Intermittent fasting for health and fat loss – a beginner’s guide

intermittent fasting

Want to know how intermittent fasting can transform your health? How it can help you lose weight fast even without exercising? How it can help you lower you blood sugar and lower your blood pressure?

Yes? Then keep reading. This is not hype, it’s not theory, it’s real.

Sooner or later, everything old is new again.

– Stephen King

Fasting is not some new, mind-boggling discovery, it’s been around forever. I’m not sure there is any Nigerian who hasn’t heard about fasting. Most of us know about it in a religious context. In the bible, Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. Major religions the world over encourage their adherents to fast for spiritual benefits.

But people don’t really think about fasting in terms of health benefits.

intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting – don’t eat!

I have been doing intermittent fasting (IF) for a few years now and it has been wonderful for my health. I’ve lost weight and kept it off. I have more energy, I feel more alert and awake during the day and I sleep better at night.
Intermittent fasting has become my default daily setting.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting means choosing not to eat or drink anything containing calories for several hours or days. It is not starvation, it is not a diet but a way of eating (or not eating 😉 ).

The main focus of intermittent fasting is on when to eat . For years there’s been mountains of advice about what you should be eating, most of it heavily influenced by big food producers in the United States, but that’s a story for another day!

US Department of agriculture food pyramid
The (extremely flawed) optimal human diet according to the US Department of Agriculture from 1992-2005

There hasn’t been much talk about when you should eat. What you eat is also important in intermittent fasting, more so for some people than others.

Assuming you eat dinner at 8pm and you don’t eat again until 8am the next day, you have fasted for 12 hours. After all, what is breakfast? It’s the morning meal that breaks your nightly fast.

So you can see that (unless you’re a midnight-snacker) most of us fast for a good number of hours every day without even thinking about it.

How does intermittent fasting work for weight (fat) loss?

Every time you eat or drink your body produces a hormone (chemical messenger) called insulin. Insulin’s job is to push the food you have eaten into your cells as fast as possible, to be used as fuel or to be used for other bodily functions. Any food you don’t use immediately is converted to fat and stored.

If you’re not eating, your body does not produce much insulin so there is no fat storage. To survive, your body release 2 other hormones called growth hormone and glucagon. These messengers tell the body to use the fat that is already stored in your body and burn it for energy.

Lose fat with intermittent fasting
Who doesn’t want to burn fat?

Yippee! That’s what we all want isn’t it? Yes it is.

Intermittent fasting for insulin resistance

One of the most damaging states your body can be in is one of insulin resistance. Many of the chronic diseases we suffer from in the modern world have been linked to insulin resistance. This includes:

  • Type 2 diabetes (the end point of insulin resistance)
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Alzheimer’s dementia – ” Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.”

Intermittent fasting can help increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin.

But you have to keep eating and drinking to keep your energy levels up

Constant snacking – time for a tea break

Ummmm…. not really.

As long as our eyes are open, our mouths are open.

-Dr. Sachin Panda, renowned circadian rhythm researcher

Each time you eat, especially if it’s sugary, processed or very starchy food, your body releases lots of insulin. The idea is to get the food out of your blood stream as quickly as possible and into your cells.

Seeing as you’re not going to use all that food immediately, your body stores it as fat, ready for when you need it.

Your blood sugar crashes and you start feeling irritable and uncomfortable and hungry again. Then you start looking for something else to eat and the cycle starts all over again.

Because you’re eating constantly, your body never gets a chance to use up the energy that’s already stored away as fat. You just keep adding to your fat stores.

Intermittent fasting helps you to break that cycle. Not eating allows your body to use the fat that you have stored away for energy.

What are the advantages of intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is FREE.

Intermittent fasting can save you money.

In fact it may even save you money. If you eat fewer meals you may end up spending less money on food. If you are on a tight budget you may be able to spend the same amount of money on food while increasing the quality of your food. This may include being able to buy more nutritious food like meat and vegetables.

Cutting out the numerous snacks during the day – buns, puff puff, groundnuts, biscuits, sweets, chocolates, soft drinks e.t.c. will definitely save you money.

Also you don’t need to buy any special shakes, pills or supplements.

Intermittent fasting is simple

Really. Don’t eat. How much simpler can it get? You can drink water, tea or coffee without sugar or milk. Some people drink bone broth. Technically speaking, bone broth does break a fast, but it can help you initially to adjust to fasting.

Intermittent fasting is flexible

You can start when you want and stop whenever you choose. Fasting can fit into your lifestyle and around your commitments.
You can choose not to fast if you’re going for a party or if it’s your child’s birthday or you’re going out with friends. Fasting is useful if you’re travelling (avoid traveller’s diarrhoea and having to poop in the bushes!).You can fast through the day and then eat with your family in the evening.

You can fast and still have a family and social life.
What works for you will be different from what works for someone else. You choose.

Intermittent fasting saves time

You spend less time planning and thinking about what to eat.
You spend less time shopping for food and less time cooking it. The time you spend eating can be put to good use elsewhere.
If you’re not cooking and eating then there’s no mess to clear up.

You will be more productive

Pleasurable as it is, food can be a huge distraction. After the initial adjustments, you may find that you get more done in your everyday life when you’re fasting.

I have been known to clean the house when I’m fasting. I also get more done on this blog when I’m fasting.

But breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

You don’t have to eat breakfast.

Is it really? I confess. I used to be a breakfast evangelist myself, but not anymore. Personally, I rarely eat breakfast. We’ve become almost brainwashed into thinking that:

  • We must eat 3 meals a day
  • We have to snack throughout the day to keep up our energy levels
  • Skipping meals is dangerous

Says who? You don’t have to start eating the moment you roll out of bed.

If you are a breakfast person, I have good news for you.
You can still do intermittent fasting. You can choose to have breakfast and skip dinner.
See what I mean about intermittent fasting being flexible?

Why not eat less and exercise more?

Let’s be honest. I’ve tried that, you’ve tried that. How did it work out? Not well I’m guessing. Otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

And I would still be drinking fat-free milk (yuck!)… trying to count calories instead of making delicious, full fat yoghurt. And living in tracksuit bottoms…because I was working out for about 2 hours every day!

Trying to eat small low-fat meals and exercise a lot may work for a little while. Then it stops working. Your body adapts to survive.
You’re hungry all the time and you don’t have the energy to exercise. You put all the weight back on and a little bit more.

Maybe I’m supposed to be this big, you tell yourself. After all, it’s normal to “have body” (i.e. to be plump) in your 40’s. This is too much stress. And you give up. And dive into a tub of your favourite ice cream or a packet of double chocolate chip cookies (my preferred poison in those days).

Health benefits of intermittent fasting

3 popular ways to do intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is a cycle of eating and not eating. The period during which you eat is called your feeding window.

There are many different regimens (or protocols) for intermittent fasting. These are 3 of the most popular.

16:8 intermittent fasting (Time-restricted eating (TRE))

You have an 8 hour feeding window.

Here you fast for 16 hours of the day. Then you have a feeding window of 8 hours during which you eat. Anything which you eat or drink must be taken during your 8 hour feeding window, apart from permitted fluids like water. The hours you sleep during the night can also count towards the 16 hours of fasting.

Some people still eat 3 meals during the 8 hour eating window but it is more common to eat less food than usual during the feeding window.

Time restricted eating is possibly the most popular form of fasting. Many people skip breakfast and start eating around lunch time.

One meal a day (OMAD) intermittent fasting (23:1)

Some people may call this a 24 hour fast. Strictly speaking you fast for less than 24 hours. In OMAD fasting, you basically….eat one meal a day. This means you’re fasting for about 23 hours each day. You have about 1 hour to eat. It is difficult to eat 3 meals in this small eating window. So you would naturally be eating less food.

Alternate day intermittent fasting

Here you eat one day then fast the next day and eat the day after. This usually gives you at least 36 hours of fasting depending on what time of the day you eat.

The great thing about intermittent fasting is that it is very flexible. You can always try different types to see which one gives you the results that you want.

Have you heard of intermittent fasting for weight loss and better health? Have you tried it? What has been your experience? Please let me know in the comments.

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