We’ve all grown up being told breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that we absolutely must eat every three hours and carry snacks at all times to avoid hanger, but recently experts have changed their tune.
Intermittent fasting has become pretty trendy lately and we’ve set out to discover why.
What Actually Is Intermittent Fasting?
More of a dieting pattern than an actual diet, there are a number of different ways one can practice intermittent fasting. They all have one thing in common—a cycling pattern between eating and not eating. Most commonly, you choose a long period of time, such as 14 hours, when you are fasting and a shorter window during which you eat your meals. For example, many people choose to skip breakfast and fast from 9pm to 12pm, giving them a 14 hour fast. The length and times of the fast can be tailored to you and your lifestyle, making it an adaptable and flexible way of eating.
To understand why people practice intermittent fasting, we first need to understand the difference between the fed and fasted states. The fed state is when your body is digesting and absorbing food, beginning when you start eating and lasting for three to five hours after as your body processes the food consumed. When you’re in the fed state, your insulin levels are up so your body is burning glucose for energy rather than fat.
After the fed state, your body goes into the post-absorptive state, which is a long-winded way of say your body is no longer processing a meal. This continues until eight to twelve hours after your last meal, when you enter the fasted state. During the fasted state it is easier for your body to burn fat, as your insulin levels are low. Because it takes 12 hours to reach the fasted state, it is rare for our bodies to enter this fat burning zone. This is one of the main motivators behind intermittent fasting.
Why The Heck Would People Skip Meals?
Since going without food for extended periods of time seems pretty terrifying, there must be some sweet benefits to convince people to give it a try. Interestingly, many people probably already practice intermittent fasting without even realizing. Ever skipped breakfast cos you were running late? If you didn’t eat till lunch, you probably fasted for at least 12 hours. Love a late, lazy brunch on a Sunday? Boom, another decent fast. One thing many people love about intermittent fasting is its simplicity. By cutting one meal out of your day, that’s one less meal to plan, cook and eat. There are also no restrictions around what you eat or how much you eat during your fasting window and there’s no requirement to stick to some crazy, seven days a week exercise schedule.
A lot of people like intermittent fasting as it is an effective way to lose fat without having to change your lifestyle too much. You can still eat all your favourite foods and you can tailor your eating and fasting periods to fit your individual needs. Intermittent fasting improves and regulates your blood sugar levels, preventing crazy crashes and everyone’s biggest fear—hanger. It also helps to burn fat without losing muscle or damaging your metabolism. Intermittent fasting might sound insanely hard to stick to, but its devotees swear that it’s actually pretty easy. This is the opposite of most diets, which sound easy in theory but are much harder in practice. Many find intermittent fasting to be the most sustainable diet or way of eating they have tried.
It’s Not All Smooth Sailing
While it’s clear that there are definitely lots of benefits to intermittent fasting, it can’t be denied that it also has a couple of drawbacks. We don’t know about you, but the thought of going 18 hours without food pretty much sounds like a death sentence to us, so getting yourself to start intermittent fasting can be really hard. From a young age we are taught to fear hunger and avoid it all costs, whereas intermittent fasting acknowledges the feeling of hunger as natural and healthy. This can be a tricky thing to get used to. Fasting can be pretty tough for the first few days, so make sure you’re realistic with your fasting period and work up to a longer period of time gradually. Furthermore, many intermittent fasters choose to skip breakfast as part of their fast, which can effect energy levels and digestion as our bodies tend to process food more easily in the morning.
So Should You Give It A Go?
Intermittent fasting has thousands of devoted followers all over the globe with glowing testimonials of improved energy levels, a leaner physique and a simpler lifestyle. It is touted as a flexible and sustainable way of losing or maintaining weight and an easy way to burn fat. Intermittent fasting doesn’t demand that you restrict your calorie intake or exercise like Angelina Jolie playing Lara Croft, but having a smaller eating window means that people often end up consuming less calories than before. As with all diets, it’s important to make sure you continue to get the right amount of energy and nutrients for your individual needs and the easiest way to do this is to consult a doctor or dietitian (and no, Dr Google definitely doesn’t count!). For now though, don’t beat yourself up next time you miss breakfast cos you’re running late—just tell yourself it’s intermittent fasting.
Hearing rumblings about keto dieting but have NFI what it actually is? Here's the low-down on that, too. We're just full of information...
Image credit: Ariana Gillrie for The Urban List