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You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting (IF) by now. This form of fasting is an eating pattern involving cycles of fasting and non-fasting. Proponents of intermittent fasting say that it can lead to weight loss, increased energy levels, and improved mental clarity. But does intermittent fasting work? And are the benefits of intermittent fasting worth the potential risks? Let’s take a closer look.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

Intermittent fasting does not specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. The most common method of intermittent fasting is the 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and eating only during an 8-hour window. Other common eating plans include the 5:2 diet, in which you follow a normal eating plan for five days per week and restrict your calories to 500-600 on the other two days, and the Warrior Diet, in which you eat small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and then have a large meal at night.

There are a few possible explanations for how intermittent fasting works.

  • To begin with, it may simply lower your overall calorie intake. When you fast, you are naturally less inclined to eat, which can decrease your overall consumed calories. 
  • Fasting can also increase the level of norepinephrine, which increases metabolism.
  • It has been suggested that intermittent fasting can reduce insulin levels, which can increase fat burning and weight loss.

While more research is needed to understand exactly how intermittent fasting works, it is clear that it can be an effective tool for those seeking weight loss and improved health.

The Pros of Intermittent Fasting

There are a few potential benefits associated with intermittent fasting. These are some of the main pros:

1. Weight loss

One of the most common reasons people try intermittent fasting is for weight loss. And there is some research to support this claim. One study found that participants who followed an alternate-day fasting plan lost an average of 3-8% of their body weight over a period of 2-12 weeks. However, it’s important to note that not all studies have shown such positive results.

2. Increased energy levels

Some people also find that their energy levels increase when they intermittent fast. This could be because your body has to burn through stored glycogen (a type of sugar) for energy while fasting. Once your glycogen stores are depleted, your body starts to burn fat for energy, which can lead to increased energy levels.

3. Improved brain health

Another potential benefit of intermittent fasting is it encourages autophagy. Autophagy is a process where the brain clears out old and damaged cells and detoxifies the brain. Issues with autophagy have been linked to a number of mental disorders and cognitive decline.

Intermittent fasting has also been linked to improved brain health. Studies have shown that this eating patterncan help to increase levels of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that helps to support the growth and development of nerve cells.

Overall, intermittent fasting has been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against age-related cognitive decline.

4. Easy to follow

One of the great things about intermittent fasting is that it’s relatively easy to follow. There are various ways to do it, and you can tailor it to fit your lifestyle and preferences. This also means that people are more likely to stick to it and achieve their weight loss goals.

5. Can reduce inflammation

Inflammation is a natural process that occurs when your body’s white blood cells and immune system work to protect you from infection or injury. However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can lead to a variety of health problems, such as heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. Intermittent fasting has been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body.

The Cons of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting isn’t right for everyone, and there are some potential risks associated with this type of eating pattern, including:

1. Blood sugar imbalances

For those who have diabetes or prediabetes, you should talk to your doctor before trying intermittent fasting as it could cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low.

2. Disrupted sleep

Intermittent fasting could also disrupt sleep if not careful. For example, if you start your fasting window too late in the day, you may feel hungry in the middle of the night and unable to fall back asleep. This can lead to sleep deprivation, which can harm your overall health.

3. Could encourage disordered eating

One of the key aspects of intermittent fasting is restricting food intake for specific periods of time. Unfortunately, this can trigger disordered eating patterns and lead to feelings of deprivation and anxiety.

What’s more, as mentioned earlier, intermittent fasting can also lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can be dangerous for those struggling with an eating disorder.

4. Dehydration

One of the side effects of intermittent fasting is dehydration. Just after eating, your body is in a “fed state.” In this state, your body’s insulin levels are high, storing calories as fat. When you’re in a “fasted state,” your body’s insulin levels are low, burning stored fat for energy.

This process can lead to dehydration because it causes your body to excrete more water than it takes in. When dehydrated, your body doesn’t have enough water to function properly. This can cause various symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, and dizziness.

What Is the Impact on Mental Health?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the effects of intermittent fasting on mental health can vary depending on the individual. For example, some people find that fasting improves their mood and concentration, while others may find it increases anxiety and irritability.

There is increasing evidence that it can be beneficial to brain health. However, whether it will benefit an individual’s mental health will vary from person to person.

Final Thoughts

Whether or not intermittent fasting is suitable for anyone depends on a variety of factors. With any change of diet or eating plan, it is always best to talk to a doctor or dietician first and ensure you understand the potential risks involved. Additionally, be sure to listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel while doing it.

Ultimately, only you can decide whether the benefits of intermittent fasting outweigh the potential issues.