What is intermittent fasting?
As the name suggests, intermittent fasting is the process of not eating for a period of time, followed by a similar period of normal eating. The length of time you abstain from food can vary depending on the plan that you are following, but most commonly, it will be between 16-24 hours at a time.
For people who live sedentary lifestyles or where the hustle and bustle of modern life prevents them from finding the time to exercise, intermittent fasting is a great way to lose weight and stay healthy. By prolonging the time between meals, you are brining about metabolic improvements and making it easier to eat in a calorie deficit (which is essential for fat loss).
When not fasting you can eat and drink as normal, although, for better results, you should still follow a healthy diet. However, when fasting, you will only be able to consume zero-calorie drinks such as water, black coffee, and tea.
What happens to the body during fasting?
Intermittent fasting can be a highly effective tool in weight loss, but what happens to your body during the cycle?
Stage One – The Postpandrial
A few hours after eating your last meal, your body will begin to digest the food and absorb the nutrients it needs. As your body breaks down that food, your blood sugar levels will increase, as will the amount of insulin being secreted. Any extra glucose (sugar) that is not used immediately is then stored in your liver and muscles as a substance known as glycogen. Your body will then use this as a source of energy when it is needed.
During this stage, your hormone levels will also change. For example, your levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger, will decrease while leptin, which suppresses your appetite, increases.
The duration of this stage will vary depending on the individual and the meal that you ate.
Stage Two – Post Absorbative
Once your body has broken down the food and extracted all of the nutrients it needs, then it begins to transition into what is known as the post absorbative state. This will see your blood sugar levels and insulin levels begin to decline, and your body starts converting glycogen back into glucose so that it can use it for energy.
Once your body has used all of the glycogen stored in your liver, it will begin to use other sources of energy. Primarily, these sources will come from breaking down fat cells, through lipolosys and ketosis.
Stage Three – Fasted State
As your body begins to break down the fat stores and protein for energy, your body begins to produce ketone bodies. This is the stage of your body entering into ketosis, a unique metabolic state where the primary source of energy is fat.
How quickly your body begins ketosis will depend on a variety of factors, such as the size and type of meal you consumed, your physical activity, and your natural metabolism. Signs that your body has entered ketosis include decreased appetite and feelings of fatigue.
How does fasting impact your metabolism?
While very long periods of fasting reduces your metabolism, research has shown that intermittent fasting actually has the opposite effect. One particular study found that it was able to increase the metabolism of healthy participants by 14%! One belief behind this large increase is due to a higher production of the hormone norepinephrine, which helps to promote the burning of fat.
Unlike calorie restriction diets, intermittent fasting has also been shown to help individuals retain muscle mass. Our muscles help to keep our metabolism rate high; however, as we lose weight, we often lose muscle mass in the process, decreasing our metabolism. Studies have shown, though, that intermittent fasting can help individuals to retain more muscle mass compared to those who follow a more traditional low-calorie diet.
Again it’s important to note, that the fat loss benefits come from being in a calorie deficit.
Are there any other benefits to intermittent fasting?
Of course, intermittent fasting is not just about helping you to lose weight. There are a number of additional benefits that it can provide, including:
1) Lower risk of diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a very common condition globally, but intermittent fasting has been shown to help reduce insulin resistance and blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of developing diabetes.
2) Reduce blood pressure
Although further research is currently ongoing, some early studies have shown that intermittent fasting can help to lower systolic blood pressure, particularly in comparison to other diets.
3) Lower cholesterol
High cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and intermittent fasting has been shown to help lower the levels of bad cholesterol.
4) Enhance brain function
Intermittent fasting can also help to improve your brain function. Studies have shown that it can help to improve short-term cognition as well as help reduce the risk of decline in later age.
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