The Basics of Intermittent Fasting & How to Make It Work?

does intermittent fasting work

The Basics of Intermittent Fasting & How to Make It Work?

Intermittent fasting holds ground from an evolutionary and biological standpoint. However, a growing body of scientific evidence favors determining the “fasting window” to reap the maximum health benefits.

Intermittent fasting continues to be one of the hottest topics for debate among the “health-conscious”.

It has drastically changed the meaning we usually associate with dieting for weight loss. Suddenly, fasting is no longer about recurring cycles of hunger pangs. 

Meanwhile, new research indicating its weight loss, metabolic, and neurological benefits keep piling up. But while Intermittent Fasting Rules are rather flexible, it begs one to question its long-term effects.

How would you know if it’s even better than any other kind of diet propagated by the health community? Or does intermittent fasting work?

Here we break down the numerous aspects of Intermittent fasting. Most certainly, there is a right and a wrong way to use it for your health and well-being. 

 

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work and What It Essentially Means?

In simple words, Intermittent Fasting (IF) is when you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. Essentially, you’re not going without food for extended periods of time or, in other words, it’s not about starving yourself.

Many people choose to practice it on a per-day or a weekly basis. You can eat for an eight-hour window and then fast for the rest of the day.

Or you can fast two days a week on fewer calories. The choice depends on your preference. Thus, the freedom to design your own eating pattern is a huge part of this process. 

Take Note
As contrary to a conventional dieting pattern, an Intermittent Fasting Diet is not only about what you eat. Rather, it accounts for when you eat and at what intervals. While this concept of fasting may seem alien to you, this is actually not the case. The practice of fasting goes back to ancient times from an evolutionary perspective. 

Of course, hunters and gatherers didn’t have the luxury of food lying around while they could binge watch Netflix. But they were still able to function for long periods of time without snacking, right?

It wouldn’t be wrong to say then that we humans are designed for fasting rather than stuffing 3-4 meals in a day. 

However, before you jump on the “Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss” bandwagon, consider its pros and cons.

 

Why Does Intermittent Fasting Work and Makes Perfect Sense?

Why does intermittent fasting work

The enzymes in our gut break down food into sugar for the energy required by our cells. Any sugar not used by the cells eventually ends up being stored up as fat. 

This is the fundamental science of energy metabolism. However, in order to understand how intermittent fasting factors in, you need to understand the “why” of this.

As soon as you eat, your pancreas senses a rise in blood glucose. In response, it starts secreting insulin. Insulin is the hormone that signals the cells to take in glucose in the first place.

This hormonal response is our body’s mechanism to control blood sugar levels. 

Summary
Effective weight loss calls for a decrease in insulin levels so that the sugar gets released from the fat cells. So, the idea is to keep insulin levels low long enough for the body to resort to stored sugar for energy. This is where intermittent fasting makes practical sense. Just by prolonging the time between meals, you can actually keep both calorie and insulin levels under control.

Any weight loss you see from this kind of fasting happens as a result of it. So, does intermittent fasting work? 

It can work but the latest scientific discoveries hint at something more to REALLY make it work in your favor.

 

Timing of Your Fast is the Key 

timing of fasting

Past human studies have shown eating every other day performs equally well in comparison to eating less each day. This has led to the belief that intermittent fasting can, after all, be just hype.

However, a study conducted on a small group of obese men with prediabetes suggested otherwise. 

As per a study done by the researchers at the University of Alabama, “early-time restricted feeding” improves insulin sensitivity and blood pressure even without any changes in weight loss.

You can read the details of this study here

Early-Time Restricted Feeding (TRF) is technically a type of Intermittent Fasting Schedule that limits food intake in the first 8 to 10 hours of the day.

This is followed by an extended fast till the next morning’s first meal or breakfast.

This study has birthed a new discussion over the long-term health benefits of fitting your meals in the earlier hours of the day. 

Well, naturally prolonging the “fasting window” has its basis in the “human circadian rhythm”. Our bodies are biologically predisposed to eat during the day and rest during the nighttime.

Hence, this explains the results observed in this study.

Previous studies in rodents also show TRF to reduce weight, lower insulin levels, and reduce hepatic fat.

So, what’s the conclusion from all this, does intermittent fasting work? 

Take This Message Home
IF (Intermittent Fasting) has benefits independent of weight loss when you practice it according to the body’s circadian rhythm. This means changing the “fasting window” to eat earlier in the day and extending the nighttime fast. As for weight loss, it benefits metabolic health and triggers ketone-based energy use. So, just changing the time of the fast can work particularly well in your favor.

 

Documented Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

It turns out there is a long list of Intermittent Fasting Benefits. 

Though, the most common reason people subscribe to this kind of diet is still weight loss. The question of “does intermittent fasting work” is often asked for the same reasons as well. 

But it would be an injustice to limit the perks of intermittent fasting to just weight loss, considering it causes changes at the molecular level. In fact, it may also help you live longer.

Below we list down some of the research-backed Advantages of Intermittent Fasting starting with the most common:

#1. Weight Loss and Fat Reduction

The paradigm of eating fewer meals over a day naturally leads to fewer calorie consumption. Thus, forcing your body to use fat stores for its energy use and lead to weight loss.

This has been confirmed by numerous studies on humans and animals.

However, these effects are only possible when you don’t munch on unhealthy snacks in your eating window. 

#2. Wards Off Cardiovascular Disease

IF has been associated with better heart health due to its ability to reduce blood sugar and LDL cholesterol. Poor insulin resistance is often the first marker of poor heart health.

By eliminating these precursors to cardiovascular risks, IF can be an effective tool to maintain heart health.

#3. Diabetes and Obesity

The model of dieting followed within IF has a lot to do when it comes to reducing your waist circumference.

By reducing visceral fat and improving insulin sensitivity, IF, in most cases, is effective in reducing diabetes risk. 

#4. Brain Health

Intermittent fasting may also help prevent neurological diseases and motivate better memory. Studies indicate the contribution of dietary restrictions in the growth of new nerve cells.

In fact, findings suggest intermittent fasting and calorie restriction can even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

#5. Positive Hormonal Changes

Religiously following an IF diet pattern can actually cause your body to secrete more HGH. Better release of human growth hormone has more than one or two benefits for the human body.

With this, you can expect better fat reduction and weight loss as well.

#6. A Massive Boost in Cellular Repair Process

Guess what! Intermittent fasting actually leaves space for your body to spend some time repairing rather than digesting food.

When you eat constantly, the body doesn’t get enough time to initiate cellular repair processes. Rather, all its energy gets expended on metabolic and digestive processes.

#7. Cancer Prevention

Some animal studies even indicate the role of fasting in preventing cancer risk by retarding the growth of tumors.

This might prove beneficial in inhibiting cancer growth. However, patients should not be making dietary changes without consulting their doctor. 

#8. Longevity and Lifespan

Studies done on rats show IF to contribute to a better lifespan where fasted mice survived significantly longer than full-fed mice. 

So, the question of does intermittent fasting work seems to bear positive results so far. However, if you’re adopting this diet for weight loss, there’s more to the story! 

 

The Potential Pitfalls and the Latest Concerns Over Muscle Loss

intermittent fasting fail

The likely Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting could involve feeling out of energy. In extreme cases, it can cause dizziness and chronic fatigue.

Your body usually takes its own time adhering to dietary changes, especially if these modifications are sudden. Binge eating and irritability are all too common when these changes are not made mindfully. 

By mindfully, we mean making changes gradually and eating nutritious instead of junk.

People accustomed to eating three meals along with snacking may take more time to adapt. And that’s quite natural actually. Also, do not start your diet on a workday when your body needs more energy to be active. Anyone who has never practiced intermittent fasting before will end up feeling drained.

While these recommendations should ease out any issues when starting out, there are things to worry about!

A new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine suggests IF isn’t as effective as it is said to be.

According to the results, IF can, after all, not lead to much more weight loss than a conventional eating pattern. Plus, it can lead to lean muscle loss, which is quite opposite of what you must be aiming for.

This 12-week study was conducted on men and women aged 18 to 64 years. They had a body mass index of 27 to 43. Moreover, the randomized clinical trial included 116 overweight or obese adults. 

The trials were done by splitting men and women into two groups. One had to follow an eating schedule of 3 structured meals per day. 

Whereas, the other group adhered to time-restricted eating where they could eat only from 12:00 pm to 08:00 pm. This means they had to avoid any sort of caloric intake right from 08:00 pm till 12:00 pm the next day.

These were the results observed in the study:

  • The time-restricted eating group witnessed a 1.17% decrease in weight in comparison to 0.75% of the three meals a day group. Most of the decrease in the time-restricted group was also the result of lean muscle loss. While the changes were not significant, there were still present. 
  • There was not a significant change observed for secondary factors within or between groups. These included fasting insulin, fasting glucose, total energy expenditure, hemoglobin A1c levels, and resting energy expenditure.
  • The study also observed no differences in estimated energy intake between groups.

So, what all this comes down to is the fact that intermittent fasting does require some caution. Otherwise, you may end up losing muscle mass, which is never healthy. 

While this study shouldn’t deter you from intermittent fasting, know that it’ll require some interventions to work. 

So, Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Weight Loss? Yes, it definitely can. But what you may have to do to make it work is paying attention to what you eat. 

While IF is all about when to eat, paying heed to what you eat can also help the process. For instance, choose to eat a protein-rich diet when you do eat. This way you lower the chances of losing muscle.

Additionally, protein is a major metabolic booster. A faster metabolic rate will obviously also support fat loss. 

In addition to the above precautions, you must also know that this kind of dieting is not for everyone. Assessing your suitability for following an intermittent fasting diet should be your first priority.

 

Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Everyone?

No, it most certainly will not work for everyone. However, this is the case with any kind of dieting you would follow. 

Restricted eating is not for everyone and shouldn’t be practiced without careful thought. 

People with existing or previous medical conditions should especially consult their doctor before making changes. 

As previously mentioned, it may take some time for your body to adapt to intermittent fasting.

Hunger is the main result and a major energy deficit can lead to fatigue and mental fog. Thus, it is not for you if you’re already malnourished or underweight.

Another concern is raised in the tendency to eat more in the anticipation of a low-calorie diet. What this means is you may be inclined to eat more on days where it is to be followed by a restricted diet. 

This is plain psychology where people may choose to eat more not because they are hungrier. Rather, they do so because they know food is going to be restricted the day after.

This effect has already been recorded in a Study published in the journal Appetite. 

Hence, intermittent fasting will not work for everyone, especially for those who are not mindful of their eating.

After all, there’s no sense in restricting calorie intake if you’re going to compensate for it. This will not lead to weight loss over time as there’s no real calorie deficit.

Furthermore, exercise caution if you fit into any of the following criteria:

  • Eating disorders or underweight people
  • Fluctuations in blood sugar level
  • Diabetes or any other medical condition
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Women trying to conceive
  • Women with a history of amenorrhea

There’s also some evidence suggesting Intermittent Fasting for Women requires extra care before embarking on the diet plan.

So, Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Women? Yes, it does.

But while it’s safe for the most part, women should take things slowly. It can affect their menstrual cycles and cause them to miss it. 

So, if you have a history of missing menstrual cycles, do not start fasting unless you talk to a doctor.

There shouldn’t be many issues as long as you follow the Do’s and Don’ts of Intermittent Fasting.

Takeaway
In retrospect, it’s quite obvious that there’s not a single approach to Intermittent Fasting. What dictates its success will depend on how you practice it. So, the answer to does intermittent fasting works is better relayed when followed with proper measures.

 

Getting Started: How Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Weight Loss?

weight loss

While Intermittent fasting has become a trend, it’s far from conventional. It is not your run-of-the-mill dieting style where you deprive yourself of all tempting dishes.

It’s more so about managing your eating habits meaning you keep a check over your meal timings. 

Now, managing these meal timings will vary from individual to individual. Determining the fasting window is all there is to it. 

There are several Intermittent Fasting Methods you can choose from. The most popular ones are:

#1. The 5:2 Method

This involves eating normally for five days of the week. This means you reduce caloric intake for two days of the week. For example, you may eat normally from Monday to Friday and choose to eat about 600 calories over the weekend. 

This kind of eating pattern is best suited for beginners and will also not take a major toll on your body. 

#2. The 16/8 Diet Pattern

This involves eating normally for five days of the week. This means you reduce caloric intake for two days of the week. For example, you may eat normally from Monday to Friday and choose to eat about 600 calories over the weekend. 

This kind of eating pattern is best suited for beginners and will also not take a major toll on your body. 

#3. Alternate Day Fasting

As the name suggests, this type has you fast every other day. You either fast for full days or restrict calorie intake. The choice is yours. 

Whatever you chose, fasting every other day is a little too much. Thus, this method is seldom a good fit for everyone. What you could instead do is first try to restrict calories and test the waters before going full in. 

#4. Eat Stop Eat

This implies fasting 24 hours only for one or two days a week. However, this means you might get more hungry on the fast days. So, it may get difficult to keep up with the plan. That’s why it’s often better to start slow and not fast for more than 16 hours at first. 

Moreover, make sure you don’t end up eating more calories on the days you do eat. This may compensate for the energy deficit on the fast days and lead you nowhere. 

 

Now, how can you use this information to get the best results? 

Obviously, your choice to follow any of these methods will depend on your current health and dietary behavior.

Here are some suggestions from our side to maximize weight loss results.

 

The Right Way to Intermittent Fasting 

Dictating the right approach to fast is the only way to see tangible results. Health experts always recommend exercising caution in the matters of intermittent fasting. It is effective, yet it is not for everyone. 

Based on all the studies and information we have reviewed so far, here are some recommendations:

#1. Stick to the Body’s Circadian Rhythm

No matter what kind of eating pattern, you can never go wrong when it follows the body’s internal clock. This means eating during the day and resting during the night. 

So, what you can do is eat during the earlier hours of the day. While a 7 am to 3 pm routine is not always practical, a 10 am to 6 pm is doable.

For that matter, even a 16/8 intermittent fasting approach can work. 

#2. Avoid Sugar and Processed Food During the Eating Window

While intermittent fasting doesn’t place any rules over what to eat, it’s better to eat healthily. The idea is still to reduce calorie intake.

So, eating intermittently is not a free pass to eating irresponsibly. 

Opt for vegetables, fresh fruits, lentils, whole grains, and lean proteins. These are good sources of nutrition and will keep you from getting starved for a long time. 

#3. A Lifestyle and Not Just a Diet

Intermittent fasting shouldn’t be something of a task for you. In fact, many people unintentionally fast for long periods of time when they skip breakfast. 

Likewise, design a routine that works with your lifestyle. Contrary to other diet routines, IF actually offers multiple benefits for aging and disease prevention and not just weight loss. 

#4. Avoid Snacking Or Eating at Night-Time

Be extra vigilant of your eating habits while on intermittent fasting. You may feel more hungry at first, but stay away from sugary snacks and eating junk. 

With time, your body should adjust to your new eating plan. However, if issues persist or become worse, don’t wait to consult a healthcare professional. 

Along the lines of unhealthy eating, also take control of your timing. Eating before bedtime is a complete no-no.

#5. No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Finally, don’t force intermittent fasting for you if it’s not working. Maybe it’s just not for you and you might react well to other diet plans. 

The best diet for you is the one that can work well with your daily routine. Make sure it is easier to stick to a diet plan in the long run. 

So, instead of asking Does Intermittent Fasting Really Work, perhaps a better question would be how to make it work.

Now, if you follow the above recommendations, it can certainly offer results. 

 

Does Intermittent Fasting Work: The Final Takeaway 

Well, it’s definitely the curse of the modern lifestyle that has perpetuated the rise of a number of dieting styles. Intermittent fasting in particular has caught massive attention. 

It manages to break free from traditional dieting rules and is believed to be a more realistic approach to weight loss. In fact, intermittent fasting comes naturally to many people. For instance, you may feel inclined to skip breakfast and eat later on during the day. This allows a good gap between meals and offers much-needed space for calorie burn. Plus, when you do eat, you’re more likely to put extra effort into preparing your meals. Another welcome change!

If you’re otherwise healthy, slacking on meals sometimes shouldn’t be a big issue!

However, any fasting or diet plan is bound to work within the limitations of your everyday habits. 

What this means is it all comes down to what you’re doing besides fasting. Whenever you choose to go for a particular diet plan, you have to account for workouts as well. 

You don’t want to be drained out and unable to exercise. Clearly, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. You have got to meet those daily caloric needs to maintain a healthy body. 

Henceforth, whichever diet you go for, make sure it fulfills your everyday nutritional quotient.

The idea is not to starve yourself at the end of the day. Rather, to achieve a healthy body and mind.

As long as you have that under check, you’ll be fine!

 

SOURCES:

  1. Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy: Alirezaei M, Kemball CC, Flynn CT, Wood MR, Whitton JL, Kiosses WB, August 2010.
  2. Intermittent fasting: Surprising update: Monique Tello, MD, MPH, JUNE 2018.
Levin Scholten
levin@horizonclinics.org

Levin Scholten is a research fellow examining the role of oxidative stress and lifestyle changes on protein and amino acid metabolism. Drawing on his analytical awareness and investigative skills, Levin contributes to diet and supplement guides by deducing present scientific data. Read More... About Me

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