Intermitted fasting (sometimes the IF abbreviation is used) is not just one particular diet plan. It’s an umbrella term for a variety of trending eating patterns, which may employ different strategies, but all revolve around one basic concept: alternating between periods of fasting and non-fasting.

The reason why the concept is gaining popularity rapidly is that in combination with calorie restriction, it can be an extremely successful weight loss aid.

There is much more to it, however – a while ago, researchers have started actively exploring the effects of intermitted fasting on overall health, and found some amazing benefits of such nutrition plans, including the aforementioned weight normalisation, along with positive changes in health markers such as cholesterol and triglycerides [1].

Given that the concept of intermittent fasting is gaining popularity rapidly [2] and has some apparent health benefits [1], we absolutely couldn’t ignore this topic. Today, we would like to touch on various aspects of this class of diets, weight pros and cons and help you make educated choices in regards to nutrition.

The benefits of intermittent fasting over typical diet plans

It may sound a bit strange for modern first-world people, used to having food supplies readily available 24/7, but here is the thing – to an extent, our bodies may be much more accustomed to intermittent dieting than food abundance.

Throughout evolution, until very recent times, humans have always been fasting routinely – firstly, because food was simply not available (back in the days when we were hunter-gatherers), then because the earlier trends found reflection in cultures and major religions including Islam, Christianity and Buddhism [2].

Modern food industry grows much faster than evolution progresses, and as a result, not everything that’s normal these days can also be considered ideal. Some benefits of intermittent fasting may be confirming that such eating patterns are advisable:

Lose fat and build muscle. We’ve already briefly discussed that you can expect to shed unwanted kilos while maintaining an IF regime [1] – just think how amazing would it be to build some muscle simultaneously…

Wait, that’s actually what happens! Intermittent fasting triggers muscular autophagy, a process responsible for the destruction of cells [3]. Turns out autophagy is a crucial process for muscle mass maintenance and development; blocking of this essential pathway leads to muscle disorders and atrophies [4].

So intermittent fasting can help you burn fat while maintaining and even increasing the muscle mass – a dream of everyone’s, basically.

Increased brain function and mood. Experiencing brain fog and fatigue lately? Intermittent fasting can help! Evidence from multiple animal and human studies suggests that calorie restriction combined with IF may promote improved brain plasticity and enhance learning, memory and mood [5].

Longevity and overall wellbeing. Recent advances in understanding the biology of optimal health and ageing allowed to develop innovative nutritional interventions, which include a combination of calorie restriction, intermittent fasting and certain proportions of macronutrients in the diet [6]. The resulting approach delays ageing and promotes optimal physical and mental health along the way [6].

Different types of intermittent fasting diets

We’ve discussed what intermittent fasting diets have in common – now it’s time to review the most popular ones and elaborate on the differences, so if you try to give the IF approach a go, you won’t get lost in the existing variety, making the best possible choice for your lifestyle.

The 5:2 Diet – to quote the creators, “the 5:2 diet involves restricting your calorie consumption to 25% of your energy (calorie) needs, two days a week, and eating normally the rest of the time”.

The down math is simple – you will consume less calories throughout the week on this plan compared to “normal” intake. Although the diet does not explicitly promote any diet changes other than calorie restriction 2 days a week, the people behind the concept point out that “the fasting days also make us much more aware of what we eat all the time, so we make healthier choices and savour every meal”.

Leangains Diet – this one is targeted towards athletes and fitness junkies, as Leangains combines an intermittent fasting approach with a training plan, conquering the ‘traditional’ eat-regular-meals-every-couple-of-hours bodybuilding approach.

Instead, the intervention promotes considering a bigger picture, simply opting for 30% below caloric maintenance on non-training days while also cutting on carbs. Does it work? Short and sharp: yes.

Eat-Stop-Eat Diet – this plan is tailored for weight loss. Designed by Brad Pilon, who has a background in the sports supplement industry and nutrition, this approach suggests a fast once or twice a week, never fasting on two consecutive days.

Unlike other plans we’ve discussed before, this one promotes strict fasting, encouraging you to take in as few calories as possible – coffee, tea and diet soda are popular staples among the brave ones who ditch the food on “hungry” days completely. The results are quite radical too, as even one fast a week will create an impressive 10% overall calorie deficit!

Alternate-Day Fasting – this one is pretty much self-explanatory: you eat your normal calorie allowance on one day, fast on another…and keep alternating. As strict as it is, the plan works like magic: according to a recent study [7],

16 weeks on this diet resulted in loss of an average of 2.5% of the initial body mass and 4% of the fat mass in normal-weight subjects, which means in overweight individuals the outcomes would likely be even more impressive.

 

Get Started With Intermittent Fasting

If you are interested in giving the innovative intermittent fasting approach a go, the following steps will help you get started and go the distance!

  • Determine your goals. We can’t stress it enough – don’t work towards unreachable perfection fitness magazines’ covers display and find inspiration in something truly important for you instead. Preferably, set a health-oriented goal and don’t put all eggs in the “appearance” basket – how you feel is much more relevant!

  • Choose a suitable plan. Use our guide, do your own research – and pick a plan you can truly stick to for a long time. That’s 50% of success!

  • Time you plan for social events. What do you do if your fasting day coincides with your uncle’s wedding or an unexpected night in town with friends? How will you compensate for those little sins if there is no way to stay on track on a certain occasion? How will you explain your new diet to friends and loved ones? If you think about all those questions beforehand and create strategies to minimise the harm, you’ll save yourself from unnecessary doubt and guilt later on track.

 

  • Learn the tips and tricks. Just like any other diet, intermittent fasting can get tricky at times – hunger is not a pleasant feeling! There are some tricks of the trade to get through the hard days, however. For instance, green tea and coffee suppress appetite in many people while also providing a caffeine hit to improve productivity. Also, don’t forget that water is allowed and highly encouraged – don’t forget to drink plenty, as our bodies tend to mistake thirst for hunger. Next, don’t sit around dreaming about cakes and pastries – keep yourself busy, and the fasting days go by quickly. Lastly, while it’s highly advisable to choose primarily healthy foods, don’t forget to occasionally treat yourself. And no guilt please – life is too short to be too strict on yourself.

Conclusion 

Although, as we’ve discussed in detail, intermittent fasting has numerous health benefits, this approach is clearly not for everyone (for instance, if you have certain health conditions such as diabetes or just can’t stand hints of hunger, general healthy nutrition guidelines or high protein diets may be more suitable for you).

If you’re willing to give it a go, however, make sure to get in contact with a professional personal trainer, who will be able to adjust your training plan accordingly and give you reliable, evidence-based nutrition advice. Seeking advice from a family doctor before going on any kind of diet is also a good idea, especially if you aren’t at perfect health.

We hope you found this article informative! Wishing you all the best in achieving your personal goals.

References

  • Tinsley, G.M. and P.M. La Bounty, Effects of intermittent fasting on body composition and clinical health markers in humans. Nutr Rev, 2015. 73(10): p. 661-74.
  • Gunnars, K. Intermittent Fasting 101 – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide. 2016.
  • Kim, I. and J.J. Lemasters, Mitochondrial degradation by autophagy (mitophagy) in GFP-LC3 transgenic hepatocytes during nutrient deprivation. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol, 2011. 300(2): p. C308-17.
  • Masiero, E., et al., Autophagy is required to maintain muscle mass. Cell Metab, 2009. 10(6): p. 507-15.
  • Murphy, T., G.P. Dias, and S. Thuret, Effects of diet on brain plasticity in animal and human studies: mind the gap. Neural Plast, 2014. 2014: p. 563160.
  • Wahl, D., et al., Nutritional strategies to optimise cognitive function in the aging brain. Ageing Res Rev, 2016.
  • Heilbronn, L.K., et al., Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2005. 81(1): p. 69-73.