Diet fads catch on when they introduce a new concept. Some encourage you to eat all the fatty foods you’d like, while others focus on protein-based meals. Intermittent fasting became popular because it allows people to eat as much as they’d like, but only during certain times of the day.
The idea of prolonged hunger followed by large meals may interest you because you haven’t tried it before. Something so new would result in a complete lifestyle change, so now you’re asking yourself — does intermittent fasting really work?
Check out some of the facts behind this diet and why it may or may not be right for you. Afterward, you can make an informed decision to protect your health while you chase your weight loss goals.
How Intermittent Fasting Works
Instead of tracking your calorie content or only eating certain foods, intermittent fasting allows participants to focus only on the clock. During certain times of the day, you’ll refrain from eating until the next eating cycle begins. Many people start with 16 hours of fasting every day, followed by eight hours of eating. You may also find it easier to fast for 24 hours during two days of the week if you don’t have health conditions that require regulated daily meals.
Although intermittent fasting doesn’t outline which foods you can and cannot eat, you’ll experience better weight loss results by eating nutritious foods. Stick with whole grains, healthy carbs and natural fats instead of processed junk food that’s high in calories and saturated fats.
Does It Burn Fat?
If you already skip breakfast and rarely eat past 8 p.m., you may wonder how this diet works. In addition to you eating healthier foods, intermittent fasting burns fat by working on a cellular level.
The American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) found in one study that during fasting periods, the body produces more Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which increases fat loss. Another found that the body also began to heal and improve insulin sensitivity, making it easier to burn fat storage.
These two factors occur more frequently and efficiently during fasting periods because cells use this time to recover from eating. Fasting is a way to initiate the cellular repair process so your body is stronger and ready to burn through food and lose weight more easily than before.
Don’t worry about your metabolism crashing either. After your hormone levels adjust to the lowered insulin, you’ll increase your base metabolic rate by at least 3-14%. As long as you continue to eat nutritious foods during your non-fasting hours, your body will keep up with the intense fat-burning cycles.
Other Long-Term Effects
Many people stick with intermittent fasting long after they reach their weight loss goals. It can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol and triacylglycerol levels, which typically lead to coronary artery disease.
Your cells also become stronger and better at autophagy, the cellular process that breaks down dysfunctional proteins and helps protect you against cancer before it becomes developed enough to present symptoms.
A recent study on intermittent fasting in rats found that the practice encouraged the growth of nerve cells, improving their overall brain function. Long-term fasting also protects the brain from strokes by decreasing HO-1 antioxidant enzymes and minimizing cytokine inflammation.
Health Concerns to Consider
There are many reasons why people try and stick with intermittent fasting, but you should also be aware of these possible health concerns before you begin this diet.
It Could Complicate Pregnancies
Women who are pregnant are typically not advised to participate in intermittent fasting. Instead, doctors will likely advise you to increase your caloric intake to provide your baby with essential nutrients and minerals. Fasting will also consistently decrease your blood sugar levels, which may result in gestational diabetes and cause a risky delivery because the baby grows to an unusually large size.
It Could Trigger Eating Disorders
Like any diet, restricting your caloric intake may trigger an eating disorder. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that young people eating little to no food during the day developed an eating disorder, which can happen in intermittent fasting if you go beyond the hourly limits of intake restriction.
Adults can experience eating disorders as well. Many former intermittent fasting participants noted that they began to binge after fasting or skip meals to intensify their weight loss. If these thoughts become obsessive and constant, it can lead to a lifelong struggle with eating disorders.
Talk With an Expert
If you think intermittent fasting may be right for you and your health needs, you can always talk with an expert or read their advice throughout your journey. Keep in touch with your doctor or a nutritionist to ensure you’re not eating unhealthy foods or skipping meals. You can also read books on the subject to learn more about how it affects your body.
With the right research, guidance and motivations, intermittent fasting can work for you and get the results you’re looking for.