Nowadays, it’s hard to keep up with all the diet trends. There are one too many of them, from keto to paleo, and so on — all of them promising to help you lose weight fast, or become superhuman, or whatever. How do you not fall for that promise, right? What’s common among all these trending fad diets, other than the fact that none of them are sustainable in the long run, is that they lack credibility. What a healthy life needs is not another dieting trend but a lifestyle change strategy. So take a step back, take a deep breath, and read all about intermittent fasting, its pros and cons, and if it is suitable for you. A heads-up, intermittent fasting is not a diet.
Fasting is not a new concept. It’s been practiced throughout human evolution. There was no refrigeration or food storage mechanism that would allow our ancient ancestors to eat three meals a day, let alone one! Their body (and therefore, ours) adapted to functioning optimally and endure long periods of not eating.
So, let’s read this again — intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is an eating pattern that includes windows of fasting and eating (also called feating or feeding window). Here fasting means an extended period of NOT eating anything, unlike most traditional Indian fasts that “allow” eating certain types of flours/vegetables/fruits and not some others during the fast! When you’re doing intermittent fasting, you skip a meal(s) on purpose.
There are multiple ways to do intermittent fasting. Every method breaks down the day/week into fasting and eating periods. The most common methods are:
12:12 method: This means you fast for 12 hours and eat in a window of 12 hours. You might already be doing this involuntarily depending on when you eat your dinner! If you have dinner at about 8 pm and have breakfast at 8 am, that’s your 12-hour fast right there and you slept through most of it.
16:8 method: This is the most popular and most sustainable method of intermittent fasting. In this method, you fast for 16 hours and eat in an 8-hour window. Typically, people skip breakfast and make lunch their first meal. But you can adjust the fasting-eating window to suit your lifestyle. For example, if you’re used to working out in the morning, skipping breakfast is not recommended. Instead, you can have an early light dinner the previous night, say between 5-6 pm, and have a post-workout breakfast at 9-10 am. When you do this, you get all three meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — in your eating window, so make sure you’re not overeating. Practice portion control.
5:2 method: In this method, you eat normally for 5 days and consume only 500 to 600 calories on two (non-consecutive) days.
24-hour method: With this method, you fast for 24 hours once or twice a week and eat normally the rest of the days.
You can experiment and adjust the fasting window to increase or decrease the time and see what works best for you, your lifestyle, and your fitness goals. Some people fast for 18, 20, or 22 hours and shrink their eating window to 6 or 4 hours. It’s all about what works for you.
Here’s an explanation without getting all science-y. The idea behind intermittent fasting is when you skip a meal, you consume fewer calories, and thus put your body in fat-burning mode. How? When you eat regular meals, your body uses the food you just ate as fuel for energy. Whereas, when you’re fasting, the lack of external fuel (food) makes your body use stored fat as fuel for energy. It’s as simple as that.
Adaptation! During workouts, your body relies on your glycogen stores to meet the energy demands to fuel the workout. When you’re fasted, your glycogen stores are low, which forces your body to pull fuel from an alternative source of energy, the fat cells. Doing intermittent fasting regularly makes your body adapt to using fat as fuel when deprived of additional calories that you’d consume if you’re not fasting. Hello fat loss!
Although there’s not a lot of research done around this topic, data suggests that intermittent fasting when done properly and regularly can help
Also, it takes less time and money to practice intermittent fasting because there’s one less meal to plan for and prepare. What’s not to love about the simplicity of this method! However, to experience the benefits and health effects, it is important to make exercise a part of your routine.
It’s hard in the beginning: During the initial days of intermittent fasting, your body is just getting used to going from eating throughout the day to not eating (in the fasting window). So it’s natural to feel hungry, low on energy, and even grumpy when you’re fasting. This feeling of grumpiness will subside. Just like any other habit, it takes practice to get used to this new pattern of eating and consistency to see the results.
It’s easy to overeat when breaking the fast: Emotions aside, the temptation to overeat can undo all the good. It’s easy to overeat or go overboard in terms of calories when you eat after a period of fasting. So it’s important to be mindful in the eating window, especially with the meal with which you break the fast, if weight loss is one of your goals. “Lead us not into cravings and temptations” is a constant intermittent fasting prayer to abide by!
It’s easy to go overboard with fasting: Yes, this is in stark contrast to the previous point. But it’s true, especially once you’re used to fasting and end up not eating enough to get faster results. This will do more harm than good. Practice moderation and mindfulness — it works for fasting too.
It requires a strong support network: Intermittent fasting is easier for people with a strong network of social support, especially when managing low-calorie days or fasting windows in the long run. And on the bright side, this is a great opportunity for you to introduce intermittent fasting to your social circle.
During the fasting window – eat nothing. Zero sugar, zero calorie drinks like green tea, black tea, black coffee, and water are absolutely okay.
During the eating window – eat only fresh, nutrient-rich, unprocessed food. This is regardless of what method of fasting you follow.
Drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated holds good whether you’re fasting or not. Drinking water during fasting helps with the hunger pangs too. Most times when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually only thirsty. Quench your thirst and lose some weight!
Foods to add to your grocery list: Avocado, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, potato (not French fries!), chickpeas, rajma, peas, lentils, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, egg, chicken (lean meat), and fish are some of the many options. Convert them into simple, delicious homemade food to stay on track. Discover how you can turn ingredients into interesting meals with simple recipes.
Fruits are good, but don’t break your fast with a fruit. Although healthy, most fruits have a high glycemic index, which means they can spike your blood sugar level quickly. Enjoy a fruit or two later during the day. To break your fast, gentle fruits like papaya, or a combination of fruits and veggies in a smoothie are good options to consider.
You should not do intermittent fasting if you fall under any of the following categories:
If you have any medical condition, check with your doctor before considering intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is in no way a cure-all solution for quick weight loss or other fitness goals and its effects vary for different people. Don’t expect miracles. You know your body best, so make wise choices that work for you.
Most important of all, don’t freak out about not eating for a few hours, your body is capable of much more than you think it is!
Here’s to a happy, healthy you.