Over the past few years, Intermittent Fasting has surfaced across several social media platforms and is deemed to be one of the most effective and creative techniques to reach the pinnacle of one’s health whilst losing excess fat. For the uninitiated, intermittent fasting is a pattern that revolves around specific periods of fasting and eating. Its central premise specifies not what to eat, rather when to eat it. Experts define this type of fasting as a lifestyle as opposed to a rigid diet, they deem this to be more natural than our conventional three or more meals per day. There are various versions of intermittent fasting, the most common being the 16/8 method, which involves restricting one’s eating period to 8 hours and then fasting for 16 hours.
The fasting allows for increased levels of Human Growth Hormone to be produced, researchers claim that it could increase by up to 5-fold after a fasting period of 2 days. This is a natural method to help with fat loss and muscle gain, with virtually no side effects. Furthermore, this hormone aids in the maintenance of lean mass, both muscle and bone. Secondly, fasting is proven to have lasting effects regarding insulin and blood sugar levels. It has been found that blood sugar can drop by 6% while fasting, thus, offering protection against Type 2 Diabetes. It has also been seen through research in rats that fasting protects against kidney damage, one of the most severe complications in diabetes. Although the central premise is when to eat as opposed to what to eat, we would always advise being mindful about eating and understanding that, in the long run, a plant-based diet is the most effective. In many ways, people are consistently looking for “easy, cheat ways” to lose weight and achieve a healthy body. But, the reality is, that one simply cannot achieve a healthy body without relying on a vegan lifestyle.
Research has also found that intermittent fasting alters the function of cells and genes. The body induces several essential growth and repair processes, such as autophagy, the removal of waste products from cells, while it is fasting. This primarily involves breaking down dysfunctional proteins that build up in our cells over time, this is shown to lend protection against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also shown that fasting can reduce the side-effects caused by chemotherapy. Furthermore, the changes in gene expression are said to offer protection against diseases and lead to longevity and better quality of life in one’s later years. To simply put it, when we live our conventional lifestyle with an average of 3 meals, our body is far too occupied with digesting all the food to focus on the growth and repair of cells. By fasting, we train our body to accept food for a stipulated period of time, allowing the body to focus on growth during other times of the day.
Experts claim that intermittent fasting may be beneficial for heart health, which is currently the world’s biggest killer, estimated to cause 17.9 million deaths every year. As aforementioned, intermittent fasting can improve numerous risk factors that are known to cause cardiovascular diseases, such as cholesterol levels and triglycerides, thereby, reducing the chances of getting heart diseases. Another notable aspect of this is that Intermittent Fasting is also seen in an Ancient Indian Religion known as Jainism. The scriptures say that one should have their last meal before 6.30 pm and first meal at around 9.30 am. Through this, we can see that fasting is a lifestyle prescribed by many experts, both in science and more philosophical oriented domains.
Some noteworthy effects of fasting are those that are seen on the brain. The new cells and disease-fighting capabilities that are developed allow a person to think with greater clarity, allowing for further focus and extended attention span. A study even went to show that a ‘sensible’ fitness regime goes a long way in reducing depression and anxiety levels, also increase serotonin levels in the body, enabling the person to feel happier than usual. However, an important aspect to note in this is the use of ‘sensible’ in the study by Yocheved Golani, a Health Information Management professional. In this case, it is evident that it refers to an eating plan that caters specifically to an individual’s body as opposed to a generic ‘One-size fits all’ type of meal plan. So, from this, we can deduce that in order to avail these literally ‘mind-altering’ benefits of fasting, it needs to be done carefully with guidance from an expert. The real key here is the presence of a plant-based meal plan, that way, you are able to reap the benefits from both the vegan lifestyle and intermittent fasting.
Given all the aforementioned arguments, it seems that intermittent fasting is a method to guarantee weight loss and several other benefits while minimising the negative effects caused by common prescription drugs. However, fasting is, in essence, abstaining from food; given the lasting effects of abstinence from food, there must be some negative side effects of fasting on our body. It could result in increased cortisol levels - the primary stress hormone - as fasting can be perceived as stress on the body due to food deprivation for long periods of time. This leads to an increase in fat stores. Furthermore, studies have also shown that intermittent fasting can hinder one’s fitness goals by reducing energy levels or causing one to run out of glycogen stores.
To wrap up, it is evident that Intermittent Fasting has numerous benefits, detached from the aspects of vanity, it also offers protection against diabetes and several fatal diseases. Having said that, the effectiveness of this regime depends on various factors and this lifestyle is definitely tricky for beginners. In my opinion, with any fitness or dietary regime, the main aim is to make it a sustainable lifestyle in order to maintain health benefits and dodge the adverse effects that are presented by the rigorous fitness practices.
By Saanchi Shah
Edited by Cissy So