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What is intermittent fasting, and how does it work?

Many diets emphasize what to eat, but intermittent fasting emphasizes when to eat. Intermittent fasting is when you only eat at certain times of the day. Fasting for a set number of hours each day or eating only one meal a couple of times a week can aid fat loss. Scientific data also suggests that there are certain health benefits.

Mark Mattson, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years. He claims that our bodies have evolved to be able to survive without food for several hours, days, or even weeks. Before humans learned to farm, they were hunters and gatherers who evolved to survive — and thrive — without eating for lengthy periods of time. They needed to: Hunting wildlife and gathering nuts and berries took a lot of time and effort. It was easy to maintain a healthy weight even 50 years ago. "There were no computers, and TV shows switched off at 11 p.m.; people stopped eating because they went to bed," says Christie Williams, M.S., R.D.N., a nutritionist at Johns Hopkins. The portions were significantly smaller. "More people worked and played outside, getting more exercise in general."

Television, the internet, and other forms of entertainment are now available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We stay up later to watch our favorite shows, play games, and communicate on the internet. We spend the entire day — and most of the night — sitting and nibbling." Obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments can all be exacerbated by eating too many calories and exercising too little. Intermittent fasting has been shown in scientific research to help reverse these patterns.

What is the mechanism of intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting can be done in a variety of methods, but they all revolve around choosing regular eating and fasting times. For example, you could try eating only for eight hours a day and fasting for the rest of the day. Alternatively, you could choose to eat only one meal each day two days per week. There are a variety of intermittent fasting schedules to choose from. According to Mattson, after a period of time without meals, the body's sugar stores are depleted and it begins to burn fat. This is referred to as metabolic switching by him. "Most Americans eat throughout their waking hours," Mattson explains, "therefore intermittent fasting is in stark contrast to their regular eating routine." "If someone eats three meals a day plus snacks and doesn't exercise, they're running on those calories and not burning their fat stores every time they eat." Intermittent fasting works by extending the time between when your body burns off the calories from your last meal and starts burning fat.

Plans for Intermittent Fasting

Before beginning intermittent fasting, make sure to see your doctor. The actual technique is straightforward once you have his or her permission. You can choose a daily strategy, which limits daily meals to one six- to eight-hour period. For example, you could try 16/8 fasting, which involves eating for eight hours and fasting for sixteen. Williams is a proponent of the daily routine, claiming that most people find it simple to stay to this pattern over time.

Another method, known as the 5:2 technique, is eating five times a week. You only eat one 500–600 calorie meal on the remaining two days. For instance, suppose you decided to eat normally every day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays, which are your one-meal days

Fasting for longer lengths of time, such as 24, 36, 48, and 72 hours, is not always beneficial and can be dangerous. Going too long without eating may cause your body to begin storing fat as a response to the lack of food.

According to Mattson's studies, it takes two to four weeks for the body to adjust to intermittent fasting. While you're getting adjusted to the new pattern, you can feel hungry or irritable. However, he notes that research subjects who make it through the adjustment stage are more likely to continue to the diet because they feel better.

What may I eat if I'm fasting intermittently?

Water and zero-calorie liquids like black coffee and tea are allowed at periods when you aren't eating. And "eating normally" during your periods does not imply going insane. If you fill your meals with high-calorie junk food, super-sized fried foods, and desserts, you're not going to lose weight or get healthier. But what Williams enjoys about intermittent fasting is that it allows him to eat — and enjoy — a wide variety of things. She explains, "We want people to be conscious and enjoy eating good, nutritious cuisine." Eating with others and sharing the mealtime experience, she continues, enhances satisfaction and promotes excellent health. Whether you're trying intermittent fasting or not, Williams, like other nutrition experts, considers the Mediterranean diet to be a solid pattern for what to consume. When you choose complex, unprocessed carbohydrates like whole grains, leafy greens, healthy fats, and lean protein, you can't go wrong.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting does more than burn fat, according to research. "Changes in this metabolic switch affect the body and the brain," Mattson explains. Mattson's research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and it offered information on a variety of health benefits linked to the practice. Longer life, a slimmer body, and a sharper mind are among them. "During intermittent fasting, numerous things happen that protect organs from chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurological disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many malignancies," he explains.

Here are some of the benefits of intermittent fasting that have been discovered thus far in research:

The ability to think and remember. Intermittent fasting improves working memory in animals and verbal memory in adults, according to research.

Heart health is important. Fasting for a short period of time improved blood pressure, resting heart rates, and other heart-related parameters.

Physical exertion. Fasting for 16 hours resulted in fat loss while retaining muscular mass in young males. Mice that were fed on different days had superior running endurance.

Obesity and diabetes. Intermittent fasting has been shown to prevent obesity in animals. In six small studies, obese adult individuals lost weight by fasting intermittently.

Tissue health is important. Intermittent fasting in mice minimized tissue damage during surgery and improved outcomes.

Is intermittent fasting a healthy way to eat?

Some people use intermittent fasting to lose weight, while others use it to treat chronic illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, or arthritis. Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, isn't for everyone. Before attempting intermittent fasting (or any diet), Williams recommends consulting with your primary care physician. Some persons should avoid experimenting with intermittent fasting:

Children and teenagers under the age of 18 are considered minors.

Women who are expecting a child or who are breastfeeding.

People who have diabetes or other blood sugar issues.

Those who have had an eating disorder in the past.

People who aren't in these groups, but who can safely undertake intermittent fasting, can continue the routine indefinitely, according to Williams. "It might be a lifestyle shift with advantages," she explains. Keep in mind that intermittent fasting can have a variety of impacts depending on the individual. If you have unusual anxiety, headaches, nausea, or other symptoms after beginning intermittent fasting, consult your doctor.