Intermittent fasting is an eating plan. It sets a pattern when to eat and when not. Contrary to popular belief, fasting does not mean less or restricted eating.
How to do intermittent fasting
There is no textbook definition of intermittent fasting. Also no definitive or long term research is available. There are many variations of Intermittent Fasting. But the most commonly followed is 16/8 which is 8 hours of eating window and 16 hours of fasting window. Also generally agreed upon is the timing of first meal at 12 noon and last meal at 6 pm or 8 pm.
Bane of grazing and bingeing
Many people come to a routine of having three meals a day with many snacks in between. Typically an average work-person will wake up in the morning with a cup to tea followed by breakfast. A tea break at 11 am and lunch at 2 pm. Another round of tea at 5 pm. If dinner is with family or friends, it begins with light snacks at 8 pm and can go right upto 11 pm when he or she will finally have dinner. Eating too many times will lead to insulin resistance and keep your digestive system on overload and always active mode. There is no rest for your organs involved in digestion. Eating too many times all day long is called grazing. Eating large amount of food in a short time is called binging or bingeing.
Many people advocate eating any number of times during the eating window of 8 hours. Many doctors and nutritionists also advocate eating small bits of food many times a day. But you will be better off having just two meals during the eating window. Every time you eat, food triggers an insulin response. So all those who have a known fatty liver condition or pre diabetics, or insulin resistance should limit the number of meals in a day.
This timing of 12 am and 6 pm should not be sacrosanct. You may change the timings occasionally or even go ahead and skip a meal altogether. Many people who advocate intermittent fasting do OMAD or One Meal a Day. Prepare your own meal plan depending on your nutritional needs for the day.
What happens to your body during intermittent fasting
Energy is stored in liver as glycogen. This energy is needed for the body and brain functioning. As the 16 hour fasting window kicks in, the glycogen level in liver drops to zero. Fat cells in the body then come to the liver to be burnt as energy for the body. This state is known as ketosis. Intermittent fasting puts your body in a state of ketosis. But why is ketosis so important and beneficial to human body.
There are three sources of energy for the human body. These macro-nutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbs are processed fast and quickly converted to sugar by the body. That is why scientists believed that carbs are the primary source of energy of the body. Proteins and fats can also be converted to energy. But the speed of conversion is relatively slowly.
During the fasting windows, when glucose or glycogen is exhausted, fat burning begins. Fats are the cleanest source of energy for your body. Sugar is toxic which is why it is expelled out of the body as soon as it is consumed.
Ketones are the best source of energy for humans.
In addition to intermittent fasting, if you are able to cut down on carbs on sugar, there is a further boost to ketosis.
Intermittent fasting leads to the transition from burning sugar to burning fat for fuel.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Lose weight – the healthy way – Intermittent fasting is the easiest and most reliable way of losing excess weight. So those people who are overweight will see instant and guaranteed results from intermittent fasting.
- Cardio-vascular functions – The next proven and visible results will be improved blood pressure, better resting heart rate, controlled cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
- Digestive problems sorted – Indigestion, acidity, acid reflux and all such problems associated with food digestion see a visible change.
- Insulin resistance – Definitive increase in insulin sensitivity. Because insulin functioning gets better, the cell repair process is now fully functional which takes us to the next important benefit.
- Visibly younger – As the insulin starts reaching to body cells, the repair mechanism is reactivated. Dark spots, skin darkening, ageing, inflammation and all such problems start getting taken care of. People those who reduce weight through crash diets look unhealthy and starved. While those who lose weight by intermittent fasting look younger and healthier.
- Less hungry and less thirsty – You will begin to feel less hungry between the two meals. Food craving takes a nose dive.
Fat burning releases ketones. Ketones further trigger release of BDNF which helps build neurons and neural connections in areas of brain responsible for learning & memory. There is a definitive increase in memory and cognitive functions.
What is permitted between meals
Anything which does not trigger an insulin response is safe. People do follow a strict regime of consuming only water. However a cup of coffee, coconut water or even lime juice is safe. Anything other than that will kick your body out of ketosis. Adding a spoon of butter or desi ghee to coffee at 8 am will help control cortisol levels. Most people are not hungry in the morning. But it is the release of cortisol hormone everyday like a clock at 8 am makes you feel hungry and hence the need to have a hearty breakfast. Cold pressed coconut oil or MCT oil can also be consumed with coffee.