500 to 600 calories on two non-successive days in the week, i.e. Tuesday and Thursday.

Eat-Stop-Eat

On this plan, you will fast for 24 hours, either once or twice a week. Then eat regularly on non-fasting days.

On intermittent fasting, you’re reducing your calorie intake which leads to weight loss. However, it will only work if you’re not overindulging on junk food or compensating by eating more during allowed eating periods. 

Most people prefer the 16-8 method because it’s more sustainable, simple, and easy to follow. It’s no wonder that it’s also the most popular!

Is Intermittent Fasting Good for Health?

To determine the answer to this question, let’s examine what occurs at the cellular and hormonal levels when you fast intermittently. Many things happen at the molecular and cellular level when you fast.

For instance, your body begins to adjust its hormone levels so that it can make all stored body fat more easily accessible. Then your cells initiate vital repair processes and alter gene expression.

Here are a few changes that are occurring while you’re fasting:

The levels of the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) skyrocket; sometimes increasing as much as 5 times. This benefits muscle gain, and fat loss.Your insulin sensitivity will improve. By fasting, your insulin levels will drop significantly, which helps make stored body fat easy to access.When you fast, your cells trigger cellular repair. Autophagy is an example of cell repair. In this process, old cells are removed and digested, including dysfunctional proteins that have accumulated inside.Intermittent fasting contributes to changes in gene expression which promotes longevity and protection against many diseases.

These changes that occur at the cell, hormone, and gene expression levels all contribute to the many health benefits of this fasting method.

Does Intermittent Fasting Help in Lose Weight?

Most people attempt intermittent fasting because of the weight loss that occurs when you follow this plan. By eating fewer meals, intermittent fasting leads to a reduction in caloric intake. This directly affects hormone and insulin levels which aid weight loss.

In addition, fasting also helps trigger the release of norepinephrine; a fat-burning hormone. Even if you fast for a short period, your metabolic rate jumps up by 3.6 to 14%. By eating fewer calories, and burning more calories, you’re effectively changing the calorie equation and promoting weight loss.

Many studies have demonstrated that intermittent fasting is an effective weight loss tool. According to a 2014 study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago, intermittent fasting caused up to 8% of weight loss over a 24-week period.

This is a notable amount of weight loss compared to other methods. This same study found that people following intermittent fasting were able to lose up to 7% of waist and belly fat, which is a known contributor to diseases. The participants in this study were losing approximately 0.55 pounds each week.

It is also important to exercise along with IF, this has been proven to help with fat loss and muscle gain. So in a nutshell, intermittent fasting can and will help you lose weight provided you don’t compensate by over-eating during the allowable periods. In addition to weight loss, there are significant benefits to metabolic health and the prevention of chronic diseases.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Healthy Life

The benefits of intermittent fasting have been demonstrated in both human and animal studies. There are powerful positive effects on weight control and brain and body health as well. In addition, did you know that intermittent fasting can also help you live a longer life?

Listed below, are just a handful of health benefits from intermittent fasting:

1. Insulin Resistance

Intermittent Fasting reduces insulin resistance and helps lower blood sugar levels by up to 6%. Fasting insulin levels are reduced by up to 31%. This provides significant protection from type 2 diabetes.

According to this research, it may be considered an auxiliary treatment to prevent the occurrence and development of chronic diseases related to blood sugar and lipids in patients with metabolic syndromes. 

2. Anti-Aging

Gaps between eating boost metabolism, inducing our bodies to break down nutrients and burn calories more efficiently. It also affects DNA repair positively and slows down its degradation thus working as an anti-ageing tool.

Research indicates that intermittent fasting also increases the levels of antioxidants that fight against the free radicals which cause cell damage and lead to various health issues and skin conditions linked to ageing. 

3. Brain Health

When you fast, BDNF hormones increase in the brain. This promotes the growth of new neurons and also provides protection against Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies show that intermittent fasting increases neuroplasticity in the brain. It optimizes brain functions and increases its resistance to injuries. 

4. Heart Health

It has been proven by research that fasting helps reduce LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammatory markers, insulin resistance, and blood triglycerides; all risk factors that contribute to heart disease. 

5. Inflammation

Inflammation in the body is caused by cells called monocytes. Studies have shown that fasting contributes to a reduction in the release of these inflammation markers which are a key cause of several chronic diseases. 

6. Weight Loss

Perhaps the most noticeable benefit of all, on intermittent fasting you will lose belly fat and visceral fat.

Intermittent Fasting Diet Plan – What to Eat and What to Avoid

When we opt for intermittent fasting, it takes some time for our bodies to adjust to the new schedule. Over time, it adapts to the changes and realigns its functioning.

The food we consume during our eating hours is systematically broken down over the expanse of fasting hours to meet the energy requirements of the body. Thus, it’s crucial to be conscious of what we eat, how much of it is required by our body and how it affects our system.

For example, if we consume too many calories, they will be stored in our body as fat but a calorie deficit will make you feel fatigued and nauseous.

To ensure that you get the most out of intermittent fasting, it’s vital to consume nutritious foods and beverages during the eating periods. Although there is no water-tight diet plan, including some foods and avoiding a few others will ensure your goal is achieved in the healthiest way possible. 

Foods To Eat During Intermittent Fasting

Unsweetened Beverage

Keeping your body hydrated is of paramount importance when it comes to fasting. A lot of people assume that they are not supposed to have even liquids during intermittent fasting but that’s not the case. Have as much water as possible. You can also go ahead and enjoy your cup of herbal tea or black coffee.

However, remember not to mix sugar as it counts as calorie intake and will break your fast. You can also savour coconut water, buttermilk, black coffee and fresh lemon water (without sugar) during your hours of fasting. These drinks will also keep your hunger pangs at bay.

Fruits

It goes without saying that fruits are the go-to food item during fasting. However, there are a few fruits that stand above others when it comes to their nutritional value. For example, avocados, which are rich in unsaturated fat, should be your first choice during intermittent fasting.

Research suggests that unsaturated fat keeps you fuller for longer. Another great option is berries. They are a great source of flavonoids and thus help regulate cellular activities in our body during the fasting hours when our bodies are susceptible to oxidative damage. Furthermore, choosing fruits that are low in fructose (fruit sugar) promotes better metabolism without increasing your calorie intake. 

Vegetables

Vegetables are another obvious addition to this list. You may consume all types of vegetables during your eating hours. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts etc. in particular should be a part of your diet during intermittent fasting.

According to studies, these fibre-rich vegetables ensure you feel fuller for longer. Additionally, they add bulk to your stool and ensure a smooth bowel movement even when your food intake is restricted to only a few hours. 

Whole Grains

Packed with both protein and fibre, whole grains are your best friends during intermittent fasting. They keep you full for longer, ensure your energy requirements are met and keep your digestive system healthy even while you switch between eating and fasting. Opt for food items made from whole grains such as buckwheat, barley, quinoa, oats, brown rice, etc. 

Lean Protein

Lean protein foods like paneer, egg whites, skinless chicken, fish, etc. are also rich in vitamin B. Vitamin B regulates energy levels, supports brain functions and induces proper metabolism.

It also assists in healthy digestion. Protein takes longer to break down and thus curbs cravings. Consuming lean proteins replenishes the essential vitamins and minerals needed to keep your metabolism running efficiently. 

Legumes

We often hear our parents and adults saying that legumes like beans and lentils are good for health but did you know they can go a long way during intermittent fasting?

Their negligible fat and cholesterol content along with high protein and folates like zinc magnesium and iron make them a tough contender against meat protein.  Being high in protein and fibre, keep your hunger at bay and your calorie count under check. 

Foods To Avoid During Intermittent Fasting

Processed Food 

Processed foods of any kind should be off your list if you’re on an intermittent fasting routine. It has been subjected to a heavy manufacturing process where it loses its health benefits and is packed with empty calories.

Research suggests that heavily processed foods cause overeating and subsequent weight gain. Choose healthier options like whole wheat flour or healthy grains instead of refined flour and refined grains. 

Sugary Products 

Sugar is broken down very quickly by our systems. This not only causes a spike in blood sugar but even leaves us feeling hungry in a very short span of time.

Furthermore, sugar doesn’t contain any minerals and nutrients but only adds to the calorie count. Thus, it’s advisable to abstain from having food high in sugar. 

Junk Food/ Convenience Food

You must realise that with every bite you take of junk food you’re missing out on nutrients that you could have otherwise consumed.

As mentioned above, our bodies utilise the energy from the food we consume to keep our system functioning smoothly during hours of fasting. Make mindful decisions about what you put on your plate. Not just while you’re fasting but life in general.  

Other Do’s and Don’ts of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a safe and sustainable way to lose weight, improve health, and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Although this method is safe to follow for most adults, it is advisable that you speak to your general practitioner before attempting intermittent fasting.

This is especially important if you have underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, eating disorders, low blood pressure, etc.

Intermittent fasting is not recommended for women who are breastfeeding, pregnant or trying to have a baby. If you experience adverse effects while fasting or have concerns about this regimen, then do consult your doctor.

As stated earlier, to experience the maximum benefits of this health plan, you must have a clear understanding of what is required of you with a mapped out action plan designed and customized by a certified nutritionist.

Summary

Intermittent fasting is quickly becoming a health and lifestyle trend all around the world. Although there are many types of intermittent fasting, the 16-8 method is the most popular.

It enables you to consume whole foods during an 8-hour period and fast for the remaining 16 hours. You can consume non-caloric beverages such as water, green tea, and coffee without sugar during the fasting period.

Intermittent fasting has many proven health benefits such as weight loss, disease prevention, reduction in inflammation, improved blood sugar levels and brain function. More importantly, it can increase both the quality and longevity of your life.

Intermittent Fasting – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Does Intermittent fasting make you feel weak?

A. As intermittent fasting is a cycle of eating and fasting, the long time gap between your 2 meals can make you feel weak. It is important to follow this diet under an expert’s guidance with a disciplined regimen of eating healthy food at the right time.

Q. During the period of fasting can we drink water or have any type of fruit?

A. Yes you can have water and natural hydrators like  buttermilk, black coffee, coconut water and herbal teas during your periods of fasting. You may also consume water-based fruits like cucumber and watermelon that keep your body hydrated. 

Q. What kind of exercises can one do while intermittent fasting?

A. Due to long fasting hours, you might feel lethargic and fatigued during exercising. Therefore, it is necessary to consider essential factors like timing of workout, nutrient adjustment according to the kind of workout and most importantly, how your body responds. If you feel dizzy and get exhausted easily, it is better to go for light workouts for a short duration like yoga and low-intensity workouts. With heavy exercises, the timings and rightly balanced nutrition are extremely important. This is the reason why an expert’s supervision and guidance play a crucial role.

Q. Does intermittent fasting reduce muscle mass?

A. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting does not cause muscle loss when compared with other calorie-restricted diets unless followed for long. Muscle loss occurs as a result of a high biological value protein deficiency. Hence, the right proportion of macronutrients plays a key role.

Q. Is 12 hours enough for intermittent fasting?

A: Yes, there are various methods for intermittent fasting like the 16-8 diet, 5:2 diet and 12:12 diet. The 12:12 method includes 12 hours of fasting followed by 12 hours of eating and so on. The 12-hour fasting period is suitable for beginners as it gives the body time to adjust to the new routine with ease.

Q. What are the rules for intermittent fasting?

A: To experience the maximum benefits of this health plan, you must avoid eating junk food and avoid overeating during the food phase periods. Intermittent fasting is not recommended for women who are breastfeeding, pregnant or trying to have a baby. If you experience adverse effects while fasting or have concerns about this regimen, then do consult your doctor. 

Q. How long should intermittent fasting be?

A: There are various methods for intermittent fasting like 5:2, 16-18, 12:12 etc.  In the 16-8 method, also called the Leangains protocol, one restricts their eating period to eight hours and fasts for the remaining 16.  In the 5:2 diet method, you normally eat for five days and restrict your calorie intake to 500 to 600 calories on two non-successive days in the week. For the 12:12 diet, you eat for 12 hours and fast for the remaining 12 of the day. There’s another method where you will fast for 24 hours, either once or twice a week. Then eat regularly on non-fasting days. One may choose a diet plan based on their health and preference. 

Q. How much weight can you lose with intermittent fasting?

A: Intermittent fasting leads to a reduction in caloric intake which directly affects hormone and insulin levels aiding weight loss. According to a 2014 study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago, intermittent fasting caused up to 8% of weight loss over a 24-week period. This same study found that people following intermittent fasting were able to lose up to 7% of waist and belly fat.

Q. Does sleeping count as fasting?

A: Yes, the hours one spends sleeping are included in fasting. 

Q. How much weight can you lose in the first week of intermittent fasting?

This is a very subjective question as every body type is different. However, on average, through results of various observational studies, an individual can lose around 0.5 – 0.75 kg (1/2 a kg upto 1 kg) in a week.

Q. How soon will I see results from intermittent fasting?

A: It takes approximately ten days to notice a difference in body structure. However, it may take roughly 2 to 10 weeks to lose significant weight. Generally, a week is usually required to lose a pound.

Q. How can I reduce my stomach fat?

A. Intermittent fasting can be a great method to reduce belly fat.  By eating fewer meals, intermittent fasting leads to a reduction in caloric intake. This directly affects hormone and insulin levels which aid weight loss. In addition, fasting also helps trigger the release of norepinephrine; a fat-burning hormone. Even if you fast for a short period, your metabolic rate jumps up by 3.6 to 14%. By eating fewer calories, and burning more calories, you’re effectively changing the calorie equation and promoting weight loss.

Q. What happens when you stop intermittent fasting?

The symptoms differ from person to person on stopping Intermittent fasting. Some might experience  bloating, fatigue, hunger pangs or even an over indulgence in high sugar products which might lead to skin issues, however, other individuals might be symptomless. As in, they can easily go back to normal food intake without any issues.

Q. Can you exercise while intermittent fasting?

A: Yes. Exercising during fasting has various benefits. It stimulates fat oxidation leading to increased fat utilization and weight loss. However, it’s necessary to consider essential factors like timing of workout, nutrient adjustment according to the kind of workout, and the physical response of your body to exercise. If you feel dizzy and get exhausted easily, it is advisable to go for light workouts for a short duration like yoga and low-intensity workouts. With heavy exercise, the timings and balanced nutrition are extremely important.  Thus, expert supervision and guidance play a crucial role.

Q. How much water should I drink during intermittent fasting?

A: Staying hydrated is one of the most important rules of intermittent fasting. Water consumption for females during intermittent fasting should be 2.5 liters and 3 liters for men. 

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