Health & Wellness

Why You May Want to Try Intermittent Fasting (+ 6 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting)

She was grouchy at first. Like most people, my friend was used to eating three meals each day, with an occasional snack here and there. But when she heard about the health benefits of intermittent fasting, she decided to give it a try. And once she got past those first few weeks while her body adjusted, she said it was worth it for her. She had more energy and felt less stressed.

What an amazing transformation, right? But what is intermittent fasting, and how do you know if it could work for you? In an effort to answer those questions, I want to share with you what  intermittent fasting is and how it may be able to help your body function better and improve your health. So, let’s dive in and take a deeper look at intermittent fasting!

 

What is Intermittent Fasting?

So, what does intermittent fasting mean and why is it important? Rather than focusing on calorie restriction, intermittent fasting means that you practice time-restricted feeding.

Intermittent fasting means that you only eat within a certain window of time each day or between your fasting days. Usually, an intermittent fasting schedule includes about eight to 16 hours of fasting, with the fasting period occurring overnight and into the morning hours.

For example, you may only eat between 7:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and then not eat again until around 7:30 a.m. or later the next morning. Depending on your schedule or lifestyle, you may do this every day or only a few days per week.

When you eat, your body initially burns glucose to make energy. Then it stores the rest as fat. Fasting then allows the body to use fat for energy (also known as metabolic switching). Not only that, but it also gives the body a chance to take care of some important maintenance that’s key to your health.

While your body is fasting, it allows cells to clear out damaged proteins and mitochondria and conserve energy by cutting back on making new proteins. If you overeat or snack a lot, your body doesn’t get a chance to do these things as often as it should. [1]

6 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Just how can intermittent fasting improve your health? I’ve listed six health benefits of intermittent fasting below. [2] Keep in mind that it can take a little time to adjust to intermittent fasting. Like my friend, you may feel irritable at first. It can take a few weeks to adjust to an intermittent fasting schedule. For example, if you’re used to eating breakfast every morning you may find yourself feeling cranky by lunchtime when you first start skipping breakfast. So be kind to yourself while your body adjusts. The health benefits of intermittent fasting are worth it!

1. Stabilizes blood sugar.

Studies show that fasting helps the body to regulate insulin levels and improve glucose levels. This helps the body to regulate metabolism more effectively, which also helps to increase energy levels and burn fat. If you have diabetes or another metabolic disorder, speak with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting, as there are potential side effects in diabetics if not done appropriately. [3]

2. Increases resistance to stress.

Among the many health benefits of intermittent fasting that both animal and human studies have shown is the body’s increased ability to manage stress. Fasting causes “adaptive cellular responses,” which enable the body to cope better with stress and disease. [4]

3. Suppresses inflammation.

Researchers have found that fasting results in lowered inflammation in the body, which makes it a great option for autoimmune and pain conditions. [5] While in the short term inflammation can be helpful as the body’s way of fighting against toxins and disease, chronic inflammation can damage the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to serious health problems like asthma, high blood pressure, stroke, and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. [6]

4. Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Lowered inflammation also translates to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Improved blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels also help to improve your overall cardiovascular health. [7] Considering that nearly 18 million people worldwide die of cardiovascular disease each year, if you struggle with high blood pressure and cholesterol, intermittent fasting may be something to consider. [8] Again, it’s still important to eat healthy and exercise and speak to your doctor first.

5. Improves resting heart rate.

Not surprisingly, given its effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels, another one of the key health benefits of intermittent fasting is that it can help to improve your heart rate.

6. Improves brain health and memory.

Research on both animals and humans has revealed that one of the important health benefits of intermittent fasting is that it can help to prevent memory loss and improve brain health. This is especially evident when intermittent fasting is combined with exercise. [9, 10]

 

Health benefits of intermittent fasting - Dr. Pingel

 

6 Tips for Easy Intermittent Fasting

If you want to try intermittent fasting, here are six tips to make it a little easier to get started.

1. Remember that as always, it’s important to eat healthy, whole foods. Following a plant-based diet can be a great way to do this.

2. In order to experience the health benefits of intermittent fasting, it’s still important to avoid sugars, refined grains, and processed foods.

3. Don’t snack in between meals.

4. Be sure to get enough exercise.

5. Stay hydrated.

6. Start slowly. For example, try fasting on just one day per week for 14 to 16 hours a day. You can start fasting at 8 p.m. and go until 10 a.m. Each week, you can add an hour to the beginning or end of that timeframe. Then you can move up to two days a week, when you’re ready.

Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?

While intermittent fasting is usually safe for most otherwise healthy people, it may not be OK for everyone. [11, 12] It’s extremely important to stay hydrated and make sure you are getting the proper nutrition. Dehydration and lack of nutrients may cause symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headaches, insomnia, and weakness.

If you have any medical conditions, remember you should always speak with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet. Specifically, if you have diabetes or another chronic condition—particularly diseases of the heart, lungs, or kidneys, or a compromised immune system— intermittent fasting may not be safe for you. Moreover, intermittent fasting while pregnant is not recommended.

Other reasons you may need to avoid intermittent fasting include if you’re taking medications for heart disease or high blood pressure. Why? Well, it may cause an imbalance in your electrolytes. You should also avoid intermittent fasting if you have or have had an eating disorder.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Intermittent fasting means that you go through periods of time each day or several days per week when you don’t eat. Usually the fasting period is overnight.
  • Research has revealed several health benefits of intermittent fasting, including lowered inflammation, improved blood pressure, better stress response, improved heart rate, stabilized blood sugar, and better brain health.
  • Check with your doctor first before trying intermittent fasting if you have any medical conditions. Don’t try intermittent fasting if you have an eating disorder or if you are pregnant.

 

You might also enjoy: Stress: The Nutrient Thief (+ 4 Ways to Support Nutrition and Stress Management)

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