Health

Intermittent fasting for weight loss and better health

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is actually just a fancy-sounding term that simply means you don’t eat during the day, but you have a window of time to snack.

A typical scheme looks like, for example, you are allowed to eat for 8 hours and then fast for another 16 hours (so you eat from 9am to 5pm, for example), but there are countless variations, some are looser and suitable for everyone, others are stricter and more restrictive.

It should be noted that this is neither new nor extreme (at least in the case of the basic, simpler variants). If we look at history, average working people ate far less and less often than we do today. For one thing, food was often scarce, and for another, people who weren’t rich had to work longer and harder. You can probably imagine that if you have to spend all day working in the fields, you won’t have time to prepare and eat three big meals and two snacks in between.

In addition to these reasons, there were also cultural (mostly religious) reasons for fasting, and even fasting was not infrequently prescribed as a health remedy. Unlike vein-draining, trepanation, and similar historical methods of healing, fasting could actually have a positive effect in some cases, and in others, at least, it did little harm.

So today’s popularity of intermittent fasting is really just a rediscovery of something that was once perfectly normal and natural.

Eating five times a day has been the standard for quite a short time now, and although doctors considered this frequency ideal only a few decades ago, we now know that there are many different healthy ways of eating, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Health benefits of intermittent fasting

What are the benefits of limiting the amount of time you eat? There are a few positives that are more or less unquestionable, and then a large number of positives that proponents of this method promise but have not yet been confirmed (but often not refuted) by medical research.

The first and most obvious benefit for people who want to lose weight is the fact that one simply cannot eat as much in a limited time frame. Since weight change depends primarily on caloric balance (the ratio of caloric intake to caloric expenditure), which you can read about in more detail in the article on the basics of eating, limiting the frequency of eating is one way we can influence this balance in our favor.

Conversely, for athletes who want to put on muscle mass and struggle to get enough of the nutrients they need, this approach is probably inappropriate. This is exactly my case (I eat around 4000 kcal daily), so unfortunately I have never personally tried intermittent fasting. However, several of my clients have tried it and so far all have been satisfied and have had success (at least in terms of weight loss).

Another potential benefit of intermittent fasting is that the body gets a break from digestion during the fast. Digestion is also quite a laborious process, although it does replenish energy (and micronutrients, etc.) from the food taken in.

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Part of digestion involves the secretion of insulin, which gets blood sugars from ingested food to the necessary places (such as to glycogen in muscles or to fat stores for energy). However, insulin production is not unlimited, and prolonged sugar overfeeding also leads to so-called insulin resistance (reduced sensitivity of insulin receptors), which can lead to diabetes and other health problems.

Fasting helps prevent these problems by reducing insulin consumption (although it is still secreted at a low rate) when we don’t eat for long periods of time. Intermittent fasting can therefore potentially act as a prevention of diabetes and obesity.

Intermittent fasting and time-restricted dietary intake are thought to promote the production of some important hormones (especially growth hormone and testosterone), leading to greater vitality and physical fitness. However, I haven’t yet seen any studies that clearly demonstrate this effect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel more vital and have more energy on this regimen (which is what many people claim).

Variants of intermittent fasting

As mentioned above, there are countless variations of intermittent fasting, but its proponents mostly agree that the only requirement is that the “feeding” window should last no longer than 8 hours, otherwise the fast is not long enough.

It is also not at all necessary to fast every day. If you are starting out, it is not bad at all to fast only 4 days a week. Personally, however, I would rather recommend choosing the most moderate option (16 hours of fasting, 8 hours of eating) and sticking to it every day for a certain period of time. The reason for this is that if you are used to eating all day, it may be uncomfortable at first, but if you follow this regimen for some time in a row (maybe two weeks), your body will get used to it well.

To give you an idea, here are two different intermittent fasting patterns.

A more moderate option for beginners:

MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
First meal 12:00
Last meal 20:00
First meal 12:00
Last meal 20:00
First meal 12:00
Last meal 20:00
First meal 12:00
Last meal 20:00
First meal 12:00
Last meal 20:00
Normal routineNormal routine, last meal 20:00

A more extreme option for the experienced (faster weight loss):

MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
First meal 13:00
Last meal 19:00
First meal 13:00
Last meal 19:00
First meal 13:00
Last meal 19:00
First meal 13:00
Last meal 19:00
First meal 13:00
Last meal 19:00
All-day fastingFirst meal 11:00
Last meal 17:00

How to make a diet with intermittent fasting?

The intermittent fasting diet need not differ from the normal way of eating, except, of course, in the timing of portions. Nevertheless, a few recommendations can be made to help ensure that fasting is not too uncomfortable and that you achieve your goals (e.g. weight loss).

The first step is to choose when you can eat during the day. Since we have long known that breakfast is not healthier than dinner (it is all about the quality and quantity of food consumed during the day), this choice is up to you. So choose a meal time that fits well into your daily routine without making you too hungry.

For example, I personally don’t feel hungry or have an appetite in the morning, and conversely, I find it hard to sleep well in the evening, so for me, choosing the afternoon and evening for meals would be absolutely ideal. On the other hand, some people don’t like to go to bed with a full stomach or tend to overeat poor quality food in the evening (chips, sweets, etc.). In this case, it is better to start eating earlier and also to finish earlier.

Another key to fighting hunger is choosing the last meal before fasting. The richer the last meal is in carbohydrates (and especially simple sugars), the sooner one gets hungry after it. Conversely, protein, fat and fibre will ensure a slower and more gradual uptake of energy and therefore a later onset of hunger.

An example of such a meal is a nice, well-done steak with a Greek salad or (if you are avoiding meat) a large omelette with peas and cheese. It must be admitted that everyone endures fasting differently, so that for someone it will be a complete comfort, while another will suffer from hunger, even if he observes all the above principles.

Apart from these recommendations, the same rules apply to the intermittent fasting diet as to other diets. If you eat more calories in eight hours than you burn in a day, you cannot expect to lose weight! You should track your macronutrient and micronutrient intake in the same way, because the timing of meals makes no difference in either case!

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