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Most people have heard about or read about Intermittent Fasting. Some have a rough idea of how it works and think of it as related to weight loss. But, did you know that research is showing that there are many health-related Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
We are in a crisis of obesity. The CDC estimates that almost 40% of Americans are overweight and at risk of obesity. And it is more prevalent in women than men.
While being obese is a very undesirable situation in today's modern society that values youth and perfection, obesity also increases the risk of many health conditions. Conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, stroke, and some cancers.
In addition, being overweight worsens self-esteem, and can lead to anxiety, depression, and joint pain from added stress on the joints.
Causes of Weight Gain and Obesity
There are a lot of reasons we gain weight.
Yes, there are reasons for the excess weight that we can't control and need to accept, like genetics, side effects of required medications, and medical conditions. Yet, for others, it is the way we live our life.
Our modern life makes things easier and easier for us.
We can jump in a car to drive a block to the store, we take an elevator to our office on the second floor, we order lunch to be delivered.
Our work has moved from manual labor on the farm or in factories to sitting at a desk at a computer for 8 hours.
For most to get physical activity requires the effort to go to the gym, ride a stationary bike at home, or take a daily walk.
But, there are often interruptions, and good intentions quickly get forgotten.
Let's face it. Compared to our ancestors we live in a food bounty.
No longer dependent on growing seasons and storing food for the winter, foraging for food, or hunting for our next protein.
We simply stroll through huge grocery stores, order groceries to be delivered online, or drive our car through the drive-thru.
Another major issue is how our food has changed over the past 100 years.
Besides the easy availability of food, the type of food we eat has changed. We have moved from growing whole fruits and vegetables to buying premade foods, eliminating the labor of planting and harvesting.
Over the decades premade foods have been developed with additives and chemicals to extend their shelf lives. Often our body doesn't process these extra ingredients as well as the food in its natural state.
Snacks, sweet bakery items, and bread are all readily available to put in our cart.
Gone are the hours of following family recipes. Standing at the counter peeling and chopping, and kneading bread.
While some healthy outliers exist, most drive-thrus hawk high calorie, high-fat foods that are delicious and fattening as we drive away munching on hot fries.
These conveniences have changed the nourishment that we ingest and that has changed how our body metabolizes these nutrients.
When taking a step back and looking at my family, it seems we eat all the time.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, snacks, candy at the store, a frappuccino at a drive-thru, and on and on it goes.
Growing up we were rarely allowed snacks between meals. Soda was not kept in the house and was allowed only for special occasions.
Grabbing a burger meant a single burger, a small fry, and a small 8 -12 ounce soda, not the supersize meal that is now the norm.
This compared to the past where our ancestors ate less food, had fewer meals, snacking was limited or not allowed, and convenience foods were unavailable has, in reality, increased the amount of nourishment we consume daily.
This increased calories with an easier lifestyle and less physical labor and exercise set the stage for weight gain that slowly increases over the decades.
It never allows the body to use body fat for fuel, only the constant blood glucose from frequent food ingestion.
Ways to Lose the Weight
There are many ways to try to lose weight and most are effective while people keep doing them. Crazy diets. Increased exercise. Supplements. Even surgery.
They work for some people who commit to the long-term.
The problem is many people stop doing them and return to the lifestyle habits that caused the weight gain in the beginning.
In many cases, they gain all the weight loss and more too.
So what to do?
Another way to lose and maintain weight is Intermittent Fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting
I don't know about you, but when I hear someone talk about fasting I think of no food, being hungry and deprived.
But, when you learn about Intermittent Fasting you realize that there are different types of fasting.
Intermittent fasting is a dietary intervention that restricts food intake based on when you can eat and when you fast or don't eat.
There are 2 types of intermittent fasting. One type is called alternate-day fasting. With this eating program, you fast for 24 hours and then enjoy unrestricted intake for 24 hours. This is usually done on a 5/2 schedule where fasting is done 2 of 7 days and regular food intake occurs on the other days.
The other type of fasting called time-restricted fasting includes regular periods of limited food intake. My focus is on time-restricted fasting.
A common schedule includes 16 hours of fasting with 8 hours of food intake, referred to as 16/8 fasting. Other schedules include 14/10, or 20/4 intervals.
So if you think about what this means is if you follow a 16/8 intermittent fasting interval, you have 8 hours during the day where you can have food intake. That doesn't sound so bad.
Putting this into a real schedule, if you have your last meal at 7 PM, you would then fast for the next 16 hours. This means you would be asleep for the majority of this time and your fast would end at 11 AM the next day. Then you would be able to eat over the next 8 hours.
It's that simple.
What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Checking PubMed a free online database of clinical abstracts, there are over 1600 hits for intermittent fasting. Over the last 10 years, there have been hundreds of clinical studies looking at the benefits of fasting. These studies have found the following benefits.
- Targeted fat loss
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Better cardiovascular outcomes
- Decreased inflammation
- Weight Loss
Welton, did a systematic review of 27 intermittent fasting weight loss trials that took place since 2000.1 Trials varied on the type of intermittent fast interval followed and the length of time participants followed the fasting interval.
The following is a summary of a few major weight loss points found in this review:
- All trials found study participants lost between 0.8% and 13% of baseline weight. The interesting thing is that weight loss occurred regardless of changes in food intake.
- These studies also found that the majority of the weight loss was from fat loss.
- In studies that lasted up to 12 weeks, BMI decreased 4.3%.
- Studies that tracked waist circumference changes and lasted at least 4 weeks showed that circumference decreased between 3 and 8 cm or roughly 1 to 3 inches.
- These studies also found that the best interval for most patients is the 16/8 rotation.
- One study found that adding exercise during the fasting phase increases weight loss.
- Overall, hunger levels remain stable or decrease in participants.
- Weight loss trials that included diabetics showed improved glucose control, and lower insulin levels.
- Lastly, there were no serious adverse events reported in any of the trials. Common side effects were less depression, and improved body image. Otheres include dizziness, weakness, headache, and bad breath amoung others.
How to Incorporate Time-Restricted Fasting with the Mediterranean Diet
By itself, the Mediterranean Diet is a healthy eating plan. With a foundation of fruits, vegetables, and plant-focused protein, it sets the stage for a healthy lifestyle.
But, if weight loss is your goal and you have been following the diet for a while, but your weight loss is not moving as rapidly as you want, you might want to learn about how intermittent fasting can help.
The guidelines of the Mediterranean Diet limit snacking, encourage portion size control, and limit sweets.
Incorporate these guidelines into the parameters of intermittent fasting and you have a two-prong approach to weight loss.
Want to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet? Read my post on the Mediterranean Lifestyle and Diet.
One of the reasons that intermittent fasting works is that restricting food for an extended period, allows the body to use energy stores in the blood. After that, the body resorts to fat stores for energy. This occurs after 8-12 hours of caloric restriction.
When we snack between meals it doesn't give our bodies time to use the energy we ingested at our last meal. If the amount of food that we eat is more than our body requires, then it gets stored as fat.
So holding off on food for at least 14-16 hours gives your body a chance to burn fat for energy. This will help you lose weight and be leaner.
Remember that tummy bulge that just won't. Intermittent fasting may just do the trick.
Decide Which Interval You Will Follow
14/10 Time-Restricted Interval
When starting, you will want to slowly ease into time-restricted fasting. Picking a 14/10 interval will allow you to incorporate a late breakfast, lunch, and dinner into your eating interval.
If you start your fast at 7 PM and have no caloric intake until the next day, then you would break your fast at 9 AM. Then you would have a late breakfast, lunch, and dinner before 7 PM before you fast for the evening. The schedule then repeats itself.
16/8 Time-Restricted Interval
Depending on how the 10/14 interval works, you might want to move to a 16/8 interval. Again the fast would start at 7 PM and but you would break the fast at 11 AM. In this scenario, you might want to have an early lunch and then dinner before 7 PM.
See how this works? You are in control. You decide when you want to start the fast and break it. The key is being consistent. Plan to do it the same every day.
What Can You Ingest During your Fasting Interval
During your fast, you should not intake any calories in food or drink.
You are allowed to have black coffee, tea, or herbal teas.
Also, it is important that you stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. This is key in helping your body rid of any toxins and by-products of the fast.
Water, coffee, and tea will also help manage any hunger pangs you get during the fasting interval.
Manage Your Calories
What do you eat during the feeding interval? You can basically eat a normal diet within reason. If your goal is weight loss, you might want to consider restricting your normal calories.
Putting this into practice might mean if you normally enjoy a roll at dinner, skip the roll. Keep it simple.
While you don't count calories on the Mediterranean Diet, it is a good idea to consider how many calories you need to eat to maintain your current weight.
If your goal is weight loss you need to eat less to lose weight so you achieve the weight you want to weigh.
I'm not suggesting counting every calorie, but focus on managing your portions and limit snacking.
The calculator at Calculator.net will help you find these numbers.
Having a rough idea of the number of calories you should ingest is important.
Exercise and Intermittent Fasting
What about exercise?
If you have been active up until this point, then you may be able to continue your exercise routine. But, keep an eye on how you feel. Especially when you start.
While there were no serious adverse events in the clinical trials on intermittent fasting, participants did report side effects such as:
- headache, and others.
These effects were more often reported in longer fasting intervals, but pay attention to how you feel. Adjust your routine as needed.
Want to add exercise when you haven't been exercising in the past? Think about starting a daily walk.
Walking is a low-impact exercise that you can do at your own pace. You can also progress to more advanced walking with a quicker pace and a longer distance once you are able.
The best time to add exercise when following intermittent fasting is during the fasting interval. This will help increase the need for energy and the body will burn more fat. Perfect for a morning walk before you break your fast.
Before You Start Intermittent Fasting
Understand that this article contains general information about Intermittent Fasting and should not be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition.
Before starting intermittent fasting, you should consult your healthcare provider for direction on intermittent fasting.
This especially includes those with diabetes, thyroid conditions, and others who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or those that suffer from eating disorders.