If you’re new to Intermittent fasting you might be wondering, what are the benefits of Intermittent Fasting? Before we discuss the benefits of Intermittent Fasting (IF), we should first define what it is!
Intermittent fasting is not so much a diet, but a pattern of eating, or not eating.
In other words, Intermittent fasting doesn’t change what you eat, it changes when you eat. (NOTE: This doesn’t give you an excuse to eat processed food!)
Fasting has been used for spirituality, meditation, and health throughout history. It is perhaps the oldest and most powerful dietary intervention. Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Gandhi are just a few of the most famous historical figures to have fasted for prolonged periods.
Today, modern science has proven that fasting yields the following benefits:
- Promotes insulin sensitivity – poor insulin sensitivity contributes to nearly all chronic diseases
- Normalizes ghrelin levels, also known as your “hunger hormone”
- Promotes autophagy (body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells to regenerate newer, healthier cells)
- Improves mental clarity and cognitive function
- Increases the rate of HGH production, which has an important role in health, fitness, and slowing the aging process
- Helps suppress inflammation and fight free radical damage
Anytime that you are not eating, you are intermittently fasting. For example, you may fast between dinner and breakfast the next day, a period of approximately 12-14 hours.
4 Ways Intermittent Fasting Improves Your Health
Fasting Improves Body Composition
When you’re in the fasted state your body can burn fat that has been inaccessible during the fed state. Because we don’t enter the fasted state until 12 hours after our last meal, our bodies are rarely in this fat-burning state.
This is one of the reasons why many people who start intermittent fasting will lose fat without changing what they eat, how much they eat, or how often they exercise.
Fasting puts your body in a fat-burning state by draining your body of its glucose reserves, its main energy source from food. Without glucose, you switch over to burning fat for fuel in a process called ketosis without losing muscle.
You might already be familiar with the popular ketosis diet, a low-carb and high-fat diet. Eating low-carb will lower your insulin levels, but fasting will drop them even lower.
Also, exercising in a fasted state can help counteract muscle aging and wasting, and boost fat-burning.
Intermittent Fasting Promotes Longevity
How does fasting help you live longer? Way back in 1945 it was discovered that intermittent fasting extended life in mice. (Here’s the study.) More recently, this study found that alternate day intermittent fasting led to longer lifespans.
For one, it keeps your cells resilient. It increases your lifespan and slows aging by manipulating mitochondrial networks. Mitochondria are the power generators in your cells that produce energy to survive.
Two, it helps you keep your insulin sensitive as mentioned earlier! Poor insulin sensitivity is linked to most chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Studies link fasting to improved cardiovascular health, and Intermittent Fasting is associated with decreases in inflammation, another important biomarker for the risk of chronic disease.
This study shows the effect of intermittent fasting on a marker of inflammation, specifically looking at NRLP3 inflammasome activation. The results indicated a decrease in this measure of inflammation with fasting.
Intermittent Fasting is Linked to Healthier Brain Health
Another benefit of fasting is the stimulation of BDNF, a protein that plays an integral role in stimulating the growth of new brain cells and the performance of existing neurons.
BDNF is best described as the brain’s “growth hormone,” and stimulating its production is one of the best things you can do for your body and your brain.
IF has also been linked to a decrease in chronic neuroinflammation. Neuroinflammation is increasingly associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and mood disorders such as depression.
This is why intermittent fasting is part of the Keto Flex diet plan for my patients with cognitive decline.
Fasting Promotes Autophagy
Non- caloric fasts enhance autophagy – the process your body undergoes to clean out damaged cells and generate new ones.
Quick Note: Intermittent Fasting for Women
Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant should not be intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting can cause hormonal imbalance in women if it’s not done correctly (or overdone). Women are more sensitive to signals of starvation, and if the body senses that it is being starved, it will ramp up production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. Women with a lower BMI (under 18%) are especially sensitive to any type of caloric restriction.
Your body can respond to chronic stress (whether by diet, exercise, or lifestyle) with exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, and hormone problems, so it is best to ease into a fasting protocol.
Generally, women will find a wider window of eating to be more favorable when doing daily intermittent fasting. Another great fasting strategy for women is to engage in a time-restricted fast on 2-3 nonconsecutive days per week (e.g. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). On fasting days, do light exercise and movement and focus on sleep and recovery!
When Intermittent Fasting, make sure to drink plenty of water! Don’t forget to add salt and healthy fats to your diet when you are eating. And, while many men thrive on once a week carbohydrate re-feed days, women may need more. (Re-feed days are days when you replenish your body with carbs when on a ketogenic diet.)
Engage in normal strength training and intense exercise days on your non-fasting days. If your energy levels are high after a few weeks, you can experiment with adding another fasting day.
The best advice I can give anyone, not just women, is to experiment and see what works best for you. Your body will give you signals. Follow what your body responds favorably to and don’t ignore the warning signs!
Intermittent Fasting is NOT for everyone
ALWAYS pay close attention to your body and your energy levels. Individuals who are hypoglycemic, diabetic, or pregnant (and/or breastfeeding) should avoid fasting and any type of calorie restriction.
Consult with a healthcare professional before attempting any type of fasting protocol.