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What Science Has to Say About Intermittent Fasting

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that struggling people will try all sorts of diet plans — just look at the eating fads that have come and gone or still hang around no matter how potentially unhealthy: The Atkins Diet, The Master Cleanse, Weight Watchers, Slimfast… oh, and remember the cabbage soup diet? It’s not a pretty scene.

The fact is that well over 70% of Americans are overweight, and in addition to thehealth issues posed by this reality, unhealthy, unrealistic, and unwelcoming beauty standards have contributed to a situation in which many are willing to try almost anything in order to lose weight. Unfortunately, research has shown us that a shocking95% of diets fail to produce lasting results; in addition, the sameexperts estimate that as many as80 to 95% of dieters gain back the weight they've worked so hard to lose while dieting. What’s even more surprising is that regardless of these grim diet stats, millions of us continue to search for the perfect weight-loss diet solution every year.

Fortunately, there is a growing health industry movement that focuses less weight loss, and more on making smart, sustainable, healthy eating choices to support whole body health. Just take a look at what’s trending these days: it’spaleo, it’svegan, it'santi-inflammatory — essentially it’s more about healthy, nutritious real foods and achieving long-term sustainablehealth results than about depriving our bodies in an effort to quickly lose weight. 

Intermittent Fasting - The Non-Diet Diet

In today’s post we’re looking at a trend that has been gaining steamfast in health circles, so we can understand what it is and why it’s becoming so popular. That trend isintermittent fasting.

For years, we’ve been told that healthy eating requires eating “three square meals” every day, or better yet eating 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day. We’ve been trained that this is the “right” way to eat either for weight loss or for improved overall health. And then intermittent fasting (IF) came on the scene and punched all this traditional thinking about eating schedules right in the mouth!

IF continues to grow in popularity with each year, with more and more people doing it, or at least thinking about trying it out. So in today’s post, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of intermittent fasting and see if it is all it’s cracked up to be. Marketing hype aside, what does the research really show about intermittent fasting? 

We’ll also share some of the less frequently discussed pros and cons to consider when deciding whether an intermittent fasting plan is the right option for you.

Intermittent Fasting — Not A Diet, It’s A Lifestyle!

Let’s be clear right from the start: intermittent fasting is not a diet. Diets are short-term by definition, and they require us to deprive our bodies from one thing or another in an effort to lose weight. As we said earlier, diets rarely — if ever — produce lasting weight loss, andmost (though not all) are focused more on weight loss than on overall health, which really should be our priority. Our recommendation is that you steer clear of fad diets, which just do not produce the sustainable long-term results you are looking for. 

Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, is a way of eating — it’s a lifestyle choice that, when done correctly, has repeatedly been shown to support a healthy weight, decrease chronic inflammation, and toimprove your overall health.

Understanding Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a timed approach to eating that cycles between periods of fasting and periods of eating. That is what makes IF so different from other eating plans, and especially different from diets. 

You see, IF doesn’t specifically dictate which foods to eat or not to eat; instead, it focuses onwhen you eat.  This is a significant shift in thinking that allows you to be pretty creative when deciding what to eat. For example, when practicing IF, you might decide to experiment with the benefits of eating a combo ofpaleo andraw foods, or eatingvegan or creating your own custom menu. That’s the beauty of IF: it's based ontime and gives you a wide variety of eating options, rather than just focusing on the food you shouldn’t eat.

And here’s something interesting about intermittent fasting: it isn’t a new concept. In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years or more. It’s not a fitness fad, but a survival mechanism from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. 

Remember, our ancient ancestors hardly ever had access to consistent food sources — there were no supermarkets, restaurants, refrigerators and sometimes there wasn’t even a steady food supply available. Certainly not year-round! Sometimes they couldn't find anything to eat for days and days and were forced to go for long periods of time without eating — three square meals a day was not a thing for them. Fortunately, the human body can access stored fat asenergy, so it can function without food for extended periods of time.

Using this information, health experts theorized that by intentionally using the same fasting methods employed for years by our ancestors, we may be able to trigger our bodies to burn fat for energy.

But Does IF Work?

The short answer is mostly yes. Intermittent fasting has proven itself to be a viable way to cause the body to access and burn stored body fat and a way toboost metabolism and promote weight loss. 

In fact, new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine recently found that condensing eating to a specific window of time, followed by fasting for an extended period of time, causes a metabolic switch that results in your body burning stored fat for energy. But again, weight loss shouldn’t be our primary goal right? We’re looking for positive overall health outcomes.

And that’s where IF gets really interesting.  Not only did this research demonstrate that intermittent fasting resulted in weight loss, it also resulted in increasedlongevity, increasedstress resistance, improvedcognitive function, and enhancedsleep quality. Not only that, it can even reduce the risk of several of the most common chronic health issues includingdiabetes,inflammation,heart disease, and even certain cancers. 

Even better, research shows that you don’t actually need to follow a strict intermittent fasting routine to reap the associated health benefits. In fact, eating in a way that just mimics fasting is proving to create health benefits just like those observed with strict traditional fasting methods.

Different Types of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting isn’t a one-size fits all approach, there are actually several different ways to fast; each one can be effective but figuring out which way is best foryou often takes some trial and error. Here’s an overview of the some of the most popular ways to practice IF:

The 16:8 and 14:10 Methods

The most popular type of IF is the 16:8 fasting schedule. On this schedule, you eat during an eight-hour window and then fast for the remaining sixteen hours of the day. The good news is that you will probably be sleeping for a large chunk of that sixteen-hour fasting window, so really you are only actually fasting for 8 or 9 of the hours that you are awake.

With a 16:8 fasting schedule, you are essentially skipping breakfast. For example, let’s say you wake up around seven or eight in the morning. You can drink any non-caloric liquids that you want — likewater or tea — but you wouldn’t eat your first meal of the day until 11 a.m. That allows you to have a late lunch, and then dinner around 6 p.m., and then you stop eating for the day at around 7 p.m.

There are other intermittent fasting schedule variations you could follow, like the 14:10, which is similar to the 16:8, but follows 14 hours without food, and gives you a 10-hour window to eat.  The 14:10 method  might be the better option for those of who like to snack or who prefer to eat several small meals throughout the day.

Alternate Day Fasting

Alternate Day Fasting is another fasting option that has demonstrated several positive health benefits in recent studies. Alternate Day Fasting works exactly like it sounds: you fast every other day. Some people avoid food completely on fasting days while others sustain themselves on around 500 calories on fasting days. Alternate Day Fasting is more intense and might not be the best intermittent fasting option for IF beginners.

The 5:2 method, AKA: Eat Stop Eat

The5:2or Eat Stop Eat method of fasting is based around research demonstrating that fasting for 24 hours a day, two times a week while eating whatever you want (within reason) the other five days yields several positive health results, including weight loss. Eat Stop Eat sounds a bit crazy, but really isn’t as intimidating or intense as it sounds; you’re actually supposed to eat something every day with theEat Stop Eat plan. If your fasting day starts at 9 a.m., for instance, you would eat something before 9 a.m. and then you wouldn’t eat until you break your fast at 9 a.m. the next day.

Intermittent Fasting: Eating Plans Worth Considering

If you decide to give intermittent fasting a try, there are a few things that you need to know before diving in. If you suffer fromhigh blood pressure,diabetes, any type ofheart condition, or are pregnant, then intermittent fasting is probably not the best or safest, option for you. Even if none of these situations apply to you, we always recommend that you consult with your doctor before you begin intermittent fasting.

Our bottom line on intermittent fasting is a general thumbs up. There’s a significant amount of scientific research supporting IF as an effective way to lose weight and more importantly, to improve overall health by reducing your risk of common chronic health issues. This is especially true when the fast is limited to what’s known ascircadian rhythm fasting(that’s fasting overnight or for a specific number of hours each day, like with the 16:8 model). Circadian rhythm fasting has proven to be even more effective when it’s combined with a healthy,plant-based diet and aregular exercise regime. And these are things we recommend to everyone, whether you are practicing IF or not!

However, we’ve found that IFisn’t for everyone. Some people report not feeling well during a fast, sometimes reporting feeling lightheaded or dizzy, weak, shaky, and havingheadaches (especially if you’re amigraine sufferer). However, for others, this lifestyle does seem to live up to the hype — intermittent fasting done right can produce a number of significant health benefits, includingimproved energy levels, improved heart health, balancedblood sugar levels, and reduced inflammation throughout the body. 

While most people do lose weight through intermittent fasting plans, we don’t recommend making that goal the primary focus of any eating plan. Instead, focus on eating in a way that will help you achieve your long-term health goals.

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