If you have weight loss in your mind then Intermittent Fasting is the fast-growing trend that promises results.
Apart from being a weight loss fad, it has been linked to several other health benefits such as longevity, reduced inflammation, lower sugar levels, improvement in blood cholesterol, cellular cleansing, and increased energy.
But is Intermittent Fasting healthy?
There are many side effects linked to Intermittent Fasting that include headaches, hunger, dehydration, constipation, inadequate sleep, stress, dizziness, and acidity in healthy individuals. While people with health disorders like diabetes, women who are nursing or pregnant, and children must not practice Intermittent Fasting because they have high caloric needs.
So if you are thinking of trying Intermittent Fasting yourself you must be aware of the risks associated with it.
Here we would look into the details of its effect on health and know what to expect in the course of your fasting phase and learn how to deal with it.
Firstly, let us shed light on what is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting and its types (skip this if you already know)
It is a type of fasting diet plan that switches between a fed and fasted state during the course of the program.
A fed state is when you ingest sufficient food as per your calorie goals while a fasted state is when you avoid consuming calories at all. As opposed to normal fasting, Intermittent Fasting involves subsequent fed and fasted states.
It works on the basic principle that- during the limited time of fed state with an option of fewer meals, you would generally be consuming lower calories as compared to a whole day of eating. Plus, the insulin level in your body is not elevated during an extended fasting period that enables the body to rely upon the stored resources (fat) for energy.
There are a number of different ways out there to go about intermittent fasting.
- The most popular program includes a feeding window of 8 hours along with 16 hours fast during the course of a day. It is preferred to include your night sleeping time in the fasting window which is much easier to execute rather than fasting in the morning hours.
- A ‘Warrior Diet’ as it is popularly called the Fasting plan with 20 hours of fasting and 4 hours of feeding in a day is the other type of Intermittent Fasting which may prove to be difficult for many people. This type generally builds on eating during the evening 4 hours window in 1 or 2 meals while fasting for the rest of the day.
- In another type of Intermittent Fasting, you fast of 2 days of the week with consuming minimal calories (say 500 calories) and keep the rest 5 days as normal feeding days. This is popularly called as the 5:2 approach.
- An alternate day fasting type would involve having fasting days of almost 500 calories on alternate days with normal feeding days in between. The 500 calories can be consumed at any time in a single meal or several meals spread across the fasting day.
You are free to choose from the different types of Intermittent Fasting schedules or any other way that you feel suited to your feeding pattern.
Now let’s talk about the health aspect of Intermittent Fasting
How Intermittent Fasting affects the body?
Here is what happens in your body when you fast for long durations-
When you are on the fed state the body utilizes the glucose from the food for energy and which is also stored in the muscles and the liver as glycogen.
When you enter the fasted state, after some time when your blood glucose level decreases the stored glycogen from the muscles and the liver is utilized for cellular activities.
Further down the timeline on the fasted state as the glycogen level and insulin level decrease the body turns to the process of Ketosis. Here the stored fat in the fat cells is broken down to release energy.
Ketosis kicks in at a much later stage of the fasted state which is attributed to almost 12-14 hours of not ingesting carbohydrates in healthy individuals.
Ketosis is a natural process that body resorts to, at lower glucose levels. Though this does not mean that the body fully relies on fat breakdown for energy as pure Ketosis is not achieved even at the long duration of fasts. Only the percentage of energy share from ketosis increases resulting in a higher fat loss.
A similar effect is achieved when you consume a diet rich in fats and protein with no to minimum carbohydrates, known as the Ketogenic Diet.
Does Intermittent Fasting harm the body in any way?
Intermittent fasting promotes a natural process of Ketosis in the body.
Also, studies like the one published in 2016 on the impact of Intermittent Fasting on health and diseases demonstrate efficacy for weight loss and improvements in multiple health indicators including insulin resistance and reductions in risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Another study from 2017 on Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting shows that fasting regimens appear to promote weight loss and may improve metabolic health.
The results in the study can be quoted as – “Overall, evidence suggests that intermittent fasting regimens are not harmful physically or mentally (i.e., in terms of mood) in healthy, normal weight, overweight, or obese adults.”
There have been several other studies that prove that Intermittent Fasting has several health benefits rather than harming the body in any way.
However, it must be noted here that fasting is not different or superior to any other calorie-restricted diet for weight loss. As from the study dated 2018 quotes -” Intermittent fasting helps lose weight and promotes health. However, it is not superior to conventional calorie restriction diets, scientists have found out in the largest investigation on intermittent fasting to date.”
There might not be any health problems caused due it but there are a number of side effects linked to not eating food for long period of time.
So let us quickly dive into what to expect in the course of Intermittent fasting.
Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting
If you wish to try out Intermittent Fasting yourself then these are the things you must know to encounter in your way.
If you are not used to being off the food for long hours you would face the issue of being hungry at times when your body starts to crave for feed as you are used to taking 5 to 6 meals a day. This generally happens in the later hours of your fasting period
You would have your eyes on the clock all the time counting the hours and minutes before you break the fast.
That is when people tend to skip the interval to feed time and cheat on their Intermittent Fasting regime.
You need to be aware of the hard work you have put in to stay away from food all the way to that point and stop yourself from giving in to the cravings. Make sure to stick to the fasting period to achieve the results you desire.
The key is to drink sufficient amount of water to keep your belly full. While you must also know that food cravings are generally psychological and you can overcome them by taking your mind off it.
Headaches and Lightheadedness
Your brain needs glucose to function properly. While you are low on blood sugar during your fasted state you are bound to get headaches or feel dizzy and lightheaded.
The headaches can also last longer through the day for many people even after having a meal. But keep in mind that they tend to disappear as your body becomes used to fasting. Do not fret much about them and keep yourself hydrated.
If you feel dizzy try not to perform heavy work or workout during your fasted state.
Acidity and Constipation
Your stomach is set to produce acids to digest your frequent meal. While on intermittent fasting your number of meals would go down and you would be left with acidity.
This can be a big issue for many people as it can produce a burning sensation and cause a bloated stomach, flatulence and nausea.
To avoid this make sure to have a good amount of water during your fasting period. If it persists try to change your fasting window to some other time usually after the biggest meal of the day.
Constipation can also be an issue as you tend to consume lower calories than normal days during intermittent fasting and your meal timing changes. Again as you get more used to the new schedule you would feel better.
It is normal to feel irritated when you are hungry. During your fasting period, you would find that you get edgy quite easily.
Just make sure to consciously avoid stressful situations and if you are working keep a track on temper during your fasting period.
There is a tendency to reward yourself when you have successfully completed a fasting stage with binge eating. You may also lurk over fast food and processed stuff to satisfy your cravings.
But to achieve the results you desire sticking to a clean diet is a must. Avoid overeating and gorging on unhealthy food. Take your calories from natural nutrient-dense foods and tame your binge cravings.
You must understand that Intermittent Fasting is not only about not eating for a given time frame but also having good quality food when it is time for meals.
Inadequate Sleep Pattern
A change in your meal timing may lead to a change in your sleeping pattern as well. For instance, if you are used to doing a light dinner you might have to change to a heavier meal as your number of meals decrease when Intermittent Fasting.
This, in turn, may lead to troubled night sleep. Similarly, you might find trouble sleeping when you are in the fasting mode due to hunger cravings.
Make sure to take time out for a good nap when you feel good and try to make up for your lost sleep. It is important to get good sleep to keep yourself fresh and productive throughout the day.
Most of the side-effects mentioned above are temporary and as you get more used to the schedule and eating patterns of Intermittent Fasting, they would subside.
You are required to deal with them at the beginning of the course but as you progress you would feel better.
Intermittent Fasting is a healthy way to weight loss.
It does not seem to show any adverse long term effect on the body while it does come with a few annoying side effects.
It is perfectly safe to try Intermittent Fasting for weight loss provided that you stay consistent and keep your self motivated.