Some trends never seem to fade. This is usually because they have been proven to work time and time again, and although they may get tweaked here and there, when you get to the root of it, these popular ideas, things, and practices are the same as they have always been. One of the most timeless practices which has maintained its popularity throughout time is fasting.
When most of us think of the history of fasting, we think of how it has traditionally been used in line with religious ceremonies and practices to show sacrifice, self-discipline, and gratitude. But many don’t know that fasting has also long been used for its health benefits.
Therapeutic fasting has been traced back to the 5th century, when Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, recommended abstaining from food or drink to patients who exhibited specific symptoms of illness. He and many other healers at the time believed fasting enabled the body to heal itself. Later, fasting again saw a rise in popularity in the 19th century in the U.S. and U.K. as part of the Natural Hygiene Movement to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, digestive problems, allergies, and headaches.
Today, the enthusiasm over the benefits of fasting continues. However, this time around, the popular practice has taken a slight twist and has become more commonly referred to as intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting or IF is a new spin-off to traditional fasting. Whether you partake in intermittent fasting or know someone who does, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve heard of it. But what is the difference between regular fasting and intermittent fasting?
Fasting vs Intermittent Fasting
Fasting refers to voluntarily forgoing food and/or drinking calorie-containing liquids for a specified period. Customarily, a fast may last for the entire day or maybe even for several days. However, intermittent fasting typically lasts only several hours, focusing more on the time between meals and patterns, which can be adjusted depending on the person.
There are many versions of intermittent fasting, but one of the most popular is the 16:8 intermittent fasting, otherwise referred to as time-restricted feeding. This 16:8 pattern means during a 24-hour day, you spend 16 hours fasting and the other 8 hours as an intake window when you allow yourself to eat as you normally would. Many enjoy this pattern because it is a safe option that requires minimal effort and is flexible enough to be adjusted to fit your lifestyle.
Generally, most people following this pattern of intermittent fasting choose their intake window between 12 noon and 8:00 pm. The best part about following this schedule is the majority of the time spent fasting is during the night when you are sleeping, making it easy to adhere to; however, this particular schedule also means skipping breakfast.
Did you say skip breakfast? But we’ve been told our whole lives that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and now, we are not supposed to eat breakfast at all?! This is the biggest concern I have heard when it comes to the topic of 16:8 intermittent fasting, and that’s completely understandable. When first hearing this, it does seem like there is conflicting information, especially after the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” mantra has been drilled into our heads to become a foundational nutrition belief.
So, what changed? Honestly, nothing. As we know, science is continually evolving, we are always learning, and everyone’s body is different. We also know there is no perfect diet for everyone. For some, breakfast is necessary to kickstart the day and fuel the body for what’s ahead. For others, going without breakfast provides the effortless opportunity to increase their fat-burning metabolism.
If you’re like me, this schedule for 16:8 intermittent fasting is excellent. I, for one, have never been a breakfast person. I have always found it difficult to eat in the morning, simply because I am rarely hungry in the morning, and often, I find myself rushing out the door. Nevertheless, this doesn’t work for everyone, and as mentioned, the 16:8 pattern is meant to be flexible to your lifestyle. That’s why another popular option is for the eating window to extend from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm, which allows time for all three mealtimes—breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
16:8 Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Regardless of what schedule works for you, intermittent fasting has been shown to have considerable health benefits. Some of these include:
- Improved Blood Lipids (Fats)
- Increased Cellular Turnover
- Reduced Blood Pressure
- Reduced Inflammation
- Increased Fat Burning and Metabolic Rate
- Improved Appetite Control
- Improved Cardiovascular Function
- Increased Growth-Hormone Release
- Reduced Oxidative Stress
- Reduced Resting Heart Rate
- Increased Ketone Production
- Increased Insulin Sensitivity
- Improved Leptin Sensitivity (which is directly tied to hunger, body fat, and obesity)
- Reduced Body Weight and Visceral (Belly) Fat
- Increased Longevity
- Increased Parasympathetic (i.e., the Automatic Nervous System) Activity
How to Prepare for Intermittent Fasting
First off, to get started, simply begin by picking an eight-hour window that works for you as your intake period. Typically, most people choose to eat as they regularly would during this time, but if this is your first time fasting, you can try eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day to help even out blood sugar levels and keep hunger under control during your eating window.
Further, 16:8 intermittent fasting is not a substitute for other aspects of a healthy lifestyle. If you want to get the full benefits of your fast, try consuming nutritious whole foods and beverages during your eating periods.
Additionally, taking the following steps to prepare properly can lead to a more successful 16:8 fast:
1. Meal Prep
Knowing what you’re going to eat during your next mealtime makes it easier to adhere to your plan and avoid unconscious eating.
2. Track Your Progress
The purpose of any change in your lifestyle or diet should be to get you closer to feeling your best. When intermittent fasting, try to keep track of your mood, feelings, energy, and appetite, so you can see how your body is reacting and changing.
It is important to stay hydrated, especially through a fast. Keeping hydrated can keep your body functioning optimally and help reduce hunger during your fasting window.
4. Create a Fast-Friendly Environment
You want to set yourself up to be as successful as possible. When in your fasted state, create an environment that promotes your fast and try to avoid situations that will tempt you to break it early.
All things considered, 16:8 intermittent fasting can be an easy, obtainable way for people to take control of their health and begin their journey to feeling their best. If you decide to begin your exploration into intermittent fasting or want to learn more about the benefits of intermittent fasting, other’s experiences, or more about how intermittent fasting works, be sure to check out the other great articles on our blog.