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Diets and eating trends have always been a point of contention for some people. There have been a lot of diet trends that have come and gone. Some people have no problem sticking to them, while others struggle to commit to the lifestyle change. Changing the way you eat can be challenging, especially if you’ve eaten this way your whole life. The newest eating plan to pop up is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that switches between fasting and eating regularly. Research shows that intermittent fasting is a way to manage your weight and prevent or reverse some diseases. But how do you fast intermittently, and is it safe?

What is intermittent fasting?

Many diets focus on what to eat, but intermittent fasting is all about when you eat. With intermittent fasting, you only eat during a specific time frame. Fasting for a certain number of hours or eating just one meal a couple of days a week can help your body burn fat. Scientific evidence point to some health benefits as well. Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years. He says that our bodies have evolved to go without food for many hours or even several days. Before humans learned to farm in prehistoric times, they were hunters and gatherers who learned to survive and thrive for long periods without eating. They had to because it took time and energy to hunt game and gather nuts and berries.

Even 50 years ago, it was easier to maintain a healthy weight. Dietician Christie Williams explained that since there were no computers and televisions cut off at 11:00 p.m., people stopped eating because they went to bed. Portions were also smaller and more people worked and played outside, getting more exercise in general. Nowadays, television, the internet, and other entertainment are available around the clock. We stay awake longer at night to watch our favorite shows, play games, and chat online. People are sitting and snacking all day and most of the night. Extra calories and less activity can mean a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses. Studies show that intermittent fasting can help reverse these trends.

How does intermittent fasting work?

There are several different ways to do intermittent fasting, but they’re all based on choosing regular periods to eat and fast. For example, you might try eating only eight hours each day and fast for the remainder. You may also choose to eat only one meal a day, two days a week. There are lots of different intermittent fasting schedules.

After hours without food, the body exhausts its sugar stores. It starts burning fat or metabolic switching—intermittent fasting contrasts with the typical eating pattern for most Americans, who eat throughout their day. If someone is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and they’re not exercising, then every time they eat, they’re running on those calories and not burning their fat stores. Intermittent fasting works by prolonging the period when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal and started burning fat.

Intermittent fasting plans.

It’s essential to check with your doctor before starting intermittent fasting. Once you get the green light, the actual practice is simple. You can pick a daily approach, which restricts daily eating to one six to eight-hour period each day. For example, you can choose to try 16/8 fasting, where you eat for eight hours and fast for 16 hours. Another approach, known as the 5:2 method, involves regularly eating five days a week. You limit yourself to one 500 to 600 calorie meal for the other two days. For example, if you choose to eat regularly every day of the week except for Mondays and Thursdays, which would be your one meal days. More extended periods without food aren’t necessarily better for you and could be dangerous.

Going too long without eating might encourage your body to start storing fat in response to starvation. It can take two to four weeks before the body becomes accustomed to intermittent fasting. You may feel hungry or cranky while getting used to the new routine, but research shows that those who make it through the adjustment period tend to stick to the plan because they notice a difference.

Benefits of I.F.

The intermittent fasting periods do burn more fat. Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even inflammatory bowel disease. Here are some periodic fasting benefits research has revealed so far:

  • Thinking and memory: Studies discovered that intermittent fasting boots working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult humans.
  • Heart health: Intermittent fasting improved blood pressure, resting heart rates, and other heart-related measurements.
  • Physical performance: Young men who fasted for 16 hours showed fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Mice who ate on alternative days showed better endurance while running.
  • Diabetes and obesity: In animal studies, intermittent fasting prevented obesity. In six brief studies, obese adult humans lost weight through intermittent fasting.

Is I.F. safe?

Some people try intermittent fasting for weight management, and others use the method to address chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, or arthritis. Still, intermittent fasting isn’t safe for everyone. Before you try intermittent fasting or any diet, you should first talk to your primary care practitioner. Some people who should steer clear of intermittent fasting include:

  • Children or teenagers under 18
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • People with diabetes or sugar issues
  • Those with a history of eating disorders

People who aren’t in those categories which can do intermittent fasting safely can continue the regimen indefinitely. Keep in mind that intermittent fasting may have different effects on different people. Talk to your doctor if you start experiencing unusual symptoms like anxiety, headaches, nausea, or other symptoms after you start intermittent fasting. More importantly, don’t follow a diet because it’s popular, but do it because you feel like it’s best for you and you’re ready to make the change.

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