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Belly fat and being overweight are real concerns not only for Americans but people all over the world. It’s associated with several health risks, including heart disease, increased blood pressure, and a spike in blood sugar levels. That’s why people are always looking for effective ways to lose weight. One strategy that’s become popular in recent years is intermittent fasting. It involves regular, short-term fasts or for long periods when you eat few or no calories. Proponents of intermittent fasting claim that it promotes weight loss and weight management while helping to control insulin levels and maintain muscle mass. But, does it really work, and is it safe? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat rather than what to eat. It requires that you only eat during a specific time. With intermittent fasting, you eat just one meal a couple of days a week or fast for several hours each day.

The lifestyle we live in right now has contributed hugely to weight gain and lack of exercise. Just 50 years ago, life was so different. With no computers to keep people glued to the screen all day and no TVs to turn off late at night, people played outside more, hence getting more exercise.

But now, with TV, the internet, smartphones, and other forms of readily available entertainment, people stay awake longer while watching their favorite shows. Instead of playing outside, we play online and chat with friends. All these, while we sit and snack all day and night. The end result – excess calories that eventually increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease.

Intermittent fasting can help reverse that.

How Intermittent Fasting Works

Intermittent fasting is unlike a normal eating pattern where you eat throughout when you’re awake. Intermittent fasting prolongs the period when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal and starts to burn fat.

With normal eating, that is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and not exercising, every time you eat, you’re running on those calories, and not burning the fat stored.

There are various ways to accomplish intermittent fasting, but all methods involve choosing regular eating and fasting periods. The most common methods include:

  • 5:2 Fasting – also known as alternate day fasting, involves regular eating for five days a week and then limiting yourself to a 500 or 600 calorie meal on the next two days for women and men respectively. The fasting days are of your choosing. The idea is that short bursts of fasting will keep your weight in check. If you get hungry on a fast day, you just have to look forward to tomorrow when you can indulge however like. However, nutritionists caution against engaging in endurance exercises on fast days.
  • Time-restricted (Leangains) fasting – this involves setting an eating window every day and fasting for 14 to 16 hours. For example, you can take meals from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and fast during the remaining hours of the day.
  • Whole-day fasting – here, you eat once a day. So you can choose which meal to take between lunch and dinner and not eat again until the next day’s lunch or dinner.
  • Overnight fasting – involves fasting for 12 hours every day. For example, if you eat dinner at 7 p.m., you will resume eating at 7 a.m. (breakfast) the next morning.

When you begin intermittent fasting, it might take your body two to four weeks to adapt to the new eating style. Some of the side effects of intermittent fasting include feeling cranky and hungry during the process. However, research shows that people who make it through the adjustment period tend to stick with the intermittent plan after noticing they are feeling, and getting better.

Intermittent fasting may be a more effective way to burn fat. It’s not exactly a diet, but a timed approach to eating. The main reason why this type of fasting works is because it helps you eat fewer calories. Regardless of the plan you choose, you skip meals during the fasting period.

Unless you compensate by overeating during the non-fasting periods, you’ll be consuming fewer calories. Several studies have proved that intermittent fasting can reduce body weight by 3-8 percent within 3-4 weeks. Put another way, you may lose around 0.55-1.65 pounds (0.25-0.75 kg) per week.

Weight loss is not the only benefit of intermittent fasting. Other benefits include:

  • reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,
  • improving your metabolic health,
  • improving your physical performance,
  • boosting your thinking and memory, and
  • prevention of obesity and diabetes.

Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?

The thing is, our metabolism works in different ways. So, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. Nutritionists recommend checking with your primary care practitioner before trying any intermittent fasting plan.

Having said that, certain groups should steer clear of intermittent fasting. These include children and teens under the age of 18, pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with a history of eating disorders, and people with blood sugar problems.

All images by Shutterstock

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