The world is talking about intermittent fasting but the concept of fasting is not new. Human beings have been fasting since ages and across many religions whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Jains. Fasting stories dates back to prehistoric times when even our ancient man was always in the fasting state till he could hunt for his next meal. Did anything happen to him? In fact he was much stronger and healthier than what we are today.Fasting intermittently is based on the primordial human’s way of life, a time when food was not available all day, all the time.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where we cycle between periods of eating and periods of fasting.It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. In simple words it is a period of voluntary abstinence from food so that our body fasts in a natural way, gets into detox mode and does not rely on a constant food supply throughout the day.
Some of the popular methods of intermittent fasting are
- 16:8 – Body fasts for14- 16 hours and feeding window to eat is 8 -10 hours in a 24 hour period.
- 5:2 – Body eats a well-balanced meal for 5 days and fast twice a week with calorie intake of 500 – 600 calorieson the fasting days.
- Alternate day fast – Body eats normally one day whereas fast the alternate day.
- Warrior diet- Body eats one large meal once a day and eats only fruits and vegetables in small amounts for the rest of the day.
However people find 16:8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to and that’s why it is the most popular.
What happens to our bodies during fasting?
Twelve hours of fasting depletes stored glycogen from the liver to give us energy that our body needs. When we do not eat for 12 – 14 hours, the body taps on to our fat tissues to release free fatty acids thus sufficing the energy requirement of our body and brain. Our body enters a state of Ketosis. In this state, ketones are produced from stored fat especially when blood sugar is in short supply and provides an alternative fuel for body cells. So though the stomach will growl for food but one cannot starve physiologically out of hunger.
I often wonder if there is any biological reason to eat three meals a day along with two to three snacks in between? Do our bodies really need it?
Eating so many meals every day even if they are calorie restricted does not give time to our stomach and digestive systems to rest. Our stomach needs to be empty to detox our body. Each time we eat, our body starts working like a machine to release insulin in response to food ingested .When our bodies don’t need too much energy then this Insulin which is primarily a fat storage hormone converts all excess glucose to glycogen and extra fat stores, leading to steady accumulation of fat.
Frequent eating More energy More insulin More glycogen Excess fat
Moreover owing to continuous production of insulin,our body gets no time to break fats and to remove the accumulated toxins from our body. During Intermittent fasting when we are staying hungry for 14- 16 hours, our body gets time to lower insulin levels, thus reversing the fat storing process and helps body to lose weight.
No food “Fasting” Decrease Insulin Burn stored sugar/Fat
Hence it is advisable to fast in some form or other whether you fast for some time, daily or twice a week or many days in a month.
- Fasting if done correctly increases the metabolic rate of the body thus accelerating weight loss.
- It helps to break the monotony of traditional calorie restricted diets. Since it’s an eating pattern, you don’t need to count the calories while eating, simply eat what you like with a focus on healthy eating.
- Increase the growth hormone(HGH) which helps in the maintenance of lean mass of both muscle and bone.
- Boosts our immune system by reducing free radical damage, regulates inflammatory conditions in the body and starves off the formation of cancer cells
- It stimulates Autophagy(the self-cleansing of the body) to buildnew healthy cells with old, damaged and non usable cells.
- Fasting contributes to self-enlightenmentand preachesself-control over the desires of food. The more we see the more we eat and with so many food choices it becomes very difficult to resist and hence the best way is to limit the times we eat.
- It is greatly beneficial especially to those people who are frequent travelers or spend a good amount of time at work and cannot manage low calorie diets.
Fasting results in lowering of insulin resistance by decreasing the levels of Insulin produced. Studies reveal that one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes is Insulin resistance. The repeated secretion of Insulin initially causes obesity and further leads to Insulin resistance as a protective mechanism to these chronically high insulin levels. If we overcome thisInsulin resistance, blood sugar comes down and Type 2 Diabetes can be prevented and in many cases can even be reversed.
Some studies also report that intermittent fasting reduces fasting glucose by 3~6% in those with prediabetes. Moreover fasting glucose can decrease further by 11~57% after 3~24 weeks of intermittent fasting. Thus it shows great promise for risk reduction in Type 2 Diabetes.
People who are on Diabetic medications or are taking Insulin shots should do intermittent fasting with utmost caution and under correct and regular guidance of a medical professional to avoid hypoglycemia.
The approach to prevention and reversal of diabetes lies ina nutritious diet (healthy fats, low carbohydrates & high protein), regular exercise and intermittent fasting. Foods chosen during such fasting should be healthy,tasty and well balanced.Water is encouraged to stay well hydrated and coffee and tea(without sugar) are recommended in moderation during such fasting periods.
Long term sustainability of Intermittent fasting is still unknown but it is definitely a good short term approach ranging from few weeks to few months especially for weight watchers. Science behind fasting has given tremendous positive outcomes but in my opinion success of good Intermittent fasting lies in an individual’s commitment, dedication and correct choice of foods for such a successful lifestyle intervention.
The bottom line….
While you fast it does not mean you can hog around on food or eat anything or everything in those hours of eating. Wholesome, high fiber and nourishing foods of your own choice is the key. So I am sure Pizza Hut & McDonalds will summon you but it is your call what to eat in the feeding window. Just be sensible and eat right and give your bodies a logical break intermittently and frequently and let your system realign itself with nature.
Nutrition Expert: Aakansha Bhargava
Aakansha Bhargava is a Diet and Nutrition consultant at her venture ‘NutraNurture’, providing diet and lifestyle counselling for obesity, diabetes and various other metabolic disorders. She is associated with Pharmaceutical
companies for conducting health camps in Ahmedabad as a diet consultant. She has also been actively involved in participating as a speaker at various nutrition related workshops and seminars.
She believes in helping people to understand the relationship between food and health, and make suitable dietary choices. She focuses on healthy eating not because it is a trend but because it is a right choice for a good lifestyle.
Her experience also includes working as a wellness counsellor at Apollo Hospital Ahmedabad, a consulting nutritionist with Tata Consultancy Services and Dietician in Rajasthan Hospital.
Aakansha has done her B.Sc from Lady Irwin College Delhi and M.Sc in Nutrition & Dietetics from M.S. University, Vadodara & a Post Graduate Diploma in Preventive and Promotive Healthcare from Apollo Hospitals. She is a life
member of the India Dietetics Association.
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