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Intermittent Fasting- Benefits and Side Effects

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular fitness trends in the world. It is an approach to eating habits where you divide a day or a week into multiple cycles of eating and fasting alternatively. In other words, it is a scheduled eating or diet plan. For example, on a day you are eating for 8 hours and fasting for 16 hours, and hence, you can call it 16/8 intermittent fasting. As a matter of fact, 16/8 cycle is the most common intermittent fasting method that most of the people follow unconsciously. Accordingly, there are several such cycles possible depending on the motives behind such approaches.

Why Is Intermittent Fasting So Popular?

According to Wikipedia, the detailed coverage on fasting intermittently was done by BBC2 UK TV Channel in 2012 for the documentary ‘Eat, Fast and Live Longer’. The 5:2 diet plan showcased in the program instantly made it popular in the UK, and steadily, it spread across the entire Europe. As a matter of fact, it became viral when it was made public that certain celebrities practice several methods of intermittent fasting to get proper shape of their figures and maintain it for years.

The reason intermittent fasting became so popular across the globe lies in its benefits. It is considered to be a powerful and effective way of losing weight, improving overall health condition, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Another reason for its popularity is that it is very easy to do and most of the people who have tried it, they have reported positively about the approach.

Different Types Of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is basically of two types:

  1. Day-Restricted Fasting – In this approach, a person fasts for an entire day and at times, a couple of days in a week.
  2. Time-Restricted Fasting – In this approach, a person eats food only in certain hours in a day. For example, a strict diet plan could be 3 hours of eating and 21 hours of fasting.

Based on these two approaches, there are various types of popular intermittent fasting methods available.

  1. The 16/8 Method – This is the easiest method where a person can eat only 8 hours a day, and the rest is for fasting. It is either for maintenance of current slim figure or for a stepping stone towards a strict diet in future.
  2. The 5:2 Method – In this method, a person is supposed to fast or eat slightly on any two days a week and eat normally for the rest of the 5 days. This is the most practiced intermittent fasting method.
  3. Alternate Day Method – From the name itself, you can guess that a person will eat one day normally and fast or eat slightly the next day and the cycle will continue. This is a very strict form of diet plan and can do harm if the person is not under the supervision of a physician.
  4. The Warrior Method – This is another popular method where a person fast throughout the day and have a feast at dinner and this continues every day.
  5. Eat and Skip Method – This is where a person skip breakfast, lunch or dinner as he deems necessary so that there is a deficiency of calories created inside the body for the fat to burn quickly to provide energy required.

Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting

  1. Weight Loss – The main benefit of fasting intermittently is the loss of weight in short to long term. Due to lack of calorie supply from food, the body breaks down the stored fat and provides the necessary energy. But the muscle mass and body strength are likely to stay intact. According to Healthline, on an average, a person can lose 3-8% of weight over 3-24 weeks. As far as fat burning goes, within the same timeframe, the person can lose 4-7% belly fat.
  2. Insulin Release – The rate of release of insulin in the body is likely to become optimal, and hence, diabetes and other chronic diseases caused due to poor insulin in the body can be avoided.
  3. HGH Production – The rate of HGH production is likely to increase and this, in turn, will slow down the aging and promote fitness.
  4. Healthy Heart – Due to increase HDL cholesterol, decrease in LDL cholesterol, your heart will be healthier than before. Another factor contributing to a healthy heart is the reduction in blood sugar level due to fasting.
  5. Healthy Brain –Intermittent fasting helps the brain to have consistent functioning and retention power and thereby, reduces the aging process. It also prevents or slows down fatal brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
  6. Checking Inflammation – It is instrumental in the suppression of inflammation. It also helps in fighting free radical damages that occur to the human body at times. Inflammation is generally linked to obesity, tumor, and cancer.

To get the maximum benefit, a person should exercise during the fasting period. It enhances the fat-burning rate considerably, and weight loss effect will be visible in very short time.

Side Effects Of Intermittent Fasting 

In spite of all the claimed benefits, according to Wikipedia, it has been found in a review that intermittent fasting side effects can be seen on children and elderly persons. Not only that, it can give rise to several side effects for which it is not recommended by the physicians as a weight losing way out.

1. Metabolic Problems-

The most common side effect noticed people who started intermittent fasting recently is indigestion. It is because the regular digestion rhythm of the body changes suddenly and it could lead to fatal problems for certain people whose bodies are not able to cope up swiftly.

2. Headache-

Frequent complaints of headache are a common side effect as the body will be hungry for food and calories, and due to its absence, gas will start building up due to the breakdown of internally stored fats.

3. Heartburn-

Heartburn is another often noticed side effect, and it is due to the acid released by the food but no food to absorb it.

4. Diarrhea-

Due to a sudden change in food habits, the body will react negatively, and explosive diarrhea will make you weak.

5. Negative Effects On Women- 

There are complaints of missing periods, early occurrence of menopause and other reproductive hormone-related problems from women.

6. Caffeine Effects- 

With excessive fasting periods, you will over-rely on coffee, and the intake of caffeine in your body will increase exponentially. Too much of caffeine will lead to sleeping disorder and stress in the body.

Sluggishness, weakness, vomiting and brain fog are other side effects you may experience.

Alternatives To Intermittent Fasting

If your intake of calories in lesser than what your body wants, naturally, your body will burn the stored fats and you will lose weight. The other way is burning more calories than what you are taking in. Here are the alternatives that are more natural than fasting.

  1. Hit The Gym – There is no better way of losing weight than working out. The more you work out, the more you lose weight and fat. Be regular and enjoy your work out sessions.
  2. Consult A Dietician – instead of trying out your expertise, you should consult a dietician and plan your diet so that your body burn fat. At the same time, give up eating junk foods, unhealthy food and high calorie foods. Focus more on protein and less carbs. Avoid sugar-based food and drink water to fill your stomach.
  3. Self-Trainer – If you do not like gyming, you should do various outdoor activities like jogging, running, playing with pets or kids, practice yoga, climb steps, do stretching, dancing to music and likewise. These are natural exercises for the human body. Similarly, you should take as much food as necessary, eat vegetables, soluble fiber unprocessed food and live stress-free. Prefer fat burning items like green tea instead of coffee, olive oil over refined oil, fruit juice over cold drinks. Count the calories intake and count your calorie burning with smart trackers.

There is no denying the fact that intermittent fasting is effective in losing weight and if you add exercise with that, you can lose fat and weight quickly. But you must be under the supervision of a physician and watch out your health. If it deteriorates, it is better to go for the alternatives and lose weight steadily and naturally. There are also some snacks which help with weight loss.

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.

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