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Disclaimer: Always consult your doctor before drastically changing your lifestyle. 

The media today seems to bombard us with health and weight loss techniques. You see ads for healthy eating, exercises that burn fat fast, and diets that promise to make you thin within weeks almost everywhere you go. There is a seemingly endless amount of diets on the market that all work differently. Some diets demand you count all your calories, others want you to cut carbs and sugar, and then there are diets out there that work by not eating at all. Fasting has existed for thousands of years and hasn’t always been about weight loss.

You’re probably most familiar with the idea of fasting in a religious context. Ramadan, Yom Kippur, and Fast Sunday are all periods of religious fasting traditions. Some fasting traditions consist of abstaining from certain foods while other traditions are based on a period of time in which participants must fast. During Ramadan, Muslims eat once in the morning before dawn and once in the evening after dusk. This religious practice is very similar to the diet of intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting didn’t become popular until recently as a dieting method. Now there are many books, supplements, and meal plan packages on the market for intermittent fasting. One of the biggest draws is that intermittent fasting is less of a diet and more of a lifestyle choice, making it an effective method for weight loss and overall health. If you’re interested in a dieting method that can give you fast, reliable weight loss results while also improving your health, keep reading to learn more about intermittent fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

All diets achieve weight loss results through taking in fewer calories than you use in your daily activity. Intermittent fasting achieves this goal by severely limiting calorie intake during certain hours of the day or days of the week. The term “intermittent fasting” is an umbrella term for different fasting cycles over a period of time and does not describe a specific time frame. Intermittent fasting can consist of limiting calorie intake for 12 hours a day or for a few days at a time. The idea behind this type of diet is that your appetite will decrease as your body gets used to your new eating schedule.

The most common schedule for an intermittent fasting diet is the 5:2 diet, popularized by the BBC2 television Horizon documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer. This schedule consists of five days of normal eating and two days of intense restriction. One the “fast” days, you would consume just 500-600 calories. The other five days are “feast days”, during which you eat normally. Other popular fasting schedules are eat-stop-eat, which involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week, and the 16/8 diet, which has a 16-hour fast period in between eight-hour eating periods.

How Intermittent Fasting Works

The science behind intermittent fasting is relatively simple. Food is broken down by enzymes in your gut and ends up as molecules in your bloodstream. Carbohydrates, sugars, and grains are broken down into sugars that your cells use for energy and the unused energy is stored in fat cells. Insulin brings the sugar into your fat cells and keeps it there for later use. If you avoid snacking, insulin levels go down and the fat cells release the stored sugar to use for energy. If insulin levels go down long enough, then this results in weight loss.

In addition to making your body use up the stored energy in fat cells, intermittent fasting helps control weight and health concerns by syncing you up with a circadian rhythm, or the 24-hour cycle your body goes through. The human body is adapted to daytime eating and nighttime sleeping. Eating at night is associated with a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. By simply getting on a consistent schedule that avoids nighttime eating, intermittent fasting helps reduce health risks while promoting weight loss.

Even in those who didn’t lose weight, their metabolism was greatly improved by practicing intermittent fasting in which meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the day. This type of diet works best when you avoid sugars and refined grains, snacking, and nighttime eating. Limiting the hours of the day in which you eat is helpful to avoid nighttime eating. By doing so, you set a schedule for your body to recognize when it’s time to eat and when it isn’t.

Dangers of Intermittent Fasting

All diets can have dangerous or adverse side effects if done incorrectly.  Intermittent fasting has gained a large followin, but this type of diet has drawbacks, too. Fasting relies on your ability to refrain from eating and then not go overboard when you do eat. Many people who try intermittent fasting fall victim to overeating and eating junk food when they are in an eating period. While fasting works because it doesn’t depend on strict calorie counting, bad eating practices can still lead to weight gain and health problems if you overdo it.

Many people find intermittent fasting difficult because people want to reward themselves after hard work, such as exercise or fasting for a long period of time. There is a danger of people indulging in unhealthy foods and overeating. When you’re deprived of food, your hormones go crazy and demand calories, fat, and sugar. Due to the self-control required to fast and eat healthy, many people who try intermittent fasting quit the diet.

Intermittent fasting can also be dangerous if done incorrectly. Fasting for too long will slow down your metabolism, leading to adverse side effects such as slow weight loss, muscle loss, and making it easier to gain fat back after finishing the diet. It can also be risky to restrict your food intake, especially if you have certain health conditions, such as diabetes. You should talk to your doctor before trying any type of diet.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can have many powerful benefits for your body’s health and weight loss. The main benefit of this type of diet is weight loss through means that are typically easier than diets that require you to count calories or exercise a lot. Intermittent fasting also reduces bodily inflammation, which is a driving factor in many chronic diseases, and insulin resistance, which helps prevent Type 2 Diabetes. Studies have also shown a reduction in cholesterol, blood triglycerides, and blood sugar levels, all of which are big risk factors for heart disease.

Other than health benefits, intermittent fasting can improve daily life by reducing the amount of work and planning required for meals. If you’re on a fasting schedule where you don’t eat for 24 hours, then that’s a whole day of cooking and sitting down to eat you don’t have to worry about. This gives you more time to focus on other aspects of your life.

This type of diet is also easier in some aspects than others. You don’t have to count calories or worry about if you’re consuming too many carbohydrates that might throw you out of ketosis. You’re just restricting the times in which you eat, not the number of calories or type of food that you eat. If intermittent fasting sounds like a diet you might like to try, talk to your doctor about a plan that would be right for you.

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