If you’ve been keeping up with health and fitness trends over the course of last few years, you’ve no doubt heard about fasting, especially given its buzzword status of late. When people think of fasting, many imagine a grueling process of starving themselves for days on end. In reality, though, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, fasting can be a great way to boost your weight loss program and overall health. That in mind, let’s explore fasting and its cousin, time-restricted eating, in more detail and see how these practices may benefit you.
What is fasting?
Simply put, fasting is the process of restricting your food or calorie intake for a period of time. Some fasting programs also restrict what you drink to just water, while others allow you to have beverages like coffee or tea, as long as they have no calories. People fast for a variety of reasons, from health and weight loss to religion.
What are the benefits of fasting?
Fasting has numerous benefits. When we go for a period without eating our body begins to undergo certain changes to adjust to the lack of fuel. Weight is often dropped quickly, though it can be easy to put it back on when you resume eating. Fasting also produces a lot in the way of mental effects, which can include an increased sense of wellbeing, as well as the sense of accomplishment that comes with achieving a difficult goal. Other benefits of incorporating short one- to three-day fasts into your life include reduced insulin resistance, more controlled blood sugar, reduced inflammation, lowered cholesterol, increased metabolism, and increased levels of growth hormone. While the individual benefits from a single fast may be small, they can add up over time to an overall healthier body. Some common types of fasts include a juice fast, where only fruit and vegetable juices are consumed, and a water fast, where nothing but water is consumed.
What is intermittent fasting?
For our purposes here, the terms intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating will be used interchangeably. This is a different type of fast where you limit your caloric intake to certain hours of the day. The most common intermittent fasting schedule is 8 hours of eating and 16 hours of fasting. A popular time period is to eat from 12-8 p.m., skipping breakfast. This is known as a 16/8 fast. These fasts don’t have to be super-strict, either: sometimes a small amount of food is allowed during the fasting period, as well as beverages like water and coffee. The idea
is to limit most or all of your calorie intake to the 8-hour eating window. Other intermittent fasting schedules involve fasting for a full day at a time, either on certain days or on an alternating schedule. These schedules have similar benefits to the 16/8 fast, but might be more difficult to stick to. Which schedule works best varies from between individuals and the answer can come from trial-and-error and/or the recommendations of a good wellness coach.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
In addition to the benefits of regular fasting, many people claim that they have more energy and generally feel better when practicing time-restricted eating. It’s also convenient; getting your calories in a smaller window means less time spent prepping meals, eating, and hunting down snacks. The most commonly discussed benefit of intermittent fasting, however, is weight loss. Many weight-loss successes include an intermittent fasting program as part of the lifestyle change. It’s a simple, easy-to-follow way to restrict calories – less time eating means fewer calories get eaten.
The main reason intermittent fasting works so well for weight loss is that the short fasting periods boost the metabolism, helping your body burn more calories. Combined with the reduced calorie intake due to the short eating period, this can make for a very effective weight-loss plan – provided you make it sustainable, and incorporate other lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and regular exercise.
Which type of fast is best?
Deciding the best type of fast and schedule to follow is a very individual thing. It’s important to consider your goals, as well as your current health and ability to stick to a fast. For general weight loss, intermittent fasting is a popular and proven method, and it’s generally easier to adhere to than a long multi-day fast. A dietician or wellness coach can work with you to develop a fasting schedule that will help you reach your goals, as well as a meal plan for your eating hours each day.
Whether you’re looking to lose some weight, improve your energy and mental wellbeing, or just want to develop a healthier overall lifestyle, incorporating fasting can be a great way to help reach your goals.
Grant is a fitness coach and the founder of Team G-Fit.