You’ve probably heard about the 5:2 Diet, Warrior Diet, and other variations of what experts call intermittent fasting because a lot of people are talking about it now.
While it can be given a range of different names, intermittent fasting just means going for periods of time without eating, whether it’s hours or days. This is something humans have done through history for religious reasons if food was scarce or even just overnight – that’s why the first meal of the day is called ‘break-fast.’
Modern forms of imposed calorie restriction are usually done for health or weight loss reasons. Full or just liquid fasting has become central to increasingly popular detox regimes. The premise is that periods of fasting allows your body to stop, rest, and restore instead of continually dealing with more input. Whether it’s restricting your calorie intake for two days out of every five, or not eating for 12 or 16 hours a day, changing your usual eating routine allows some space in your life for a change.
Self-denial, going without, may seem like a strange concept for the average 21st-century westerner, living in the 24/7 world where everything from news to fast food is available at any hour of the day or night. We are just not used to denying ourselves and because almost infinite choice is always there, we can have what we want right now. Instant gratification is the new normal.
But all of this instant availability can become oppressive. You’ve probably heard of digital detox where you take a break from your smartphone, computer, email, and social media. It has many aspects in common with the intermittent fasting approach to dieting, particularly:
- Taking control of your input, whether it’s food or information
- Having a complete break and taking time just to be and rest
Through intermittent fasting, you can take control of your diet and lifestyle by detoxing your mind and body. Aside from allowing more space in your life, studies show that intermittent fasting can have significant health benefits both for your body and mind.
Physical Effects of Intermittent Fasting
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting has a wide range of beneficial effects on your physical health:
- Promotes faster, long-term weight loss, especially the belly fat that is a danger signal for heart disease and metabolic syndrome
- Lowers insulin levels
- Increases metabolic rate (increasing the rate you burn calories)
- Reduces blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of developing Type II diabetes
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces free radicals
- Reduces blood pressure and cholesterol
- Boosts the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells.
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to speed up the body’s cellular repair processes, cleaning up broken or dysfunctional proteins that build up in cells over time. It is thought that this increased metabolizing may have a preventative effect on Alzheimer’s disease and cancer!
Scientists even believe that intermittent fasting might help us live longer – animal studies have shown that rats who fasted every other day lived 83% longer than rats who didn’t fast.
Psychological Effects of Intermittent Fasting
Regular calorie restriction regimes have also been shown to have a positive effect on your mental health. Psychologically, intermittent fasting seems to have a positive effect because:
- You are in control. You’re not giving your power away to an all or nothing “X Diet.” You’re not counting calories, weighing food, or sticking to your allotted points.
- Intermittent fasting is more likely to help you lose weight as you are not committing to an open-ended, long-term restricted diet. Your mind doesn’t register regular calorie restriction as deprivation because the fasting period is contained, limited to a day or two, and you can eat more or less normally during non-fasting times.
- Fasting can help regulate mood and lower stress levels. It has been shown to be an effective strategy to help depression and anxiety.
- Fasting is a regular practice in many religions and spiritual traditions. It helps to focus the mind inwards and can be an aid to meditation.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
Google ‘intermittent fasting’ and you will see there are lots of different options to restrict your calorie intake from gym-junkie, hard-core fasting, and clean eating, to a gentler approach of two days a week of restricted eating. The most popular fasting regimes are:
- Leangrains – A 16/8 model of having restricted ‘feeding times’ of 8-10 hours per day, typically fasting for 14-16 hours between 8pm and 12 noon the next day. Food options are healthy and focused on one meal a day.
- 5:2 Fast – You follow a normal healthy diet for five days a week and have two fast days of up to 600 calories a day.
- 24-hour Fast – One a day a week where no food is eaten. Water and coffee are allowed.
- Alternate Day Fasting – An extension of the 5:2 model where every second day has a limit of around 500 calories.
- Warrior Diet – Food intake is restricted to one large evening meal with intermittent healthy raw fruit and vegetable snacks during the day. This is based on a ‘warrior’ lifestyle of being out hunting all day, returning to a large evening feast.
Things to Bear in Mind
There are also some warnings to keep in mind. As with any diet, it’s a good idea to get checked out by your doctor first. Intermittent fasting is not recommended for pregnant women or people who have or have had:
- Eating disorders
- Gallbladder disease
- Low blood sugar
- A chronic illness
- Thyroid disease
Intermittent fasting can have some significant positive impacts on your mental and physical health and is easily incorporated into a normal lifestyle. Just remember to choose the intermittent fasting schedule that suits you and helps you feel your best.
If you want to know more, there are a TON of books on the topic. I prefer listening to podcasts first, and then getting the books though. Dr. Pompa is very educated on the topic and he did a great podcast, you can watch that below….