Intermittent fasting (IF) can be a beneficial strategy for boosting brain function, stabilizing blood sugar, and reducing inflammation. Yet fasting isn’t a one-size-fits-all tool. By exploring the different IF approaches, benefits, and risks, you can decide which method, if any, is best for you.
Common Types of Fasting:
- TRF.Time-Restricted Feeding (TRF) is one of the major forms of IF. It involves eating as often as you’d like within a defined period, usually between three and 12 hours per day.
- 12/12. This program is the least restrictive TRF protocol. It splits the day into 12 hours of eating and 12 hours of fasting, allowing for a normal eating pattern.
- 16/8. This program is one of the most popular forms of TRF. The 16/8 method involves fasting for 16 hours and consuming all your calories within an 8-hour window each day. A similar but slightly more restrictive plan is the 18/6 method.
- OMAD. One meal-a-day, or OMAD, refers to consuming all your food within one meal daily.
- 5/2. This type of periodic fasting involves eating normally for five days out of the week, then consuming no more than 700 calories on the other two days.
- Alternate Day Fasting. This advanced form of IF calls for eating normally one day, then abstaining from food the next. There is also a modified alternate-day fasting, which allows a small amount of food (<500 calories) on the “fasting” days.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting:
- Supports digestion and gut health. Fasting activates the migrating motor complex (MMC), a digestive mechanism that sweeps undigested material through the GI tract, improving regularity and preventing bacterial overgrowths. Studies also show that IF lowers gut inflammation to help improve GI disorders like Crohn’s disease and IBS.
- Reduces inflammation and oxidative stress. One study showed that those fasting for Ramadan had significant reductions in inflammatory biomarkers. Another study showed that alternate day fasting reduced oxidative stress, which could help us fight off chronic diseases.
- Boosts cognitive function. Fasting can boost mental clarity and cognitive performance. It can also prolong the health span of the nervous system, minimizing the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
- Improves mood. Studies have shown that fasting can have antidepressant effects, which may be explained by increased feel-good neurotransmitters like tryptophan and serotonin in the brain.
- Balances blood sugar levels. One study found that fasting decreased blood sugar by 12% and lowered insulin levels by nearly 53%. Other research shows that fasting can reduce the absorption of bacterial toxins linked to insulin resistance and obesity.
- Promotes weight loss. IF can boost metabolism, enhance metabolic flexibility, and encourage the body to use fat as fuel. However, studies show that calorie restriction is still needed to cause weight loss, even when someone is fasting. So, sticking to a healthy diet is vital.
While there are plenty of benefits of IF, there are some potential risks to be aware of. Unsurprisingly, going through periods without food can cause hunger, which may cause tiredness and weakness. Some may experience GI issues or risk developing nutrient deficiencies by adjusting their regular intake to a smaller time frame. If you have serious health issues, consult a doctor before starting an Intermittent Fasting program.
Tips for Getting Started:
- Start slow. Begin by following a 12-hour fasting window, then work up to more advanced approaches.
- Eat the right foods. It’s a myth that you can still reap the benefits of IF while overloading on calorie-dense, processed foods. Focus on nutrient-dense foods with protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fiber.
- Hydrate adequately. Your body needs sufficient fluid and electrolytes to thrive when fasting.
- Consider fasting cyclically. There are mental and physical benefits to taking a break from IF occasionally.
- Find your reason. Are you seeking weight loss, more balanced blood sugar, lower inflammation, or a reset of your eating habits? If you get clear on your “why,” you’ll fast with intention and be more likely to stick with the plan.
If you are unsure which program is best for your situation, consider talking with your doctor before starting any intermittent fasting “type.”