Intermittent fasting has become one of the most popular health trends word wide.  You may have heard of the 5:2 diet, Eat-Stop-Eat or the 16/8 method; these are all forms of intermittent fasting aimed at helping people lose weight and improve their health long term.

More and more studies have been conducted that show intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, improve your metabolic health, protect against particular diseases and may help increase your longevity.

What’s involved in Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is simply characterised by an eating pattern that alternates between times of eating and fasting.  The “diet” style you choose to will depict how long you should fast for or the calories you should consume on days of fasting.  An intermittent fasting plan looks more at the times you are eating, rather than the type of foods you should or shouldn’t consume.

One of the most common intermittent fasting programs is the 16/8 method involving daily fasting for 14-16 hours as well as restricting your “eating window” to 8-10 hours.  During that window, you can eat 2, 3 or even four meals and drink water, coffee and non-caloric drinks throughout your fast. Essentially by restricting food after dinner and skipping breakfast, you will be following the 16/8 plan.

The 5:2 is another fasting method that has gained popularity.  Unlike the 16/8 diet, the 5:2 requires you to eat as you normally would five days a week and restrict your calories to only 500-600 on the remaining two days.

This is not a new phenomenon, as evidence suggest humans have been fasting throughout evolution whether this is due to shortage of food or as part of religion such as Buddhism, Islam or Christianity.  Our bodies evolved to be able to survive and function when food was unavailable for extended periods of time.  For some, fasting is considered a more natural way of living than eating a meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The main health benefits of intermittent fasting:

The popularity of intermittent fasting has largely been due to its acclaimed health benefits.  From weight loss, heart health and anti-aging, there is growing evidence this “dieting” method may help us become healthier and live longer.

The main benefits of intermittent fasting include:

  • Weight loss – short-term fasting can promote loss of weight, in particular belly fat without the need to count calories.
  • Insulin resistance – studies show intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar and insulin fasting levels protecting against type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart health – LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides and inflammatory markers may be reduced during intermittent fasting minimising the risk of heart disease.
  • Inflammation – evidence suggests intermittent fasting can reduce markers of inflammation, which are the key factors of many chronic diseases.
  • Cancer – intermittent fasting could be a tool to prevent cancer.
  • Brain Health – short-term fasting increases BDNF, a brain hormone important for the growth of new nerve cells.
  • Anti-aging – studies in rats have found intermittent fasting can extend their lifespan by 36-83%.

The benefits of intermittent fasting on your hormones and cells 

During the act of fasting, several changes occur within your body on a cellular level.  Your hormones increase as does the productivity of your cells.  These changes are considered to be one of the main responsibilities for the health benefits of fasting and include:

  • Insulin sensitivity improves:
    During fasting, your insulin levels drop dramatically and your insulin sensitivity improves.  Insulin sensitivity may be one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to weight loss.
  • Human Growth Hormone increases:
    While fasting, the human growth hormone, which has been associated with fat loss and muscle gain, increases as much as five times the normal rate.
  • Increase in Norepinephrine:
    Intermittent fasting increases the release of norepinephrine, a hormone key to the regulation of fat metabolism.
  • Gene function improves:
    It has been found that there is a change in the gene expression, involving their function in regards to longevity and protecting against diseases such as cancer.
  • Simulation of cellular repair:
    After you’ve fasted, the body’s cells initiate the repair process, known as autophagy.  This is where the cells clean up the old and dysfunctional proteins to make way for new, stronger ones.

The benefits of intermittent fasting on weight loss

One of the main reasons people research and start intermittent fasting programs is for weight loss.  By reducing the amount of meals you eat daily or weekly, you automatically reduce your calorie intake, which in turn should have an effect on your weight.

Additionally to this, the impact intermittent fasting has on the levels of Human growth hormone and norepinephrine can also promote weight loss.  It has been suggest because of these hormonal changes, intermittent fasting can be used to significantly increase our metabolic rate required to stimulate fat loss.

A 2014 review study by the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition, University of Illinois in Chicago found that intermittent fasting could cause a weight loss of 3-8 percent over the period of 3-24 weeks.

It has also been found that significant amounts of dangerous belly fat can be lost through short-term fasting.  A study published in the Translational Research journal found participants lost 4-7% off their waist circumference. This is particularly interesting as belly fat is one of the most stubborn fats to get rid of with hormones playing a huge role.

While studies on intermittent fasting and weight loss are very positive, there are a limited amount of studies published highlighting the long-term results.  It is also worth keeping in mind, fasting does not give you a licence to go all out on your eating days. If you binge on unhealthy food and eat large portions of food during your eating periods, you probably won’t lose any weight at all.

Intermittent fasting pre or post cosmetic surgery

Prior to cosmetic surgery, it is often required patients lose some weight and stabilise their weight to achieve the best results.  A person interested in a tummy tuck procedure for example, would benefit from getting as close to their weight loss goal as possible prior to the surgery.  Losing weight after the procedure may result in loose skin requiring a revision.  Intermittent fasting could be a suitable tool for an individual to lose this weight prior to undergoing body contouring surgery.

While losing weight prior to cosmetic surgery has its advantageous in regards to the end result visually, stabilising your weight can help improve healing, predictability of the surgery and lower complication rates.

The advantages of gaining control over your weight don’t stop there.  It is important post body contouring cosmetic surgery such as liposuction or CoolSculpting you invest in maintaining the results.  A healthy diet and exercises is the ultimate way to achieve this.  Remember, cosmetic surgery is not a tool to lose weight.  It’s a tool to contour and sculpt your body’s shape.

Is intermittent fasting for me?

Intermittent fasting has been considered an ideal program for those who need to watch their weight. This is because you can adapt the program to suit your lifestyle.  The 16/8 method for example, suggest you fast every day for 14-16 hours.  This means you could finish your last meal at 8pm and resume eating at 12 noon the following day.  Or perhaps you want to finish eating earlier at 5pm and start again at 9am.

Alternatively, the 5:2 diet suggests you eat normally for five days of the week and restrict the calories to 500 on the other two days.

Whatever variation of intermittent fasting you decide to try, it is a lifestyle rather than a restrictive diet illuminating certain foods.  In fact, it has become a very popular “life hack” as it has the potential to improve your health while simplifying your life because you reduce the need to plan, cook and clean up as often.

Although there are many health benefits, intermittent fasting is not for everyone.  Those with a history of eating disorders or who are underweight, it is important to consult with a qualified health professional before undertaking a fasting program.

Intermittent fasting is not advisable for pregnant women or those trying to conceive and if you have an existing medical condition, it is advisable you speak with your doctor before commencing a program.

It is recommended for those who want to lose weight and decrease their body fat. It is also may be a good way to remove toxins from your body as well as manage your eating behaviours.  Many people use food to cure boredom or to help elevate stress.  Intermittent fasting can challenge you to break those behaviours by abstaining from eating during the fasting period.

Most people have unknowingly already tried intermittent fasting.  If you have even eater dinner and slept in to the late afternoon, you’ve probably already completed a 14 hour or so fast. However, this sort of fasting is usually a one off.

What are you up for? The biggest side effect of intermitted fasting is hunger.  So if you are the type of person who gets ‘hangry’ when you haven’t eaten for a while, perhaps structure your fasting periods for when you don’t have to be social!