What is intermittent fasting?


Intermittent fasting, also referred to as IF, is an increasingly popular eating trend that alternates between periods of fasting and eating.  This style of eating does not necessarily define WHAT you eat, but rather WHEN you eat.  Many systems are being used such as the “5:2 diet”, “16/8 method”, and the “Stop-Eat-Stop” just to name a few.  The goal of IF varies from person to person, and can be for health, religious, and even well documented clinic intervention purposes.  For many, IF is a dietary method used to reduce calorie intake, enhance body fat metabolism, and managing hormonal function, all of which have some powerful health benefits.  It is also important to also note, that IF is not for everyone, and that this eating method is not always sustainable for long periods. 


What are the effects and benefits of IF?
Fasting is a relative term that is often associated with “long” periods without food, but most fasting methods define fasting as a period of 12-16 hours or more without food.  Molecular and cellular changes take place during periods of fasting. 


Here are some of the effects:

HGH (human growth hormone) levels rise:  the body’s HGH is elevated during fasting, and improves it’s ability to burn endogenous fats while maintaining and building muscle.


Insulin effect:  Insulin, the hormone that is released when blood sugar is high (such as from eating carbohydrate rich foods) is dramatically reduced while fasting, and the cell’s insulin sensitivity increases.  This has many beneficial effects in triggering body fat metabolism and improving the cell’s response to subsequent insulin release.


Cellular repair:  Food restriction also initiates cellular repair by initiating autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside those cells.


Gene expression:  Our bodies learn to express or suppress it’s genes when we begin to experience the health effects of intermittent fasting.  Meaning, some diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease can reach some sort of resolution when the body experiences weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity.


Inflammation control, heart health, and cholesterol:  IF has been well documented to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin resistance — all risk factors for heart disease.


What are some of the common fasting methods?

5:2 diet:  This IF method proposes eating 500-600 calories once or twice per week on non-consecutive days.  The other 5 days consist of normal eating.


16/8 method:  Probably the most common method, this involves 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8 hour period where eating takes place.  For example, eating 1 or 2 meals between 12pm – 8pm, and restricting calories all other times.


Eat-Stop-Eat:  This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.


Why would someone choose to practice IF?

As mentioned above, many people benefit from intermittent fasting in order to control hormone function and to manage weight loss by triggering the body’s own ability to utilize excess body fat as fuel.  Calorie restriction triggers the body to use it’s own stores of energy.  But it is also important to realize that the relatively short periods of eating could and should not be reckless, but reasonable by not binge eating or consuming processed foods high in carbohydrates and saturated fats.


Other considerations of doing IF?

One of the major benefits of intermittent fasting is that it makes healthy eating simpler. There are fewer meals you need to prepare, cook and clean up after.  Although generally safe for healthy individuals, IF is not recommended for children and those who are underweight or have eating disorders.  Women with amenorrhea, nursing or pregnant are also not recommended to use IF diets.  Each person’s responsiveness and ability to adapt to an intermittent fasting period varies, and those individuals mentioned above can have maladaptations to caloric restriction.  It is important to have professional guidance when starting an IF diet.


I don’t recommend any type of diet until an individual is well informed about the ramifications of attempting a new and well intentioned eating pattern that is vastly different than the one they are already doing.  If an individual is not ready to change, then change can cause them to become overwhelmed and withdraw even further into their bad habits.  It’s important to desire change, but it’s even better to have a plan, the resources, and the support system to make it happen!


Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care.

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