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Why “intermittent fasting” might be the key to weight loss and better health

Do you tend to skip breakfast occasionally? If so, you probably feel a little browbeaten by the constant reminders that skipping meals leads to weight gain and ruins your health. The argument is that you end up ravenous later on, which leads to poor food choices and/or overeating. Fair enough, but is it that clear cut?

Proponents of “intermittent fasting” don’t think so. They submit that not only is it safe to skip the occasional meal, it’s actually better for your health to do so. As the name implies, intermittent fasting involves abstaining from any kind of food or caloric drinks for a period of time. But the key here is the qualifying term “intermittent.”

Simply put, the idea is to cycle between periods of feeding and non-feeding in a controlled manner so that you’re enjoying the weight loss and health benefits of fasting while still getting all the nutrition you need.

If you’re thinking this is just some far-out fad diet trend, consider this: everyone, with very few exceptions, already engages in intermittent fasting every day. Why? Because when we sleep at night, we’re fasting.

So depending on when you tend to have your last meal before bed, you could be spending as much as 10-11 hours every day in a fasted state. Intermittent fasting is just a way of extending the non-feeding period in order to maximize the benefits it brings.

But what exactly are those benefits? Well, advocates for this style of eating claim it can aid weight loss and improve your health in a number of significant ways, including:

  • Reducing blood glucose and insulin levels, which makes it much easier to burn fat.
  • Lowering inflammation, blood pressure and oxidative stress (an underlying cause of cancer).
  • Regulating your metabolism so that you’re processing calories efficiently.

These are bold claims, but are they backed up by any scientific research? Actually, it seems they are (see the footnotes to this article). So now you’re probably thinking, “how do I do it?”

In general, it’s not advisable to go more than 24 hours without eating anything, even if you drink plenty of water.

Doing so could be dangerous, and it’s counterproductive anyway — your body will start breaking down valuable muscle mass to use as fuel. So anything more than a 24-hour fast once or twice a week would be considered excessive.

A much more practical option — and one I’ve followed myself in the past — is to fast on a daily basis by condensing all your normal meals into a 6-8 hour feeding window. For example, you might have your first meal at 12PM and finish your last one just before 8. This method was popularized by Martin Berkhan of Leangains, who goes into more detail here.

Intermittent fasting takes some getting used to, and it’s no magic bullet for getting in shape overnight. But given the amazing benefits, it’s definitely worth a try. What do you think?

Q: Have you ever tried intermittent fasting, or feel like giving it a go? Let us know in the comments below.

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