Intermittent fasting (IF) is a well-known term in the fitness industry, as it’s an excellent method of maintaining a calorie deficit (commonly called a cut period). However, outside the industry, there’s much confusion about what it is, how it works, and if it’s safe for everyone.
In simple terms, intermittent fasting requires you to switch between eating and fasting on a regular schedule. Unlike most other diet/fitness plans, intermittent fasting focuses more on when you’re eating than what’s on your plate.
For some people, this might sound like a piece of cake, while for others, it’s their idea of hell. But remember, there’s much more to it. It’s best to hold off on making decisions until you’ve learned all about it.
How does intermittent fasting work?
The science behind intermittent fasting is simple.
Your body normally functions on glucose. Fasting uses up the store of glucose in your liver, which leads to the cells releasing stored-up fat. The fat travels to the liver and is converted to ketones to produce energy. This is known as metabolic switching.
So, in simpler terms, your body first burns all the calories from your last meal, then switches to stored-up fat. However, in our day-to-day lives, we don’t allow the metabolic switch by consuming another meal or a snack.
So, does this mean that the longer you go without food, the more fat you burn? Well, not necessarily. When you go hungry for over two to three days, your body might begin storing fat as a defense mechanism against starvation.
There are three commonly implemented methods of intermittent fasting:
Time-restricted eating (14/10, 16/8, 20/4)
For time-restricted eating, you divide your day into hours for eating and hours for fasting. Its most common implementation is 16/8, where you spend 16 hours (including sleep) on a fast and eat in only the 8-hour window.
You can also opt for the 14/10 or 20/4 if that suits you.
If time-restricted eating is inconvenient, you can also fast on alternate days. All you need is to fix a certain number of calories (in deficit) for the fasting days; generally, a 500-600 calorie plan is most suited. You can eat those calories in one meal or spread them throughout your day.
As a beginner, alternate-day fasting can be a bit advanced for some. In such circumstances, the 5:2 method works best. Instead of alternative days, fast on only two days per week with a daily 600-800 total caloric consumption goal.
When you break your fast and on your non-fasting days, try not to consume deep-fried, high-calorie fast food or large servings of desserts and treats. Instead, go for a more nutritious diet of green, leafy vegetables and other whole foods.
The Mediterranean diet is a stellar example of what you can eat, and some proper research with your preferences and allergies (if any) in mind will go a long way.
Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Mental Health
Besides fat loss, intermittent fasting reportedly has several effects on our mental health. Let’s learn what these are!
Chronic inflammation in the brain can cause several serious mental diseases like depression, Alzheimer’s, OCD, and many more. And what do you know, according to this study, consistent intermittent fasting does reduce inflammation, leading to improved mental health.
Moreover, it also achieves this without affecting our immune system’s response to infections.
An underappreciated effect of fasting is the increased willpower your brain cultivates. When you resist temptation and don’t break your fast for at least two weeks, you’ll finally notice slight mental and physical effects.
It will be especially hard for you if you’ve tried and failed intermittent fasting before, but that’s what will make it even more rewarding!
Intermittent fasting might also improve your memory. According to this study on the Physiological and Neurobehavioral Effects of Ramadan Fasting in Preteen and Teenage Boys, intermittent fasting improves memory capacity within four weeks of application.
Another study conducted on mice proved that chronic intermittent fasting improves cognitive brain function.
If you’ve ever experienced brain fog, say bye-bye to it because intermittent fasting also won’t allow that anymore!
As anyone with common sense can deduce, once you’ve adjusted to it, intermittent fasting is bound to make you feel lighter, positive, and confident. Not only will you feel happier, but you’ll also develop an achiever’s mindset.
A study conducted to investigate weight-loss strategies also found that intermittent fasting is linked with better mental well-being and depression.
One of the most beneficial mental effects of intermittent fasting is that it triggers autophagy. In the simplest words, autophagy is when a cell breaks down and recycles damaged, old, or unnecessary proteins in its cytoplasm.
Problems in autophagy might cause diseases like Crohn’s disease, diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even cancer, to name a few.
Should you practice Intermittent Fasting? (Things to keep in mind)
By now, you must’ve realized how beneficial intermittent fasting is when done correctly. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be doing it, too.
All human bodies are different and have problems and reactions to various processes. What has worked for one might not work for the other and, in some cases, might cause damage as well.
The best way to proceed here is by consulting a general physician, and don’t proceed without an official go-ahead. As a general rule of thumb, children below 18, people with diabetes, and pregnant women should avoid intermittent fasting.
Those previously diagnosed with an ED (Eating Disorder) should also stay away since intermittent fasting can trigger the disorder.
In the end
Intermittent fasting is a great way to keep your mind and body healthy and challenge yourself to go out of your comfort zone. There are three common methods of intermittent fasting, so there’s something for everyone.
When done correctly after adequate research, chronic intermittent fasting can improve mood swings, confidence, memory, and willpower. Your brain stands to gain much from this since intermittent fasting also reduces chronic inflammation and triggers autophagy.
If you have any doubts about intermittent fasting, let us know in the comments, and we’ll get back to you!