A growing number of experts have stated that Intermittent Fasting (IF) in short bursts can increase fat burning and improve our health. But what exactly is IF? Some use IF by only eating during an 8-12 hour window each day and fasting the remainder 24 hours. Others may fast for a 24-hour period every so often. Then there are dietary protocols that choose 1-2 calorie restricted days per week, with the remainder days eating your usual calorie intake.
Regardless of the protocol used the evidence has shown there are benefits and downsides, with a moderate approach tending to produce better outcomes. Fasting may be more beneficial for overweight people and metabolic disorders. The negatives may more likely affect athletes, highly active people, those with high stress or poor eating habits. In some women fasting can negatively affect hormone levels, particularly the more restrictive the protocol.
Below are the known benefits and negatives, along with some links to further reading:
Benefits of IF
- Insulin sensitivity & inflammation: Insulin levels drop and sensitivity to insulin improves, leading to reduced inflammation.
- Fat burning/fat loss: The improvement in insulin and inflammation allows your body to access fat stores, which can then be broken down and burned for energy, resulting in fat loss.
- Lowered cholesterol: Fasting has shown to lower cholesterol, likely due to weight loss and improvement in insulin sensitivity and inflammation.
- Growth hormone increases: Growth hormone assists with muscle gain and fat loss.
- Cell repair: Fasting causes your cells to initiate a repair process and remove old or degraded proteins. This can assist in anti-aging and protection against some cancers and diseases.
- Gene expression: Fasting causes changes in genes that can increase longevity and protect against diseases. Studies have shown fasting has a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Negatives of IF
- Excess stress & insomnia: During a fasted state our body activates ‘fight-or-flight’ and our sympathetic nervous system releases more cortisol (our stress hormone). Cortisol breaks down glycogen stores to release more glucose into the bloodstream for energy. Whilst this can be beneficial for some to burn more energy, for others (particularly those already under stress or managing diabetes) it can trigger fat storage, strong food cravings, anxiety, disordered eating, insomnia or trouble sleeping.
- Suppression of hunger-reducing hormones: Several hormones such as ghrelin (our hunger hormone) and leptin (signals satiety) regulate our hunger, appetite, and affect metabolism, fat loss or fat storage. When IF works well, it can regulate these hormones. However, it is possible to trigger an uncontrollable appetite and promote fat storage in restricted fasting. Often a more moderate approach can avoid this.
- Hormone imbalances: Not enough studies have been conducted on the effects fasting has on hormones and reproductive health. It has been found that some women are prone to hormone imbalances and menstrual disturbances during fasting. Women who are athletic, lean, those with higher stress lifestyles, or with a history of hormone imbalance seem to be the most susceptible.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer on whether IF will work for you. It’s important to do your research from scientific-based evidence if you are going to give it a try, and know that you will need to experiment to see if it works for you.
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