A lot of us dive into fad diets and trends with nothing but the goal to lose weight, not considering how certain diets and food restrictions change our body and brain chemistry. However, among all the new and upcoming diet trends, one has been gaining a consistent following. With good reviews and positive studies proving its effectiveness and the many benefits not only for weight loss, but for brain functions, intermittent fasting doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It doesn’t focus on which foods to eat or avoid but rather on when you should be eating. We normally fast during sleep, and the first meal we eat once we awaken is when we break the fast, hence coining the term breakfast. Breakfast may be the first meal you have in the day, but it doesn’t technically have to be a meal you only get to eat in the morning.
Studies show that not consuming food for a long enough period of time may elevate the levels of compounds called ketones. Ketones are released when you’re fasting. They replace glucose as your source of energy, as fasting depletes the liver’s store of glucose, prompting fat cells to release fats. These fats are converted into ketones that cells can use as an energy source. The switch from glucose to ketones as fuel happens after 10-14 hours of fasting but may vary depending on your physical activities as well.
Effects On The Body
Not only is intermittent fasting a powerful and effective weight loss tool by making you eat fewer meals leading to a reduced calorie intake, it actually triggers more complex effects in your body.
During fasting, your body goes through several processes on the cellular and molecular level. First off, your body goes through hormonal adjustments to access other sources of energy (fat). Because of this, your body produces growth hormones much more than it does on its fed state, which has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain. This also drops your insulin levels dramatically to make stored body fat easier to access as fuel.
Your cells also initiate repair processes that remove old and dysfunctional proteins making space for better ones that improve your immune system and how your body protects itself from diseases.
Effects On The Brain
During lab tests performed in animals, fasting and exercise stimulate the production of a protein in nerve cells called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This protein performs an important part in learning, memory and brain cell regeneration in certain parts of the brain.
To put it simply, BDNF is the HGH (human growth hormone) of the brain. Not only is it responsible for cell regeneration but it also makes neurons more resistant to stress. Since fasting triggers autophagy, where cells remove damaged molecules and dysfunctional cells, the moment you begin to eat after a fast, neurons shift to a process of reconstruction again, growing new proteins, cells, and form new synapses. Recovering from both exercise and fasting may improve neuroplasticity, memory, and cognition. There are also findings that BDNF can also protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
Why Do Intermittent Fasting?
Besides the obvious health benefits and good effects it has on your body and brain, intermittent fasting makes your day simpler. It keeps you from worrying about what to eat when you wake up— and since it doesn’t restrict you from eating anything, as long as you’re following your feeding schedule, there’s also no need to be on a strict diet which limits your options and makes for a potential relapse.
Basically, intermittent fasting makes every day less stressful. It gives you more time to do other tasks than just mulling over the next meal (which actually happens a lot).
Fasting Tips & Tricks
Attempts to break any kind of habit can be challenging and frustrating, but putting a schedule to your meals or skipping breakfast probably are on top of the more challenging ones. But like quitting cigarettes, building a study habit or starting a workout routine, intermittent fasting can be done with the right mindset and discipline.
We’ve heard of people doing 20, 24, or even 36 hour fasts like it’s nothing. But for beginners, it’s advised to at least stick to a 16-hour fast for a week or two, until your body is well-adapted to the changes. If you stop eating at 8pm, you have until 12nn the next day, which makes it easier. You just skip a morning meal.
When you’re left to your own devices with nothing to do, you end up being on your mind a lot. A lot of us cope with boredom in different ways, one of which includes stuffing one’s face with food. When you’re doing a fast, it’s harder to commit to it when you’re not busy. When you find yourself with very little to do in the middle of a fast, try to hit the gym.
Studies show that working out actually suppresses hunger. You think lacking fuel from fasting may hinder you from hitting your numbers at the gym? Think again! Fasted workouts not only help you lose fat and gain muscle faster, but exercising while on a fast also makes you nimbler and more body-aware. If you’re still unconvinced, try out OPTML HIIT to help you out with your reps and sets.
Whenever you’re hungry, there are instances where you experience dizziness, headaches and shakiness. Sometimes, these symptoms manifest so strongly that they induce panic and anxiety as well that you end up reaching for the closest edible object, or head out to a convenience store for a chocolate bar or snack.
When you feel these symptoms, instead of panicking and settling for a snack, just breathe through your nose and drinks lots of water. As somebody who’s only starting their intermittent fasting journey, it’s likely that your body is still adjusting to the changes happening within. Water not only fills you up, but also replenishes whatever fluids you lose while your body performs the needed processes to shift its fuel from glucose to ketogenic bodies.
Eat Filling, High-Protein Foods For Your Last Meal
Just because intermittent fasting doesn’t put any restrictions on the kinds of food you eat, doesn’t mean you can just go all out without facing setbacks and consequences. For your last meal before returning to the fast, make sure that you’re eating filling, nutritionally-dense foods. It helps to include high-protein foods with healthy fats in the mix.
Compared to carb-heavy foods, which have the potential to shoot up your insulin and needlessly expend that fuel into becoming nothing but potential energy (just fat) in your body, proteins take longer to process, which makes you feel full for longer periods of time. You only need to look at carnivorous animals in the jungle to see how high-protein foods keep them lean and strong.
It’s relatively easy to research on ways to improve your health these days, and when you’re lucky enough, you come across methods that don’t only help you lose weight or gain muscle, but also protect you from potential brain diseases and keep your mind sharp. Truly, some methods may work better than others, but intermittent fasting seems to be one of those routines that proves to be flexible enough to work for everyone. Try it out and see for yourself!