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Does Intermittent Fasting Really Help?

Intermittent fasting is one of the most common ways to manage weight. Research shows that such an eating schedule helps people to manage your weight and prevent chronic diseases. However, it has been a concern for some people, especially related to safety.

Many diets focus on what to eat, but when to eat. With this, you can only eat during a specific time. Not eating for a certain number of hours each day may reap a number of health benefits. One of a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins studied the effect of fasting for more than 25 years, and have suggested that avoiding meals without eating can actually help maintain weight.

The food habits have drastically changed in the last 50 years, and hence it has been more difficult to manage weight now, as compared to earlier times. Portions have increased multiple folds, and most of the jobs require sitting for hours in front of a laptop.

Extra calories and less activity can mean a much higher risk of obesity, chronic inflammation and type 2 diabetes. Studies have also suggested that such fasting may reverse trends related to aging, PCOS and weight gain.

Before you try intermittent fasting (or any diet), you should check in with your primary care practitioner first. Some people should steer clear of trying intermittent fasting:

  • Children and teens under age 18.
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • People with type 1 diabetes who take insulin. While an increasing number of clinical trials have shown that intermittent fasting is safe in people with type 2 diabetes, there have been no studies in people with type I diabetes. Mattson explains, “Because those with type I diabetes take insulin, there is a concern that an intermittent fasting eating pattern may result in unsafe levels of hypoglycemia during the fasting period.”
  • Those with a history of eating disorders.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

“Intermittent fasting contrasts with the normal eating pattern for most Americans, who eat throughout their waking hours,” Mattson says. “If someone is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and they’re not exercising, then every time they eat, they’re running on those calories and not burning their fat stores.”

Intermittent fasting works by prolonging the period when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal and begins burning fat.

It’s important to check with your doctor before starting intermittent fasting. Once you get his or her go-ahead, the actual practice is simple. You can pick a daily approach, which restricts daily eating to one six- to eight-hour period each day. For instance, you may choose to try 16/8 fasting: eating for eight hours and fasting for 16.

Although some people find it easy to stick with this pattern over the long term, one research study that was not designed specifically to look at an intermittent fasting pattern found that limiting your daily time window of eating does not prevent weight gain over time or yield significant weight loss results. That study’s results showed that reducing the number of large meals or eating more small meals may be associated with minimizing weight gain or even with weight loss over time.

Another intermittent fasting plan, known as the 5:2 approach, involves eating regularly five days a week. For the other two days, you limit yourself to one 500–600 calorie meal. An example would be if you chose to eat normally on every day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays, which would be your one-meal days.

Longer periods without food, such as 24-, 36-, 48- and 72-hour fasting periods, are not necessarily better for you, and may be dangerous. Going too long without eating might actually encourage your body to start storing more fat in response to starvation.

Mattson’s research shows that it can take two to four weeks before the body becomes accustomed to intermittent fasting. You might feel hungry or cranky while you’re getting used to the new routine. But, he observes, research subjects who make it through the adjustment period tend to stick with the plan because they notice they feel better.

intermittent fasting

What can you eat while intermittent fasting?

When you’re not eating, water, zero-calorie beverages like black coffee and tea are allowed. In the ‘eating normally’ time, you don’t have to go crazy. Research shows that you’re not likely to lose weight or get healthier if you pack your feeding times with high-calorie junk food, super-sized fried items and treats.

But what some experts like about intermittent fasting is that it allows for a range of different foods to be eaten — and enjoyed. Sharing good, nutritious food with others and savoring the mealtime experience adds satisfaction and supports good health.

Most nutrition experts regard the Mediterranean diet as a good blueprint of what to eat, whether you’re trying intermittent fasting or not. You can hardly go wrong when you pick leafy greens, healthy fats, lean protein and complex, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains.

How Does It Help You?

Research shows that the intermittent fasting periods do more than burn fat. Mattson explains, “When changes occur with this metabolic switch, it affects the body and brain.”

One of Mattson’s studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed data about a range of health benefits associated with the practice. These include a longer life, a leaner body and a sharper mind.

“Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers,” he says.

a. Memory: Studies discovered that intermittent fasting boosts working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult humans.

b. Heart Health: Intermittent fasting improved blood pressure and resting heart rates as well as other heart-related measurements.

c. Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes: People with type 2 diabetes may benefit: Most of the available research shows that intermittent fasting can help people lose body weight and lower their levels of fasting glucose, fasting insulin and leptin while reducing insulin resistance, decreasing levels of leptin and increasing levels of adiponectin. Certain studies found that some patients practicing intermittent fasting with supervision by their doctors were able to reverse their need for insulin therapy.

d. Tissue Health: In animals, intermittent fasting reduced tissue damage in surgery and improved results.

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