Intermittent fasting isn’t something new. Since the early 20th century, people have been interested in the concept, and it’s fluctuated in its popularity over the decades.

But what exactly is intermittent fasting? Why is it so popular? And is it even effective at creating a healthy habit that provides benefits for your body?

We’ll look into some of the research behind this lasting trend, as well as any health risks and benefits that might be associated with this eating schedule.

What is intermittent fasting?

the big breakfastIntermittent fasting is a developed eating pattern that switches between periods of fasting and eating. It’s different from most diets in that it doesn’t affect what you eat but when and how often you eat.

From a human evolution perspective, this makes sense. For thousands of years, the hunters and gatherers of old didn’t have supermarkets, fast food, or refrigerators. There was never an easy or timely transition from being hungry to eating early on. Humans most likely ate minimal calories until they were able to make one big meal.

Intermittent fasting emulates much of the way our bodies are used to eating. It matches how our digestive systems functioned for a long while. As well, in the current era of being surrounded by food, fasting techniques are also a huge test and development of self control skills. Learning to be patient and to only provide the body with what’s needed is an insurmountable task when you’re surrounded by things you want.


Why is intermittent fasting so popular?

Like a lot of fad diets, intermittent fasting functions on the premise that changing one thing will alter your body’s nutrition and weight. It’s difference is that it focuses on the when, not what, of eating. This means that all of your favorite foods are still on the menu. You don’t have to change what you eat at all.

As well, the diet offers a lot of flexible timing options. People’s lives are different levels and types of busy. The fact that there are so many variations to this diet schedule means that it can easily work for almost anyone. You don’t have to cut out your favorite food or meal. If there’s a will, there’s an intermittent fasting schedule, and there’s plenty of different types to choose from.


Does intermittent fasting work?

cereal inside of an alarm clockThe most important question here is whether the idea of intermittent fasting even is effective at balancing nutrition and improving our bodies. Many studies look at the effectiveness of intermittent fasting by its effectiveness in weight loss.

One metastudy found that in 9 out of 11 research opportunities where patients were studied for over 8 weeks, intermittent fasting showed the same level of weight loss when compared to other diets that create restrictions in your caloric intake. The key takeaway here is that while those other diets cause you to remove specific foods or whole food groups, intermittent fasting merely focuses on when you eat.

Fasting is evolutionary ingrained within our bodies. One study on the effects of fasting on health, aging, and disease, recognized this. Simple fasting, even ones built into our schedules, improves our metabolism, lowers blood sugar levels, lessens inflammation, and can even help flush toxins out of our cells faster.

Obviously fasting comes at a cost. While we’re fasting, we might initially feel weaker, like our bodies aren’t doing well. It is important to listen to our bodies. If we’re feeling tired and hungry, filling up with water and taking a break from strenuous activity is definitely needed. Many health experts have weighed in that while providing fasting moments in their daily or weekly lives is healthy and important, finding which schedule works best for us, our schedule, and our own bodies is paramount.


Types of intermittent fasting schedules

Part of the magic of intermittent fasting is that it doesn’t follow the one-size-fits-all modality of other fad diets. There are different types of intermittent fasting that can be tailored to your personal lifestyle so that intermittent fasting can fit into your life, instead of the other way around. Here’s a few popular and effective ones.


16/8 intermittent fasting schedule

This is the most basic intermittent fasting schedule. You eat for 8 hours of the day and fast for 16. This is made much easier when you consider that you’ll be asleep for about 8 hours of the day, so it kind of looks more like 8 hours eating, 8 hours fasting, 8 hours sleeping. However, this schedule is pretty simple.

If your first meal during the day is at 11, then you would stop eating after 7. The fasting still encourages drinking things like coffee and water that have no calories to help repress the urge to eat during those fasting hours, but setting your digestive system into such a consistent clock can be good in terms of controlling hunger and how much we eat.


5:2 intermittent fasting schedule

Healthy foods sitting near a notebook and pencil

This diet is the traditional 9-5 job but in eating terms. For 5 days in the week, you’ll eat a normal diet, and twice a week your diet will be restricted to 600 calories at most. While it’s not recommended for those 2 days to be done in a row, you can if your schedule permits it. A typical fasting schedule would be on Mondays and Thursdays, giving your body a break between the low calorie fasting days.

Alternate day intermittent fasting schedule

This schedule involves alternating which days you eat. One day you’ll eat a normal three meals a day, and the next you’ll fast, although most people will still eat about 600 calories on their fasting days.

This schedule is the hardest to follow since you’ll be fasting for almost half of the week. One study has already shown that this intermittent fasting schedule doesn’t do much in the way of losing weight. However, for some people, this might be the schedule for them.


Spontaneous meal skipping intermittent fasting schedule

This version of intermittent fasting shows that you don’t even technically need to hold to a specific schedule. Instead, you just randomly skip meals here and there. The key is to not replace the calories of that meal through snacking or doubling up another meal, but simply just eliminating a random meal here and there.

This is one of the few diets out there that lets you be more presently aware of your body’s need. Most of these schedules are strict regiments; this schedule is much more flexible in asking you to be aware of your body and its needs.


Is there a ‘best’ intermittent fasting for weight loss?

While there isn’t necessarily a ‘best’ intermittent fasting schedule for weight loss, what would be best is a schedule that works for your lifestyle and one you can stay consistent with when paired with other healthy weight loss strategies.

Intermittent fasting for weight loss can be a helpful strategy when done safely and correctly. Additionally, intermittent fasting does some really unique things in the body that not only help with fat metabolism, but also helps to remove damaged or mutated disease-causing cells. When you fast…

1. Insulin levels drop

When insulin levels drop this encourages your body to resort to using other energy stores – fat stores.

2. HGH (human growth hormone) levels increase

HGH (human growth hormone) levels increase which also jumpstarts the usage of fats for energy and it promotes muscle gain.

3. Autophagy or removal of cellular waste begins

When autophagy starts, your body begins removing broken proteins that build up in the cells; this cellular waste build-up can be a big contributor to multiple disease. Your body begins to repair itself on a cellular level.


Takeaway on intermittent fasting

While there are some aspects of intermittent fasting to keep in mind, such as being aware of your body’s needs, intermittent fasting has been a proven way to assist with creating healthy habits and fostering positive nutritional goals. Fasting has been a part of human nutrition and eating culture for a lot longer than we even know, and adding this tool to our dietary toolbelt is definitely a good thing.