For far too long, doctors and dieticians, along with the food industry, have propagated the famous ‘never skip your breakfast’ rule. They have collectively pushed for diets that revolve around either eating three meals a day or munching on something every two hours.
That is why the concept of a break from eating was never given its due. Fasting was only limited to religious observances or cultural practices. However, over the past decade, intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular — as a means to lose weight and switch to a different way of life.
Intermittent fasting refers to an eating pattern more than a diet that one can switch ‘on’ or ‘off’ anytime. It prescribes fixed cycles of fasting and eating. The ‘fasting’ period is usually longer than the ‘eating’ window. However, some variations include fasting continuously for one or two days and eating freely without any time constraints over the rest of the week.
There are many different methods of following intermittent fasting, the most common approach being the 16:8 rule. This involves fasting for 16 hours, restricting eating to an 8-hour time frame. Since most people require seven to eight hours of sleep, the active fasting period is reduced by the number of hours slept.
People are encouraged to raise the intensity and fasting duration as per their comfort. This brings us to the 20:4 rule, one that entails fasting for 20 hours and slots a paltry four-hour-window for eating.
People who swear by intermittent fasting have witnessed a vast difference, not only in their metabolism but also in their productivity and concentration levels. There is a growing body of research suggesting that the fasting regimen may be linked to an increased lifespan. Let us explore the various health benefits of intermittent fasting:
Weight loss is just a by-product of the changes that take place in the body due to intermittent fasting. Studies suggest that intermittent fasting may increase levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that is known to increase calorie burn throughout the day.
It also helps to manage blood sugar levels, something that eventually controls weight gain. Moreover, eating within a set time frame naturally limits over-consumption and binging.
Most deaths in the world are credited to heart diseases. Various risk factors make a person susceptible to cardiovascular problems, including unhealthy levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure, etc. Intermittent fasting assists the body in bringing about a significant drop in these levels, thus promoting heart health.
Studies reveal that brain functioning declines with rising levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, factors that are common today considering the unhealthy way of life that most lead. Research suggests that intermittent fasting enhances the body’s ability to produce antioxidants and equips it to fight inflammation.
Besides, it also increases the secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the deficiency of which has been linked to various mental health diseases and brain disorders. Moreover, intermittent fasting promotes the growth of new nerve cells that improve overall brain health and cognition.
One of the most beneficial aspects of intermittent fasting is its ability to extend lifespan. It brings about dramatic changes in several genes and molecules related to longevity and disease prevention. For instance, occasional fasting protects against amyloid plaques that are found in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients.
Intermittent fasting is rooted in some cultures. Of late, it has had many takers considering the gamut of physical and mental health benefits that it has to offer. More importantly, it doesn’t require cutting out any major food group or macros. Therefore, while most embrace this way of eating for effective weight loss, they end up staying for the scores of other advantages.