Fasting is not alien to us. In this article, we shall try to understand what intermittent fasting actually is, its advantages and side effects, and how it can improve health and also help in weight loss. Intermittent fasting is not just a diet in the conventional sense, but rather it is a cycle between voluntary fasting and non-fasting over a period of time.
Various religious communities have been observing fasts for ages. The Holy Quran says, in chapter 2, verse 183, “Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn piety and righteousness”. It also goes on to say, “… and it is better for you that you may fast if you only knew.”
In the bible, Corinthians 7:5 says, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting
Fasting has its place in healing- it can heal one from hair loss, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, kidney problems, and so on. Our digestive system uses 75-80 % of our energy. So only around 20% of our energy is available to us for other activities. During fasting, our digestive system shuts down. Hence energy is made available for healing. According to Luke Coutinho, the lifestyle coach, if intermittent fasting is done the right way, it can itself act as preventive medicine, a medicine that keeps our immune system boosted. Our immune system is the first line of defense in our body. Hence, Intermittent fasting is a great way to strengthen it and also a great way to enhance health.
How can Intermittent fasting help to reduce weight?
The idea of losing weight through intermittent fasting is simple; the less food you eat, the fewer calories you consume and the more weight you lose. Intermittent fasting was found to reduce body weight by 3-16% over a period of 3-12 weeks. Unlike other diets or weight loss programs, in Intermittent fasting there is no such restriction on what one eats, provided one eats a healthy and balanced diet with the right amount of exercise in the form of yoga or other aerobic exercises. For more details on yoga for beginners, please click here.
Understanding our biological clock
There’s a circadian rhythm in our body. Basically it is a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It is also known as the sleep-wake cycle. This rhythm expects us to eat during the day and fast during the night. Research has found that calories eaten in the morning might not actually count as those eaten at night. This is why a wholesome breakfast and lunch can be digested far more effectively than dinner. Most people opt for a heavy dinner after their day’s work. Some even have a dessert after dinner. This paves the way to the accumulation of fats because no matter how healthy or fit you may be, the body does not have the ability to break down a heavy dinner. This is why experts say that having a dessert after lunch can be broken down easier than the one after dinner. So it’s all about the right time to eat, and you won’t need to skip your favorite dessert.
Eating habbits while on intermittent fasting
Wholesome and healthy meals for both breakfast and lunch are highly recommended. Eat high fiber foods, such as nuts, fruits and vegetables. Also to include high protein foods like fish and meat in your diet, and always stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. Dinner must be eaten by 6:30 or 7 PM. Some people go to the extent of overeating during the non fasting window so as to remain satiated during the fasting window. This will not give the desired results.
The cooking methods which we adopt are also important. Steaming is the healthiest way of cooking. It retains most of the nutrients. Sautéing, baking or roasting and grilling are other options to cook food.
Duration of intermittent fasting
Generally, it is 16:8, which is 16 hours of fasting and an 8 hours window for eating. However, there is no definite answer to how long one must do intermittent fasting. Mostly men take up the 16:8, and women take up 14:10. One has to experiment and see what works for them. Hence, it is not a one-size-fits-all idea that is to be implemented here. Your body will tell you what’s best for you.
Side effects of Intermittent fasting
While there can be symptoms of weakness initially, there aren’t any severe side effects to Intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting can increase levels of cortisol, which is the stress hormone due to an increase in hunger pangs. Cortisol or the stress hormone in our body is the one that fuels our body’s “fight or flight” instinct and helps in stress management. It manages how our body uses the carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It also keeps the inflammation down and regulates blood pressure. It primarily helps us to get energized in any dangerous situation for “fight or flight”. After the situation eases the cortisol levels get back to normal.
However, if it remains high for a longer period of time, it can derail the body’s important functions. It causes excess fat to be relocated and stored in the abdomen.
Hence it is important to listen to your body. There are people who can fast up to 16 hours without being lethargic. There are others who cannot fast beyond 12 hours. Therefore, you have to go by your body’s needs.
To recapitulate, Intermittent fasting is a popular eating pattern that restricts your food intake to a definite time window. It does not limit the amount or types of food you eat. Limiting the food intake to a specific time window naturally reduces calorie intake which will aid weight loss. Intermittent fasting can increase the level of norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that can boost your metabolism.
Intermittent fasting can be the right eating pattern for many individuals. However, children, people with chronic illness, pregnant women must consult a healthcare professional before they start such a dietary pattern to ensure that they are getting enough nutrients.
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