Intermittent Fasting 101: What It Is, How It Works, and Its Benefits
If you're looking to lose weight, boost your energy, and increase your overall health, intermittent fasting is worth investigating. Read on to learn more and explore its basic principles, plans, and benefits.
When they hear the word "fasting," many people think "starvation," "hunger," or "discomfort." However, intermittent fasting done well need not involve any of these uncomfortable experiences. In fact, intermittent fasting may bring precisely the positive health changes you seek.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting involves alternating periods of fasting and eating. An intermittent fasting plan does not restrict certain foods or certain food groups. It does not limit you to a set number of calories. As such, it is not a diet.
Intermittent fasting is, instead, an eating pattern. Individuals who engage in intermittent fasting refrain from eating for extended periods. Different plans define fasting and eating periods differently.
As the name suggests, whole-day fasting involves complete fasting for one to two days per week. In some variations of this plan, individuals may eat a small amount-up to 25% of the normal calorie intake-on fasting days. Otherwise, only water, coffee, and other zero-calorie drinks are allowed.
On non-fasting days, people on this plan eat normally without any restrictions.
Alternate-day fasting is similar. Alternating a fasting day on Monday, for example, with an eating day on Tuesday, this plan creates more structure in designating caloric intake on particular days. Like whole-day fasting plans, alternate-day fasting can entail a complete fast or a significant reduction in calories.
Another variation of alternate-day fasting is the 5:2 plan. The "5" in this plan refers to five days of the week when a person eats normally without restrictions. On the remaining two days, a person fasts completely or significantly restricts calories.
One of the most popular forms of intermittent fasting is time-restricted feeding. Under this structure, particular hours of the day-rather than particular days-are designated as fasting and feeding times.
The most common time-restricted feeding schedules are the 16/8 or 14/10 plans. On these plans, a person fasts for 14-16 hours per day. During the remaining 8-10 hour window, they consume all of their calorie needs.
The Warrior Diet
The Warrior Diet is another form of intermittent fasting. On the Warrior Diet, individuals do pay some attention to the types of food they consume. Aside from the evening and overnight hours, they also don't designate any portion of the day as a complete fast. Rather, they combine the elements of food choices and timed feeding. In this way, they create a distinctive eating plan.
On the Warrior Diet, individuals eat some raw fruits and vegetables early in the day. Then, they "feast" on a large dinner of whole foods.
This diet-and its name-derives from practices of ancient warriors. Like Warrior Dieters, these warriors ate little during the day. After all, during this time, they trained and battled enemies. When the day's battles were done, however, they enjoyed a large feast to prepare for the next day.
In terms of food choices, the Warrior Diet is similar to the paleo diet.
Spontaneous Meal Skipping
Some people are intrigued by intermittent fasting but not ready to make a structured commitment. These individuals can ease into the practice with spontaneous meal skipping. Without designating particular times or days as fasting periods, people can use their own hunger as a guide. On this plan, individuals simply choose to skip meals when they don't feel hungry.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Calories equal energy, and your body needs energy to work. When you deprive your body of energy from calories, however, the body can adapt.
Burning Fat: Helping Your Body to Access Stored Energy
One way the body adapts to reductions in caloric intake is by looking elsewhere for energy. When you fast, your body looks to fat stores for energy.
To make these fat stores more readily available, the body adjusts hormone levels. In particular, levels of human growth hormone (HGH) increase. As HGH increases, fat stores decrease, and muscle mass increases.
Lower insulin levels-or reduced insulin sensitivity-also help the body access energy stored as fat.
Importantly, the body's response to intermittent fasting is different than its response to other types of fasting. During extended periods of caloric restriction, like starvation diets, your body can adapt to calorie restrictions. Eventually, this adaptation-while suboptimal-allows the body to function on fewer calories. As a result, fat burning gradually slows or even stops.
Intermittent fasting, in contrast, keeps the body off balance. Periods of fasting and feasting prevent the body from adapting to any one energy level. Thus, the body continues to shift to fat burning as an energy source when calories become scarce.
Cellular Autophagy: A Cleaner Body Uses Energy More Efficiently
Besides using energy stored as fat, your body also adapts to caloric restrictions by becoming more efficient. When you fast, you prompt your cells to "clean house."
The word "autophagy" comes from the Greek "auto," which means "self," and "phagein," which means "to eat." In the process of cellular autophagy, your cells clean themselves by eating themselves. In other words, cells identify and remove parts that are old and worn out. These include proteins and structures, like organelles and cell membranes.
By removing this build-up and replacing worn out parts with new ones, your cells become more efficient energy users.
The hormone glucagon is responsible for stimulating cellular autophagy. Fasting is, in turn, responsible for increasing glucagon levels. In fact, glucagon levels increase as insulin levels decrease. Thus, fasting decreases insulin levels, increases glucagon levels, and prompts cellular autophagy.
Gene Expression: Following the Body's Instructions
Intermittent fasting also affects the body by changing gene expression. Gene expression refers to the process by which cells implement the instructions built into our DNA.
Gene expression allows the body to use these instructions to adapt to its environment. As they adapt to changes in their environment, your body's cells turn various genes on and off. They also produce different proteins depending on their needs.
When you fast, your body exhibits positive changes in gene expression related to longevity and immune response.
What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Many people investigate intermittent fasting as a tool for weight loss, and the method is promising. However, intermittent fasting benefits actually extend much further.
To lose weight, you need to burn more energy than you consume. On your part, this generally means decreasing calories and increasing activity. On your body's part, it can also mean increasing your metabolic rate. Intermittent fasting acts on each of these factors.
When you engage in intermittent fasting, you eat fewer meals. Of course, the meals you do eat tend to be larger and contain more calories than any one meal did before. However, most people have a limit to how much they can comfortably consume in one sitting. Thus, your "feasting" periods on an intermittent fasting plan are still likely to include fewer calories than your previous eating habits.
As your body adapts to intermittent fasting, you are also likely to experience increased energy. Feeling tired after eating is common and normal. After all, your body needs energy to digest the food you just consumed. When you follow a traditional three-meal-a-day plan, you're likely to experience this tiredness at least three times a day.
When you follow an intermittent fasting plan, however, you are most likely to eat your largest meal in the late afternoon or evening. Fortunately, this is precisely when you expect to feel tired and want to get a good night's sleep. Thus, any sleepiness associated with your "feast" meal is an added bonus.
Finally, intermittent fasting can speed up your body's metabolism. In one study, intermittent fasters saw their metabolism increase by 3.6-14%. Increased metabolism, in turn, promotes weight loss.
Decreased insulin sensitivity and increased levels of HGH and other hormones promote an increased metabolism. As we saw, intermittent fasting produces each of these effects.
Thus, research shows that intermittent fasting can promote weight loss through each of these mechanisms.
Losing weight can be beneficial to a person's overall health. However, losing the right kind of weight is even more important. The greatest health benefits derive not from weight loss but from fat loss. Here again, intermittent fasting is a powerful tool.
When you consume more energy (i.e., calories) than you expend, you add to your fat stores. These fat stores are excess energy, but the calories you eat each day remain your body's go-to energy source. Your body won't burn stored fat as long as you provide it with enough energy from calories.
To burn fat, you need to force your body to look elsewhere for energy. During fasting periods, the bodies of intermittent fasters must do just that. Without calories coming in, your body fuels itself by burning its fat stores. Increased levels of HGH promote fat burning.
Importantly, it also promotes muscle mass. This highlights another advantage of intermittent fasting over continuous caloric restrictions, which can actually cause muscle loss.
Most people design their intermittent fasting plans around other important aspects of their daily schedules. These include work and sleep. On many intermittent fasting plans, fasting periods coincide with sleeping periods. Because active digestion can interfere with sleep, intermittent fasting can create ideal sleeping conditions.
On a 16/8 plan, for example, an individual might eat the majority of his or her calories during the afternoon and early evening hours. Such a schedule allows adequate time for digestion before bedtime.
Sleep and intermittent fasting can further complement one another as intermittent fasting promotes precisely those cellular repair processes that go on in your body while you sleep.
Protection from Disease, Inflammation, and the Effects of Aging
Your body constantly interacts with and adapts to its environment. In doing so, it attempts to maintain homeostasis, or internal balance and physical well being.
Factors in the environment threaten this balance, and if the body is unable to deal with them, negative health consequences can result.
Free radicals are among these threats. Highly reactive free radicals create cellular oxidation, which can damage other important molecules. These include proteins and DNA.
Damage from oxidative stress and inflammation is a significant factor in aging and a host of chronic diseases. Intermittent fasting may allow the body to respond more effectively to oxidative stress. It may also fight inflammation. In these ways, it can promote overall health and longevity.
Besides protecting against damage from oxidative stress, intermittent fasting promotes mechanisms that fight common chronic illnesses.
Intermittent Fasting and Type 2 Diabetes
By reducing insulin resistance and fighting obesity, intermittent fasting may reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Studies in animals also show that intermittent fasting can protect against kidney disease, especially as a complication of diabetes.
Individuals at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes may find intermittent fasting beneficial.
Intermittent Fasting and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides, or fatty acids
- High blood sugar levels
- Certain inflammatory markers
Intermittent fasting shows promise to improve each of these factors.
Intermittent Fasting and Cancer
By promoting cellular autophagy and protecting against oxidative stress, intermittent fasting keeps your cells working efficiently. Proper cell function, in turn, protects against cancer.
The increased metabolism you experience on an intermittent fasting plan may further enhance these potential anti-cancer effects.
Intermittent Fasting and Brain Health
Intermittent fasting's ability to stimulate cellular autophagy may also protect against Alzheimer's disease. Likewise, intermittent fasting's potential to promote nerve growth may protect against Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.
Finally, intermittent fasting may promote brain health and protect against depression by increasing hormones that may be deficient in the brains of depressed patients.
With the above benefits, intermittent fasting has the potential to increase lifespans.
Additional research on the relationship between intermittent fasting and longevity in humans is needed. However, animal studies show staggering benefits. In one study, rats on an intermittent fasting plan lived 83% longer than rats in the control group.
Intermittent Fasting: A Fast-Track to Better Health and a Longer Life?
The potential benefits of intermittent fasting are encouraging. The body of research documenting them is growing. Nevertheless, more research is needed. Furthermore, it is important to remember that intermittent fasting results vary across individuals.
Experiment with various plans and explore their benefits for you. Then check out our blog. There you'll find more ways to use nutrition and supplements to promote your health.
Breus, Michael J. "What Is Intermittent Fasting, and Will It Help Your Sleep?" Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Apr. 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201904/what-is-intermittent-fasting-and-will-it-help-your-sleep.
"Can Genes Be Turned on and off in Cells? - Genetics Home Reference - NIH." U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/howgeneswork/geneonoff.
"Cardiovascular Diseases." World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/health-topics/cardiovascular-diseases/.
"The Difference between Weight Loss and Fat Loss." Men's Journal, 27 Apr. 2020, www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/whats-difference-between-weight-loss-and-fat-loss/.
Hwangbo, Dae-Sung et al. "Mechanisms of Lifespan Regulation by Calorie Restriction and Intermittent Fasting in Model Organisms." Nutrients vol. 12,4 1194. 24 Apr. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12041194
Johnstone, A. "Fasting for weight loss: an effective strategy or latest dieting trend?." Int J Obes 39, 727-733 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2014.214
Karp, Mathew R, CM, Beaudoin B, et al. "Autophagy suppresses tumorigenesis through elimination of p62" [published correction appears in Cell. 2011 Apr 15;145(2):322]. Cell. 2009;137(6):1062-1075. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2009.03.048
Mattson, Mark P., and Ruiqian Wan. "Beneficial Effects of Intermittent Fasting and Caloric Restriction on the Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Systems." The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Elsevier, 26 Feb. 2005, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095528630400261X.
"The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2016." NobelPrize.org, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2016/press-release/.
"Paleo Diet: Eat like a Cave Man and Lose Weight?" Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Aug. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/paleo-diet/art-20111182.
Piña, Benjamin. "SupplementRelief.com." Whole Foods and Pharmaceutical-Grade Supplements, 10 Oct. 2019, supplementrelief.com/the-role-of-supplements-in-our-lives/.
Ries, Julia. "This Is Your Body On Intermittent Fasting." HuffPost, HuffPost, 3 Jan. 2020, www.huffpost.com/entry/body-intermittent-fasting_l_5e0a3220c5b6b5a713b22dcb.
SupplementRelief.com. "SupplementRelief.com." NuMedica Antioxidant Supplements for Aging and Disease Prevention, supplementrelief.com/how-antioxidants-slow-the-aging-process-and-help-prevent-disease/.
Tikoo K, Tripathi DN, Kabra DG, Sharma V, Gaikwad AB. "Intermittent fasting prevents the progression of type I diabetic nephropathy in rats and changes the expression of Sir2 and p53." FEBS Lett. 2007;581(5):1071-1078. doi:10.1016/j.febslet.2007.02.006
Varady, Krista A, et al. "Short-Term Modified Alternate-Day Fasting: a Novel Dietary Strategy for Weight Loss and Cardioprotection in Obese Adults." OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 30 Sept. 2009, academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/90/5/1138/4598070.
Wolfe DM, Lee JH, Kumar A, Lee S, Orenstein SJ, Nixon RA. "Autophagy failure in Alzheimer's disease and the role of defective lysosomal acidification." Eur J Neurosci. 2013;37(12):1949-1961. doi:10.1111/ejn.12169
Zauner C, Schneeweiss B, Kranz A, et al. "Resting energy expenditure in short-term starvation is increased as a result of an increase in serum norepinephrine." Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;71(6):1511-1515. doi:10.1093/ajcn/71.6.1511
Zhang, Y., Liu, C., Zhao, Y., Zhang, X., Li, B., & Cui, R. (2015). "The Effects of Calorie Restriction in Depression and Potential Mechanisms." Current Neuropharmacology, 13(4), 536-542. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159x13666150326003852
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges including depression, auto-immune diseases, and being overweight that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
We encourage you to take advantage of these FREE Wellness Resources on our website.
Common Sense for Living a Healthier Life
An estimated 95 percent of the world's population suffers from some type of medical condition according to recent reports from the healthcare sector. More than a third live with as many as five simultaneous health issues.1 At the same time, one in four people currently suffer from a mental illness, and this number is expected to increase during the years to come.
Healthy Living Whole Foods Cookbook
Many people know "what" to do to be healthy, but HOW do you do it? One of the best ways we have found is to show people how we eat as a family. This customizable, whole foods cookbook features two hobby chefs! Sara Kosmiski is an amazing RAW foods expert, and Libby Wright shares good foods for beginners in healthy cooking. We hope you enjoy these recipes and encourage you to share them with your family and friends!
How to Grocery Shop and What to Eat
We are what we eat. Studies from reputable health organizations suggest that 40-60% of Americans are living with one or more chronic diseases, which negatively impacts their quality of life, reduces employment productivity, and drives up health care costs.1 Lifestyle choices, in particular, the foods we choose to put into our bodies, are making us sick. However, we do have choices regarding our nutrition.
Learn practical tips for healthy and affordable grocery shopping and consider using a list similar to the recommended natural, whole foods grocery shopping list provided to get you off to a good start!
Our Immune System Health & Lifestyle Choices
Most people know that the immune system is responsible for fighting off pathogens and ensuring ongoing good health, but few are aware of the interaction between the immune system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This relationship is mediated by a complex community of gut bacteria, known collectively as the gut microbiome.
Learn more about how our lifestyle choices affect our immune health and practical things we can do to live better today.
Understanding Inflammation's Link to Obesity, Diabetes, & Disease
This article provides introductory knowledge on the role of blood sugar and body fat on inflammation. Inflammation is the center-point of disease and the main contributor to obesity.
Webinar: Better Sleep Tonight!
Facilitator Libby Wright interviews Dr. Jamie Wright who discusses the role of sleep in weight loss with participants of the Your Best Weight online education program. Dr. Wright is a board certified physician with a Masters Degree in Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine. The webinar last for 29 minutes and addresses questions submitted by the program participants.
Why You Need Colostrum and PRPs
I would like to introduce you to my new best friend, Proline-Rich Polypeptides. You can call him PRP for short! This is an amazing leap in science. While we've been carrying the NuMedica ImmunoG product line for quite some time, and I was in fact using it daily, I had no idea it's power and scope of use!
The information, knowledge, and experience shared on this website is the opinion of SupplementRelief.com. This site and its content is intended to enhance your knowledge base as YOU MAKE YOUR OWN HEALTHCARE DECISIONS in partnership with your qualified health professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products referred to are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Comments are displayed in order of the last one posted so the most recent Comment is at the top and older Comments are towards the bottom. Replies within a Comment are displayed in reverse order with the oldest Reply at the top and the most recent one at the bottom.
Each post identifies who made the post and the date and time the post was made.
Mouse over the icons for tooltips that explain what the data means.
If you see this icon you can attach an Audio file to your post.
If you see this icon you can attach a Document file to your post.
If you see this icon you can attach an Image file to your post.
If you see this icon you can attach a Video file to your post.
You will see the Ban icon (Report Post as SPAM) immediately following the Timestamp of the post. Click this icon if you feel strongly that the content posted is not appropriate and should be reviewed by the Forum Moderator. You will be provided with a confirmation dialog to be sure you wish to submit this post for review. If submitted, the Forum Moderator will be notified to review the post and will determine what type of action to take.
Click in the upper right corner of this Help modal or anywhere on the web page outside of the modal to exit Help.×