In this article, I talk about Intermittent fasting. As Singaporeans are starting to become more health-conscious, many services are starting to pop-up in the health and fitness service industry. There is also a lot of information online to help you get started. In fact, there are so many people saying different things, it's hard to figure out what works. I will review intermittent fasting and share whether it works based on available scientific literature.
A Brief History
Although fasting as had religious significance for thousands of years, it only became all the rage in 2012. A documentary titled Eat, Fast and Live Longer introduced the 5:2 diet which became super popular through book sales.
At the time, many Silicon Valley founders and CEOs also started practicing it as part of their daily routine. They claimed that it improved productivity and focus, which is something that every entrepreneur craves.
Celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, and J-Lo jumped on the intermittent fasting bandwagon, and finally in 2019, it's one of the most popular diets next to Keto.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a generic term that covers a wide array of diet plans that alternate between fasting and not fasting.
Basically, you don't eat for a set period of time, and eat during the hours outside of that period.
It's popular because it's a pretty simple diet plan to go on. Instead of counting calories or cutting macros, you just don't put food in your face. Sounds simple enough.
And one of the largest studies done on intermittent fasting has shown that it can be as effective as calorie-restriction when done right.
There are many popular ways to practice IF. One way is to feast for 8 hours a day and fast for the remaining 16 hours.
Another way (which was the original 5:2 diet) is to fast 2 days (48 hours) of the week, and enjoy eating the remaining 5 days.
You can also do alternate day fasting, which as its name implies, you eat for one day and you fast for the next. Or, you can eat normally for one day, and eat a super-low calorie diet on the next day.
As mentioned by the study done by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital, there are many ways to reaching healthy weight. You simply need to find your own that is sustainable for you.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting works because fasting means you're not consuming calories. And as mentioned several times before, a calorie deficit will likely lead to weight loss.
That's why it makes sense that if you're not eating, you won't gain weight. And if you eat less than your body burns, you will lose weight.
That said, there have been studies that explore other benefits of IF apart from just weight loss. However, the available studies is still relatively few.
There is still an ongoing debate whether intermittent fasting has any metabolic benefits compared to caloric restriction diets (or the eat less calories approach)
This happens because fasting triggers some physical regeneration process in the body.
However, this isn't some magical solution to long life. Most of the studies were conducted on animals who have been on low-calorie or fasting cycles for majority of their lives.
And just starting IF right now isn't going to give you those results. It is still not a reliable finding and is still being studied.
As research is still sparse, we can't make any claims. But preliminary research shows promising results and more research needs to be done on humans.
How To Perform Intermittent Fasting
1. Choose Your Schedule
There are many popular plans out there. Find one that fits within your lifestyle and that is easy to do.
For example, if you've never fasted, immediately starting the 5:2 diet may not be a good choice.
Adherence is the most important thing when starting any diet plan. If you can't reasonably stick to it, then there's no point.
It's far better to just start with another plan. An easy one, for example, is the 16:8 diet.
Which is to fast for 16 hours and feast during the 8 hour window.
If even that is too hard, 16:8 on alternate days then slowly increase the number of fasting days until you can do it regularly.
Use a timer or calendar to keep track of your cycles. There are also apps that you can find for your phone to help you with that.
2. Count your calories
The law of energy balance still applies.
Even if you are allowed to feast during the 8 hours, if you go over your caloric limit during those 8 hours, your efforts will be for nothing.
If your goal is simply to lose weight, then you don't need to count your macros (that is, calculate proteins, carbs, or fat intake).
To know how many calories to eat, you need to calculate your basal metabolic rate.
You can get a rough calculation using BMR calculators online. There are several you can find with a quick Google search.
Once you know how many calories you typically burn, then just make sure during the eating window, you don't go over the amount.
3. Stay hydrated
Some people ask if you can drink water during your fast. The answer is yes, and please do so.
Plain water has zero calories. And unlike religious fasting, IF is a caloric fast.
That means you can or should drink water.
4. Stay active
A significant percentage of the energy we burn in a day is from non-exercise activity thermogenisis
In normal people-speak, it just means energy we burn from non-exercise stuff. Like walking, standing, carrying groceries.
Just because you're fasting you may feel like you don't want to do anything, but ideally you want to keep your similar levels of activity.
Don't be a couch slouch just because you're fasting.
Should You Try Intermittent Fasting?
The answer is, it depends. If you find that caloric restriction isn't for you, and you want to try something new. IF can be an alternative.
Note that if you have low blood sugar, are pregnant, or have a medical condition then you shouldn't try intermittent fasting. Best to consult your doctor before trying any diets to see if it's right for you.
However, if you are able bodied and are in regular health, you can try it for a period of 3 months just to see if it works for you.
Most important thing is to adhere to it, don't snack or cheat, and make sure you monitor your body response to it. If you start to get nauseous or weak very often, then perhaps it's not a good choice.