What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Are you planning to try Intermittent fasting as it does not restrict your calorie intake? But, is it effective for weight loss? Read on to know more about this natural way of eating and its benefits!

By Luke Coutinho

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting simply refers to the gap between two meals. If you have had an early dinner and then slept through without eating anything else, then the time between dinner and breakfast the next morning is the intermittent fasting period. Yes, you have been practising this regularly – just without realising it! This kind of fasting has several advantages when done in a disciplined and structured manner. So let us learn what intermittent fasting is all about and discuss its varied benefits. 

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) involves embracing a period of fasting followed by feasting on purpose. Since ancient times, this type of fasting has been one of the most powerful tools for overall well-being – physically, emotionally as well as spiritually. Various types of fasts (known as vrats, nirjala in Hindi) are mentioned in religious books, and many communities have been following these practices for ages. The traditional practice of fasting during the month of Ramadan is also similar to intermittent fasting.

Why is intermittent fasting gaining popularity?

Although intermittent fasting has gained so much popularity only recently, fasting has actually been a way of living for the longest time. It is one of the most natural ways of living, which is why it can be rightly called the Lifestyle Diet. Totally aligned to nature and our biological clock, it respects our body’s elimination and building phases.

Considering today's faulty lifestyle, and that we have access to so much food at all times, our digestive systems are working round the clock busy digesting food. We are constantly eating, whereas our body isn’t meant to do that at all. This has led to innumerable conditions like high blood sugar, acidity, poor gut health, low immunity, slow healing, faster ageing than normal pace, hormonal disturbances, weight gain, inflammation, low energy, impaired sleep, fatigue, etc.

While medicines hold their own importance in looking after these conditions, sometimes all we need to do is step back and give the body what it really needs.

People from all over the world report miraculous improvements in their health owing to intermittent fasting – better energy levels, skin, hair and sleep; lesser pains and aches; lower levels of inflammation; strong immunity; and better control over blood sugar, weight and hormones. You name it and fasting has its place when it comes to healing!

The effects of fasting are not just limited to our body; our mind and soul experience the positive benefits too. Intermittent fasting improves spiritual health because meditation is most fruitful on an empty stomach. One can meditate best when the digestive system and its communication with the brain function are given complete rest.

How does intermittent fasting work?

Fasting is a very natural phenomenon for all of us. Seven to eight hours of sleep is a period of fasting anyway! Our body automatically puts us in a state of fasting to allow detoxification. The dirt in the corners of our eyes, the unpleasant smell of our mouth and the warmth and acidity of our first urine when we wake up, are all signs of our body successfully detoxifying itself at night.

Every human body goes through two phases – an Elimination or Detoxification phase and a Building phase. During sleep, our body enters the detoxification phase. This is how our body and nature are designed. Throughout this phase, our body is busy detoxifying, cleaning, repairing, rejuvenating and rebuilding. After successful detoxification, comes the building phase, where our cells are receptive to nutrition. They act like a sponge that is ready to receive nutrition, vitamins, energy and trace minerals. Intermittent fasting works because it respects and honours the importance of these two phases.

What happens when we eat during the elimination phase?

If you eat during the elimination phase, it impacts our health, immunity, gut, weight and energy levels in a negative way. This is because our digestive system takes up about 80 percent of our body’s energy leaving only 20 percent for other bodily processes like repair, recovery, healing and growth. Also, if we are constantly eating, we are making our digestive system work 24x7, which means there is hardly any energy left for important processes like healing and repair.

Thus, a temporary shutdown of our digestive system by observing an intermittent fast allows all the energy to be diverted towards healing us and resetting the health of every single cell in our body.

Intermittent fasting is where immunity builds, the gut heals, cellular wastes are removed, inflammation is reduced and the muscles grow and repair. This is precisely why one feels better after fasting because we give our body exactly what it needs at the right time.

How to do intermittent fasting?

The structure of fasting is very simple. For instance, if you decide to start your intermittent fast by 6-7 in the evening with an intention to break after 12 hours, then you fast till 6-7 the next morning, or perhaps go on until 8 or 9 am, till your body allows you to.

What to eat and drink during the intermittent fasting plan?

During the fasting period, do not eat anything. You can only drink water (room temperature or lukewarm), as much as you want, and nothing else. If one wishes to have cold water, then water from mud/clay pots works the best. No tea, coffee, green tea, herbal tea, lemon water, infused water, fruit or vegetable juice is allowed.

Break your fast with some lemon water, followed by fruits, dates and then begin your building phase after half an hour. During this phase, you can eat what your body needs, keeping your health goals in mind.

However, it is crucial that you do not overeat or starve. Avoid diving into the building phase suddenly; instead break the fast gradually. It is important to respect both the elimination as well as the building phase.

Watch this video where Luke Coutinho talks about intermittent and dry fasting!

Types of intermittent fasting

Largely, there is only one way of practising intermittent fasting, which is completely abstaining from eating food for a specific period of time (elimination phase) followed by resuming eating for a specific period of time (building phase).

However, the duration of the elimination and building phases can change from person to person based on multiple factors.

Some of the common methods of intermittent fasting are:

16X8 method:

The most popular method of intermittent fasting is 16X8, which means 16 hours of the elimination phase and 8 hours of the building phase.

12X12 method:

If you are a beginner, it is advisable to start slow and observe the 12X12 method, which means a 12-hour fasting window and a 12-hour building window.

After some practice, even the 16 hours fasting becomes so easy that you may, then, be able to launch into the 24-hour water fast that is undeniably fantastic for immunity, weight and everything else.

Intermittent fasting for weight-loss? Is this type of fasting good for health?

It is normal to lose weight during IF because it is sort of a calorie-restricting way of eating; however, one mustn’t attempt intermittent fasting with an intention to lose weight. Our intention must be to discipline ourselves and our eating patterns. It helps us learn how to listen to our body and eat only when our body truly asks for nutrition. So it is common to wake up feeling full and it is absolutely okay to respect that. Do not force feed if you do not want to eat breakfast because it’s a sign that your body is still in the elimination phase.

With fasting, you enable your body to eliminate toxins more effectively – and lesser the toxins, more effective is the fat burning process.

So, there are bigger reasons to fast instead of just focusing on weight loss. It helps us change our lifestyles, which honestly is a sustainable shift. If we fast only with an intention to lose weight, then it blinds us from changing our lifestyles (root cause), and chances are that we might put on the lost weight (if not more) back again once we move out of fasting.

Practice intermittent fasting because you want to heal, repair, recycle, detoxify and learn discipline. Weight loss will always be an added benefit anyway!

Can IF be used to shed post-pregnancy weight?

It is important to keep in mind that intermittent fasting is not a fad diet or a quick fix to lose weight. And, one must understand that post-pregnancy, a mother’s body prepares itself to feed and nurture the baby. So, fasting in order to shed off pregnancy weight would be fighting against nature because at that moment the body’s only goal is to focus on effective lactation and not losing weight. If a mother respects every phase of motherhood and follows a healthy lifestyle, then the body will shed off the excess weight naturally.

Can exercise be done during intermittent fasting?

Exercise is a personal choice; however, it’s best to complement IF with gentler forms of exercise, especially if you are beginning your fasting journey. Besides, there are many who experience better performance during workouts due to a surge in their energy levels.

What does intermittent fasting do to your body?

It’s common to experience certain symptoms during intermittent fasting, which are nothing but signs that the fasting is effective. Acidity, migraines and headaches are some of the common symptoms. Rarely, a person could also experience fever, rash/breakout or low blood pressure, but it is important to not give up at this point because this is an indication that the body is successfully detoxifying.

Is fasting recommended for breastfeeding moms?

IF is not recommended for a breastfeeding mother, as her body’s nutritional demands are at its peak during that phase. It's best to observe intermittent fasting once she stops breastfeeding. However, if a mother knows how to balance her nutrition well during the feeding and building phase, then she can start intermittent fasting during the later stages of breastfeeding, that is when she is almost in the process of weaning. 

Who should not follow intermittent fasting?

  • Pregnant women
  • Lactating mothers
  • Underweight individuals
  • Certain cases where a person is on water restrictions
  • Individuals who are extremely weak and febrile

As for people enduring cancer, while IF is an effective process, it totally depends on the stage of cancer, kind of chemo, radiation and how a patient is placed between cycles. So, it has to be extremely personalised according to your current situation. 

Is IF a diet plan or an eating pattern? Does it have any negative effects?

Intermittent fasting is one of the most natural ways of eating. It is actually not even fasting or dieting. It’s just an eating pattern that’s closest to nature and our biological clock. So, it’s a very safe practice.

However, one must be extremely careful to understand the science and principle behind this to do it the right way. It is imperative to know all the dos and don’ts during the fasting period and how to break it the right way. One must listen to their body and adjust the fasting and feeding windows accordingly. Do note that it is disastrous to drink tea/coffee during intermittent fasting because these are extremely acidic beverages to put into the system, that too on an empty stomach. If intermittent fasting is practised as a fad, then it can have negative effects.

What is dry fasting? Can you combine it with IF?

Dry fasting is when you stop drinking water for a specific period. Dry fasting is recommended for the regeneration and repair of cells.

One can combine dry fasting with intermittent fasting. It is called Integrated fasting. To observe this, one starts with dry fasting and gradually moves into intermittent fasting when comfortable. However, it’s not recommended for everyone.

So, that was a detailed look into what intermittent fasting is all about. Armed with this information, you can now decide whether to try out this method of fasting or not!

Also read: Is Keto Diet Right For Weight Loss?

The author Luke Coutinho is a holistic lifestyle coach – Integrative Medicine

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