While most people need to address the foods they DO eat, before considering skipping meals, intermittent fasting can provide you with many benefits, and is another tool you can experiment with to help you reach your goals.
There’s been a significant amount of research on fasting and the benefits it can have on our bodies. Typical intermittent fast times range from 14 to 18 hours. The longest period any one of these plans would require you to abstain from solid food would be about 32-36 hours.
It’s important to approach fasting in a serious manner and be sure to listen to your body. However, please keep in mind that proper nutrition becomes even MORE important when fasting, so addressing your diet really should be your first step.
7 Benefits of Fasting
1. Fasting is an excellent tool for weight loss- There have been studies that support fasting as an excellent tool for weight loss. In one study, non obese patients lost an average of 4% of total fat when they fasted alternately for a 22 day period. It must also be noted that their fasting insulin levels also decreased. In another study conducted on obese individuals, fasting, meaning consuming only 25% of their daily calorie needs yielded an average 5.5 pound weight loss in an eight week period. 3% of body fat was also lost, along with a decrease in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
2. Fasting promotes the secretion of Human Growth Hormone, which is important for burning fat. Fasting can also promote muscle building, while decreasing insulin levels. When you combine all of these, fasting can in fact, transform the human body into an effective fat burning machine.
3. Fasting may be good for athletes – Fasting has been found to have good effects on body mass as well as other health markers in professional athletes. This is because, as previously mentioned, fasting can effectively shed excess fat, while optimize muscle growth, because of the production of HGH. Athletes are advised to consume high quality protein half an hour after finishing their workouts to simultaneously build muscle and reduce fat. Fasting is advised for training days, while athletes are encouraged to eat on game days.
4. Fasting is great for normalizing insulin sensitivity- When your body gets too much carbs and sugar, it can become insulin resistant, which will then lead the way to a host of chronic diseases. If you don’t want to go down this route, then you’ve got to keep your body sensitive to insulin. Fasting is an effective way to do this. When insulin sensitivity is up, you can better prevent diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart complications
5. Fasting can normalize ghrelin levels- What is ghrelin? It is actually also known as the hunger hormone, because it is responsible for telling your body that it is hungry. When you fast, the ghrelin levels in your body normalizes, so it actually becomes more accurate in telling you if you should really eat, or leave off having a snack until later.
6. Lowering triglyceride levels- When you consume too much cholesterol, your triglyceride levels may shoot up, making you more prone to heart disease. Fasting has been known to decrease levels of bad cholesterol in the body, which means that it also decreases the formation of triglycerides. Another interesting thing to note is that fasting does nothing to the levels of good cholesterol of HDL in the body.
7. Fasting can slow down the aging process- As previously mentioned, fasting can cause the body to produce more Human Growth Hormone. This hormone is actually closely connected to the aging process. When the body produces less HGH, it tends to age faster too. So in effect, it is safe to conclude that fasting can help the body age more slowly.
Is fasting for everybody?
Examining the health benefits of fasting may make it seem very appealing, but I also want to stress that fasting may not be for everybody. Those that suffer from hypoglycemia, pregnant and breastfeeding women and diabetics should probably avoid fasting, up until blood glucose and insulin levels have been normalized. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should absolutely not fast, as it can have negative effects on the baby.
So, How Long Should I Fast?
There’s no concrete amount of time to fast, although as I mentioned ealier, the typical intermittent fast ranges from 14-18 hours. Here are some great action steps recommended by Mark Sisson on fasting.
If you’re truly hungry, eat. Failing to do so will add stress.
If you’re stressed, don’t IF (intermittent fast). You don’t need another stressor.
If you’re training six days a week, don’t IF. Unless you’re genetically blessed, you’ll need lots of fuel to prevent overtraining.
If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If coffee’s enough, skip breakfast.
If life is good, try fasting.
In the end, the prudent path is to simply listen to your body. Don’t let grazing propaganda drive you to eat when you aren’t hungry; don’t let the IF dogma make you feel guilty about grabbing a handful of macadamia nuts and jerky in between meals when you are fasting. Try it out, skip a meal, go fourteen hours or so (you already do eight every night) without eating, get a workout in, go for a walk, go about your day and see how you feel. A quick trial is not going to kill you…
Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nature.com, marksdailyapple.com