Many people seem to have the idea that you need a good breakfast to start the day. Stories about how unhealthy it is to skip the first meal of the deal in the morning are quite persistent. In this article, we want to talk about intermittent fasting and the top 7 effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging and disease. We will show that this way of fasting is great for your general health and explain why it is so popular these days. You will also – for once and for all – find out that you will not need a breakfast to start the day and live a healthy life.
What is intermittent fasting?
First and foremost: intermittent fasting is not a diet. A diet tells you what you can eat. Intermittent fasting doesn’t tell you what to eat, but when to eat and for how long you can eat. In general, it gives you a period each day in which you can eat and the rest of the day will consist of fasting. During the fasting period, you are allowed to drink water, tea and coffee.
Intermittent fasting has several great beneficial effects on your health. In general, it can benefit your brain, your body and even slow down the aging process.
Intermittent fasting has effects on several hormones in your body and an improved insulin sensitivity. Hormones that play an important role in intermittent fasting are insulin, human growth hormone and noradrenaline.
In order to fully understand the principle and benefit of intermittent fasting, it is important to let go of the old beliefs that we were taught:
- Without a breakfast, your metabolism will slow down during the day and you will thus not lose weight. This is a myth and not true.
- You will need to eat 5-6 times in order to maintain a healthy metabolism. This is another famous myth, however not based in truth. It does not matter for your body’s metabolism how often you eat a day. Read more about this in this scientific research.
- Fasting periods cause your body to some sort of power saving / survival mode. Although hunger can indeed cause this effect, it will only kick in after not eating anything for around 60 hours. So fasting for 16 hours a day will definitely not do this.
So now that we have cleared that up, its time dive deeper into intermittent fasting. It is a hype amongst many fitness and bodybuilding experts and is known to help you lose body fat quickly and stimulate muscle growth. Want a slightly other approach to losing weight? Maybe ProVen is something for you? Check it here.
What can you eat while you are intermittent fasting?
Like we mentioned before, intermittent fasting is not a diet and does not tell you what you can or cannot eat. In theory, this means you can eat whatever you want during your eating period. However, as you will understand, it is not recommended to start chucking away at pizza, French fries and hamburgers as soon as you have the chance. Eating a lot of fast food or junk food will massively decrease the general effect and benefits of intermittent fasting.
So what do we recommend? While you can eat, it is important to make those meals count! You will want to eat nutritious foods that contain good macronutrients like vitamins and minerals. As lowering your insulin levels (high insulin = high body fat) play an important role in intermittent fasting, you will need to avoid foods that increase your insulin, like refined carbohydrates and added sugars.
Remember, eating refined carbohydrates and sugar will increase your glucose levels, which in turn start insulin creation in your body. After a peak in these glucose, a drop will cause you to feel hungry. As you can imagine, it isn’t a great thing to feel hungry when you still have many hours of fasting to do.
It is very good to eat fiber rich foods, like veggies. When you are working on your body and want to incease mucle mass, also make sure you eat enough protein. Eggs, tuna and steak are great sources of protein. Its also good to take sufficient vitamins, like vitamin C.
Please do note that you should not eat any carbs or protein during the fasting period.
Intermittent fasting can be done according to several schedules. We will talk about each of them here. There is no real best or worst schedule in the bunch. The most important thing is, that you stick to the schedule and don’t cheat.
It is good to find out what works best for you in your life and personal situation. As we can’t know what your day looks like, it is a bit hard to give good advice. Which schedule to use is also depending on your personal goals. Somebody who wants lose belly fat has a different need and thus different schedule than a bodybuilder.
Please read through all the schedules and see which one suits you best.
One important note: make sure that you fast at least 12 hours. Only after around 12 hours will your glycogen supplies deplete, which in turn will cause your body to burn fat. This is the reason why we recommend starting with a fasting period of 16 hour, which means you are burning fat for around 4 hours.
The 16/8 method
The 16/8 method is a popular intermittent fasting schedule. For most people, it is the most easy to fit in a daily routine and thus the best to keep up.
The 16/8 method means that you fast for 16 hours a day, while you can eat in the other 8 hours. This cycle is repeated every day.
In practice, it basically means that you just need to skip your breakfast and eat your first meal around noon. You can eat until 8 p.m. and then start fasting again. This is quite doable for most people. Some start it a bit later, but that is entirely up to you.
During the 16/8 method, it is best to eat 2 or 3 meals a day.
24 hour intermittent fasting
This method is a bit challenging for beginners, as it requires you to skip a whole day – 24 hours – without any eating. This method is based on 1 of 2 full days of fasting each week, while not eating more during the non-fasting days.
For example, you can eat your breakfast and start fasting until the next day, where you start by eating your breakfast again.
The 5:2 diet
The 5:2 diet is based on the principle that you can eat normally (though healthy) 5 days a week, but you restrict your calorie intake during the remaining 2 days a week. During the 5:2 diet, there are no days in which you cannot eat at all, but during the 2 fasting days, you need to restrict yourself to 600 calories if you are a man and 500 calories if you are a woman.
The two fasting days should not be 2 consecutive days. So for example you will eat with a lowered calorie intake on Tuesday and Saturday, whilst eating normally on the other days.
This schedule is for the true warriors, based on ancient times where people spend most of their day hunting and gathering, while feasting and eating at night. The warrior diet is based upon a 20:4 schedule, with a long period of fasting (20 hours per day) alternated with a small window of food intake (4 hours per day). During the eating window, you should eat around 90% of your daily calories, so it is a true feasting period. During the fasting period, you are allowed to eat some fruit and veggies, in spirit of the past where people would eat some things while foraging the forests.
This type of intermittent fasting recommends your food to be based on your ancestors. This includes lots of meat, fruit and vegetables, grains and dairy, but excludes processed foods.
Skip a day
The skip a day schedule is based on the principle that you fast for 1-2 days per week, while eating normally – yet healthy – during the other days. During the fasting days, it is recommended to not eat anything for the best results. However, as you can imagine, this is pretty tough to start with.
An alternative for the skip a day schedule is the Skip a meal schedule. As the name suggests, you skip a couple of meals a week. This is a good way for many people to start losing weight, while not having a great impact on your life.
One meal a day – OMAD
OMAD is a popular way of intermittent fasting. During this schedule, you can only eat one meal per day, while fasting for the remainder of the day. You are still allowed to drink water, tea and coffee. As you can imagine, this is also a pretty tough schedule and not recommended for starters.
We go in depth on the One Meal a Day schedule here.
Alternate Day Fasting (ADF)
Like the name suggests, the alternate day fasting schedule is about fasting one day, while eating normally the next day, and so on.
This sounds – and honestly is – a bit hardcore to start with. When you follow this schedule by the letter, you can only drink things like water, tea and coffee during the fasting days. That is quite a long period though and not recommended to start with. Some people adjust it slightly and eat up to 500kcal per day on the fasting days.
Although hardcore and not for beginners, ADF works really well if you want results quickly. Prepare to lose weight!
The top 7 effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging and disease
Now that we have looked at some of the many different intermittent fasting schedules, it is time to look at the the top 7 effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging and disease. As we have said before, there are many health benefits, but we will look at the best and most profound ones here.
Important and much saying quote by Dr. Benjamin D. Horne, PhD, MPH, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.
“Fasting causes hunger or stress. In response, the body releases more cholesterol, allowing it to utilize fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. This decreases the number of fat cells in the body,” says Dr. Horne. “This is important because the fewer fat cells a body has, the less likely it will experience insulin resistance, or diabetes.”
Read the article about his research on fasting and health here.
Loss of body fat and loss of weight
Bodyweight is an important factor for general health. Obesity is one of the great causes for many modern diseases. Intermittent fasting is highly effective in reducing body weight and general fat content of the body due to the creation of a negative energy balance.
First of all, while doing intermittent fasting, you reduce the amount of food eaten and thus the calorie intake.
As fasting increases the release of human growth hormone (HGH), which is directly related to the amount of fat you carry – mostly on your belly. HGH helps the maintenance of lean mass and reduces fat.
Combine that with a higher calorie burn in your body due to increased metabolism and you can see the effects on body weight and body fat.
Furthermore, intermittent fasting will cause a drop in insulin levels, which help with weight loss in general and prevent diabetes 2.
Lower risk on cancer and Alzheimer
It has been researched and proven that fasting in general and intermittent fasting specific, have positive effects on preventing and battling cancer and Alzheimer. According to Drs. Longo and Fontan of the University of Southern Californa, “calorie reduction without malnutrition is the most potent and reproducible physiological intervention for increasing lifespan and protecting against cancer in mammals”. Read the article here.
Furthermore, fasting stimulates an internal process called autophagy. This is the process were old and damaged cells are internally recycled. This cleans the body of damaged cells and regenerate new and healthy cells. This is a very important process to prevent and battle cancer. Read more about this here.
Fasting also shows an effect on chemotherapy, in which it increases the effects of such therapy while fighting cancer.
So in short: intermittent fasting does have a positive effect on lowering the risk of cancer and Alzheimer, or can actually help battle these diseases. While it might seem strange to put a patient on fasting, it can help.
Lower risk of heart disease
It is widely known and well researched that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high inflammation and high triglycerides all increase the chance of heart disease.
Intermittent fasting helps to reduce all these risk factors and thus has a positive effect on lowering the risk of heart disease. Fasting is good for your general health and your heart.
Faster recovery of cells
Eating not only gives your body energy, it also costs a lot of energy to digest the food. This energy is diverted from other processes in your body. Intermittent fasting, or any type of fasting, diverts the energy that you normally use for digesting food to other useful processes inside the body. Your cells will be recovered and repaired by way of removing waste material from the cells.
Increased brain function
Intermittent fasting stimulates the recycling of old and damaged cells and regeneration of new and healthy cells. This also applies to new nerve cells, which is great for the general brain function.
Furthermore, intermittent fasting results in increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This was tested and confirmed in animal models, but clearly shows an increase in the resistance of neurons in the brain to dysfunction and degeneration. Read more here. We know these are animal results, but we do want to mention it here as it is not too farfetched to imagine similar effects in humans.
Anti-aging and possible role in increasing life-span
First off, we have to admit that anti-aging effects on humans have not yet been confirmed or scientifically proven. So don’t think you will reach the age of 150 straight away.
However, we do want to include the anti-aging effects of intermittent fasting here as there is a lot of research that proves that calorie reduction and intermittent fasting on rats shows great results. This scientific article shows a life-span increase of 83% for rats that were provided the alternate day fasting schedule. These effects are pretty awesome and when you combine this with all the positive health effects of intermittent fasting, it is a decent assumption that it might have at least some effect on humans as well.
Intermittent fasting promotes in increase in stamina and faster recovery by an increase of human growth hormone (HGH). Studies show that fasting is a great stimulus for HGH secretion in the body. Different studies show increases of 5 fold after just a couple of days of fasting. Read more here.
Intermittent fasting effects – difference between men and women
After talking about all these positive effects of intermittent fasting on your health, it appears to be all sunshine and rainbows. But is it? Its time to explore the differences for men and women.
We realize that gender is a sensitive and controversial subject, but there are differences between men and women when it comes to health. Think about the general differences in physique, for example the amount of muscle, or body length. Furthermore, there are several internal differences between the genders, for example metabolism and response to fasting.
Let’s start of by saying that intermittent fasting is, generally speaking, more effective for men. It is important to note that it simply does not work the same way for both sexes.
There are not a great number of studies, but there is one study that shows no improvement in insulin sensitivity and increased blood lipids in women after intermittent fasting. This might suggest that some of the health benefits mentioned above – and in other studies – may only apply to men.
Other studies show that women respond differently to fasting than men. Where men profit from weight loss and a metabolic boost, women seem to find increased cortisol levels and even a decrease in insulin sensitivity after intermittent fasting. These results suggest that fasting might have adverse effects on women and actually could contribute to obesity and diabetes.
This all might sound bad for women and it is true that intermittent fasting will probably have more positive effects on men. However, we have heard of many great stories of women who had great results with intermittent fasting. As with most things, it comes down to your own unique body. Besides, women in turn will profit more from other weight loss programmes and diets than men.
Is intermittent fasting for you?
It is important to consider why you want to use intermittent fasting before you actually start. There are several reasons why you might want to start fasting, but if you have no idea what your personal reasons are, you might want to reconsider starting until you do.
Reasons to start intermittent fasting can be weight loss, remove body fat, increase muscle mass or just challenging yourself. If you have a clear reason and a clear goal set for yourself, intermittent fasting can be fascinating and great to achieve your personal goals. When your goals are clear, you can work towards these goals and keep track of your results.
One important side note.
When you are pregnant, or want to become pregnant, it is wise to skip intermittent fasting for now. Your body will need a stable and good amount of calories for milk production. When your calorie input stops, so does milk production.