Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained considerable traction since it first hit the fitness scene. And while weight loss is one of the leading reasons people try it, it’s certainly not the only benefit IF has going for it. But first things first…
What is IF?
IF is an eating pattern that cycles between intervals of eating and fasting. Unlike a diet, it focuses on when you should eat, rather than what you should (or shouldn’t) eat. And while there are several IF techniques out there, these are the most popular:
The 16/8 approach requires that you fast for 16 hours a day (14 if you’re a woman) and eat normally during the remaining eight hours.
The 5:2 method dictates that you eat normally for five days of the week and for the other two days (it’s important that they’re non-consecutive), you consume just 500–600 calories per day.
3. Eat Stop Eat
This strategy calls for you to fast for 24 hours – e.g. from breakfast to breakfast – once or (if you’re feeling really strong) twice a week.
Good to know:
How does IF work?
In an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Mark Mattson of the National Institute on Aging, which forms part of the US National Institutes of Health, explains that there are a number of theories regarding why it is that fasting delivers physiological benefits: “The one that we’ve studied a lot, and designed experiments to test, is the hypothesis that during the fasting period, cells are under a mild stress,” he says. “And they respond to the stress adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and, maybe, to resist disease.”
What are the benefits?
IF benefits the body in several important ways, including:
Who should try IF?
Research shows that IF is not a good fit for everyone and that it must be done properly and under the guidance of a practitioner – especially if the goal is to achieve healthy biomarkers.
It is most effective for anyone who is:
And wants to:
IF is not advocated for pregnant women, or anyone who:
IF is also not advised for athletes or competitive sportsmen and women, as fasting may conflict with their performance goals.
Evidence points to IF being a success when your willpower is strong, you’re able to focus on healthy meals and, (sorry, ladies!) you’re male.
So, what about women?
Research suggests that fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, irregular periods and hormonal disruptions in women. And, when women experience hormonal imbalance, skipping daytime meals and eating at night disrupts their metabolism, which naturally peaks at noon and then slows down, so that food eaten at night is usually stored as fat, which leads to weight gain. That said, women can still practise IF as long as a more lenient approach is taken.