Intermittent Fasting – Reshaping the world of dieting

Different sized bodies
Credit: Victovoi

Looks are important to many of us, and nowadays it seems as though nearly everyone is on some sort of diet. Yet these diets can seem more like fads than solutions and we face the problem of being able to fish out those that provide long term results that are backed up by the scientific research which they claim to be based on. One diet, however, seems to hold a lot of promise for individuals looking to trim down their physique – intermittent fasting (IF).

What is the IF diet?

Intermittent fasting is as a pattern of eating whereby the individual cycles through periods of fasting (when either no food is consumed or calorie intake is restricted) and eating as normal. Unlike most diets that concentrate on exactly what type of food you eat, IF focuses more on the time periods – a feature which is probably a very attractive feature for many of us constantly on the move with little time to follow a strict regime.

We live in a world where food is readily available to us 24 hours a day and although fasting may sound unconventional to some people, it has actually been practiced for thousands of years. Humans did not always have access to countless supermarkets or refrigerators and adapted to be able to go through prolonged periods of time without food. Throughout the course of human evolution, this ability to survive on a limited diet has been passed down through generations – there is therefore no need to be scared about food not being your highest priority during the day.

How does IF work?

Two important hormones that are influenced by IF are growth hormone and, more crucially, insulin. Insulin is a hormone which is produced by cells in the pancreas and is secreted in response to food intake when glucose levels rise. Although insulin levels are rapidly pushed up by certain foods including carbohydrates – such as white bread and rice, red meat and fast food – eating in general will lead to raised levels of insulin. However, when we sustain periods of fasting or restricted calorie intake, the body switches to a different source of energy: fat. Fat is stored in tissue known as adipose tissue, and is broken down into fatty acids which enter the bloodstream and are absorbed. The body can then shift to a special state known as ketosis; it makes use of these fats to provide energy for metabolic processes.

This does, however, highlight the importance of smart fasting – although it’s not essential to be entirely strict with what’s eaten, IF will be most helpful for individuals who manage to make a little effort in ensuring that they get all of the right nutrients and do not just eat an entire pizza once the fasting window is over. (A treat once in a while is never too bad!) IF can be very useful if done right because by using up the stored fat in our bodies and maintaining a caloric deficit, we can end up losing weight.

IF and its several other benefits

Several studies which use mice and monkeys as subjects have shown a positive correlation between intermittent fasting and an increased lifespan. Diseases of the cardiovascular system and others like diabetes and cancer have also been found to be positively impacted by this style of eating. Practicing IF may even help to reverse the biological clock and make you appear younger – by cutting down the overall energy available in the body, there is a decrease in levels of free radicals which put simply are unstable atoms seeking out other free atoms. If free radical activity is prolonged, cells undergo a process called oxidative stress and this can damage body cells and lead to the development of wrinkles. However, by reducing the number of free radicals in the first place, the ageing process can be slowed down.

It is evident that staying away from our kitchens a little bit more than usual can have numerous benefits for our physical health. As scientific research progresses, there are sure to be many new diets in the future- perhaps some that may even allow us to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. For now however, intermittent fasting has proven to be one of the most successful ways to lose weight, get lean and most importantly feel fantastic.

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