Intermittent fasting is a powerful approach that facilitates weight loss and helps reduce your risk of chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Research overwhelmingly supports the notion that ditching the “three square meals a day” approach in favor of intermittent fasting can do wonders for your health, as your body simply isn’t designed to be continuously fed.
Research by Dr. Satchidananda Panda suggests 90 percent of people eat across a span of 12 hours a day, and many across even longer timespans. Sadly, this is a prescription for metabolic disaster and will clearly wreak havoc with your metabolism over time.
Intermittent fasting typically refers to not eating for at least 14 consecutive hours a day. However, not eating for 16 to 18 hours is likely closer to metabolic ideal. This means you are only eating your food within a six to eight-hour window.
Why Intermittently Fast?
The cycling of feasting (feeding) and famine (fasting) mimics the eating habits of our ancestors and restores your body to a more natural state that allows a whole host of biochemical benefits to occur. In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that your body cannot run optimally when there’s a continuous supply of calories coming in.
For starters, when you eat throughout the day and never skip a meal, your body adapts to burning sugar as its primary fuel, which downregulates enzymes that utilize and burn stored fat. As a result, you start becoming progressively more insulin resistant and start gaining weight, and most efforts to lose weight become ineffective.
It’s important to realize that in order to lose body fat, your body must first be able to actually burn fat. Two powerful ways of shifting your body from carb-burning to fat-burning are fasting and/or eating a cyclical ketogenic diet. For optimal results, you’d want to do both,1,2 as these strategies support each other, allowing for speedier results. To learn more about this, see “Why Intermittent Fasting Is More Effective Combined With Ketogenic Diet.”
Importantly, many biological repair and rejuvenation processes also take place while you’re fasting, and this is a primary reason why all-day grazing triggers disease while fasting prevents them.
The Many Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
A large and growing body of medical research supports the use of intermittent fasting, showing it has a wide range of biological benefits. For example, intermittent fasting has been shown to:3,4,5
1. Promote insulin sensitivity, which is crucial for your health, as insulin resistance or poor insulin sensitivity contributes to nearly all chronic diseases
2. Promote leptin sensitivity
3. Normalize ghrelin levels, also known as the “hunger hormone,” resulting in lowered hunger
4. Improve blood sugar management by increasing insulin-mediated glucose uptake rates6
5. Lower triglyceride levels
6. Increase human growth hormone production (HGH) — Commonly referred to as “the fitness hormone,” HGH plays an important role in maintaining health, fitness and longevity, including promotion of muscle growth, and boosting fat loss by revving up your metabolism. Research7shows fasting can raise HGH by as much as 1,300 percent in women and 2,000 percent in men.
The fact that it helps build muscle while simultaneously promoting fat loss explains why HGH helps you lose weight without sacrificing muscle mass, and why even athletes can benefit from intermittent fasting
7. Suppress inflammation and reduce oxidative damage8
8. Upregulate autophagy and mitophagy, natural cleansing processes necessary for optimal cellular renewal and function
9. Boost fat burning and improve metabolic efficiency and body composition, including significant reductions in visceral fat and body weight in obese individuals
10. Prevent or reverse Type 2 diabetes, as well as slow its progression
11. Improve immune function9
12. Lower blood pressure
13. Reduce your risk of heart disease10 — One study11 found those who fasted regularly had a 58 percent lower risk of coronary disease compared to those who never fasted
14. Reproduce some of the cardiovascular benefits associated with physical exercise
15. Boost mitochondrial energy efficiency and biosynthesis
16. Shift stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal
17. Reduce your risk of cancer
18. Increase longevity — There are a number of mechanisms contributing to this effect. Normalizing insulin sensitivity is a major one, but fasting also inhibits the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in driving the aging process
19. Regenerate the pancreas and improve pancreatic function
20. Improve cognitive function, thanks to rising ketone levels
21. Protect against neurological diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease13 and Parkinson’s disease,14,15 thanks to the production of ketone bodies (byproducts of fatty acid breakdown, which are a healthy and preferred fuel for your brain) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF, which activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, and triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health)
22. Eliminate sugar cravings as your body adapts to burning fat instead of sugar.