If you are looking to try a new diet and change your lifestyle, then you have likely heard of the highly popularized diet, intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting, restricted eating, or intermittent energy restriction, is a diet when you only eat within a certain timeframe. There are multiple methods of intermittent fasting, where you might find yourself not eating for a full 24 hours. Following a fasting plan can allow your body to trigger a mechanism called metabolic switching. Metabolic switching is when your body switches its energy source from glucose to fat. If you are looking to follow a fasting diet plan, you may want to consider using a tracker app like CareClinic to help you along the way. One of the many positives to a fasting diet is that it can help improve your health and lifestyle.
Since intermittent fasting has become popularized, people consider it to be a fad diet. However, fasting is an age-old ancient tradition that was practiced by our ancestors and hunters and gatherers. It is considered to be one of the most healing traditions and has been practiced by almost every culture and religion around the world. Aside from weight loss, there are many other health benefits to fasting. For instance, fasting is believed to improve mental concentration, prolong life, prevent Alzheimer’s, prevent insulin resistance, and anti-ageing.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a prolonged period or a window where you do not consume any food. It is a patterned diet where a person is restricted to a window of time where they can eat, it is also referred to as cycle eating or intermittent energy restriction. During the eating window, a person would have a reduced calorie intake, restrict the number of calories they eat, or not eat for 24 hours. With intermittent fasting, you are not told what you can eat, but importance is placed on when you can eat. In the eating window, you do not make up the lost calories or eat unhealthy foods, such as fried foods and carbohydrates. For those who are looking to lose weight, they may follow a diet plan with intermittent fasting such as, the recommended Mediterranean diet, or another popular diet such as the keto diet or low-carb diet. Those who follow or advocate the intermittent fasting diet believe that it is easier to maintain compared to a traditional calorie-controlled diet.
Types of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting can be considered an umbrella term, as there are many methods you can choose from to follow.
Also known as the Fast Diet, this approach is considered to be one of the most popular methods. It involves eating normally for five days (where you do not count calories), and then the other two days require calorie restrictions: 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men. The two days do not have to be back to back, and the short period of fasting keeps people compliant. It is more difficult for people to cut back or reduce their calories on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to just two days. If they feel really hungry on a ‘fast day’, they have the next day to look forward to.
It is important to note, however, that on the fasting days you do not engage in a lot of endurance exercise. If you train for any marathons, such as running or biking, you may want to work your fast days around your training.
Also known as the 12 hour fast, this method is usually typically the easiest and is helpful for those who are beginners and who are looking to start a fasting diet. You would fast for 12 hours and have a longer eating window (i.e. 10-12 hours). If your last meal is at 7:00 pm or 8:00 pm and you do not eat until the next day at 8:00 am, you already fast for 12 hours. Although this method is the easiest to follow as you do not need to eliminate a meal, it is the lowest amount of time recommended for fasting benefits. It does not allow you to maximize the full advantages of fasting especially if you are looking to use it for weight loss. This is because having a larger eating window makes it more difficult to reduce calories for your body to start the metabolic switch.
With time-restricted fasting, people need to decide on and stick to a fasting window every day. This timeframe can range depending on what the person can manage and whether they are a beginner or not. On average, fasting windows range from 10-16+ hours. Fasting for this amount of time can allow the body to trigger its fat stores turning it into energy. This process is referred to as ketones or metabolic-switch. (R)
This is a method that is recommended by author Brad Pilon who came up with the Eat Stop Eat method as a result of his graduate studies.
The main message of this method is to combine fasting with a resistance-training program. You would fast for 24 hours once OR twice per week, where the fast is divided between two days so that you are still eating every day – just with reduced calories. The idea is to make weight loss simpler and to not over complicate the process with extreme dieting.
The example the author gives for someone who needs to eat about 1200-1400 calories per day to lose weight is the following:
With Eat Stop Eat the person could eat around 1,700-1,800 calories on their non-fasting days and still lose weight. Below is a visual representation of an example.
Monday – Eat 900 Calories then start fasting…
Tuesday – End fasting then eat 1,400 Calories
Wednesday – Eat 1,800
Thursday – Eat 1,800
Friday – Eat 900 Calories then start fasting
Saturday – End fasting and eat 1,200 Calories
Sunday – Eat 1,800 Calories
14:10 hour fast/ 16:8 hour fast/ 18:6 hour fast
With time-restricted fasting you would follow a meal plan with a designated time for fasting.
You can either:
- choose to fast for 14 hours with a 10-hour eating window,
- 16 hours with an 8 hour eating window,
- or fast for 18 hours with a 6 hour eating window.
You may try this method if you already tried the 12 hour (overnight) fasting method and did not see much, if any results. You can use this method to gradually work your way up to fast for 18 hours.
- It is very important to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietician/nutritionist before starting a restricted-calorie diet or intermittent fasting. Some professionals recommend that women fast for 14 hours due to hormonal concerns and that men should fast for 16 hours; it is best to check with your healthcare provider before you begin any diet.
Whole day fasting
This is likely the least ideal method as it can be really tough, however, it is not impossible. With whole day fasting, you might choose to eat dinner and then not eat again until the next day’s dinner. This means you are fasting for 24 hours. One of the difficulties is trying to eat an entire day’s worth of calories with one meal. You may not be able to get all the nutrients your body needs to function at its best. It may also be tough to stick to this method, as you might be very hungry by the time your next meal comes around. This could lead to poor and unhealthy food choices that are not rich in the calories and nutrients your body requires. If you are a coffee drinker, you might drink more throughout the day which will have negative effects on your sleep, and you may also notice brain fog throughout the day if you are not eating.
Alternate day fasting
This method involves fasting every other day, and there are a few different ways to achieve alternate day fasting.
One way of alternate-day fasting is when you would completely remove solid foods on your fast days. Another way is to allow up to 25% of your calories, for example, 500 calories only on your fast days. On the non-fast days, you would then resume eating normally. This method is considered to be a popular approach for weight loss, however, it can be difficult and it is not recommended for beginners or those with certain medical conditions.
Choose your day fasting
With this method, you can choose when to fast and what approach you will take. For example, you might choose to do one of the time-restricted fasting options, or the overnight fasting option. The benefit of this method is that it is easily adaptable to any lifestyle and you can make it work with any weekly schedule changes. Since this approach is more easy-going, you may not experience the full benefits of fasting.
This approach is another flexible method much like the choose your day fasting and is good for beginners. It involves occasionally skipping meals according to how hungry you are or your schedule. This method is thought to be most successful when you monitor and respond to your hunger signals. For example, you eat when you are hungry and you skip meals when you are not. It is important that if you are following this method, that you eat healthy nutritious foods for the best results. This is true for all intermittent fasting approaches.
The Warrior Diet
This approach is a more intense method of intermittent fasting and is more advanced compared to the others. This method has three phases and does not require full fasting throughout the day. The basis is that you eat very little for 20 hours a day, and then have a four-hour eating window in the evening where you eat as much as you want without calorie counting. (R)
Phase one (week one): eat foods such as: broth, hard-boiled eggs, raw vegetables and fruits, yogurt, cottage cheese, and vegetable juices in small portions during the 20 hour period. Beverages such as water, tea, and coffee are permitted. In the four-hour eating window, it is recommended to eat: a salad with oil and vinegar, unprocessed plant-based foods like vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
Phase two (week two): the foods consumed are the same as in phase one during the 20 hour period. In the four hour eating window, it is recommended to have more fat after the salad (i.e. nuts, and animal protein), with cooked vegetables, and no grains.
Phase three (week three): in this phase, you cycle between one or two higher carb days within the four hour window and one or two lower-carb days over the week. The 20 hour period stays the same as the previous phases.
After you have finished the three phases, you can repeat them and focus on a higher-protein, lower-carb pattern. While following this method, it is recommended not to eat processed foods such as candy, chips, baked goods, sugary drinks, artificial sweeteners, fried food, and fast food.
Intermittent fasting health benefits
There are several health benefits to intermittent fasting from weight loss to slowing the ageing process.
When we follow an intermittent fasting plan, there are changes that occur within our bodies. For instance, we are able to burn fat when our insulin levels drop for a period of time. The drop in insulin levels happens when we do not eat enough food, for example when we fast. The decrease in insulin levels causes our cells to release stored glucose as energy. Continuing this process regularly with intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss.
In addition to weight loss, intermittent fasting also benefits the GI tract by allowing it to rest and repair while fasting. During a state of fasting, our bodies are able to use our fat stores in our cells as energy. When this happens, we are burning fat instead of storing it, leading to weight loss. Recent studies have shown that when intermittent fasting is combined with exercise and a plant-based diet, like the Mediterranean diet, the results are more favourable. (R)
While weight loss is a key component of why people start intermittent fasting, it is not the main purpose of some studies. Researchers are more interested in studying metabolic switching. This phenomenon is when fasting signals the body to change its energy source from glucose stored in the liver to ketones which are stored in fat cells.
Other benefits to intermittent fasting:
- lower cholesterol
- improve glucose control
- reduce liver fat
- improve blood pressure
- disease resistance (R)
- decrease inflammation (R)
- improved mental and physical performance
- Others experience:
- increased endurance
- better motor coordination
- improved sleep
- Studies have shown:
- fasting/caloric restriction can even increase the lifespan of healthy people
- they suggest that fasting can have an effect on tumour growth by reducing growth and may help in the prevention of breast cancer recurrences
Is intermittent fasting for everyone?
Although intermittent fasting has many benefits, it is not a diet that should be followed by everyone.
If you fall into any of the following, it is best that you do not start intermittent fasting: (R)
- Eating disorders (such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa)
- Use of medications that require food intake
- Active growth stage, such as in adolescents (children 18 and under)
- Trying to conceive, pregnancy, breastfeeding
There are some studies out there that show the effects of intermittent fasting are different for men and women. Some research shows that women should not fast for more than 14 hours due to hormonal concerns. A study that compared the effects in both men and women, showed that blood sugar controls worsened in women compared to men. In addition, studies have also shown that women who intermittently fast experience changes to their menstrual cycles. (R)
The CareClinic app can help you track your intermittent fasting plan
What to track
If you want to see your current eating patterns before you start a diet, you can use the CareClinic app to track yourself. Once you start a new eating plan, you can continue to track and compare yourself to a pre-and-post diet plan. If you are trying to change your health with a new lifestyle and diet plan, you can create your own care plan if you want to monitor other areas of your health. You can use the various features in the app to suit your needs. Within each care plan, you can also create your own care team. Your care team can include a healthcare practitioner of your choice, such as a doctor or a nurse, a family member, or a friend. This is very beneficial, especially if there are medical reasons for your change. You can share with your team your inputs into the plan and they can give you feedback, provide support, and keep you accountable.
With the diary entry feature, you can make entries throughout the day about how you are feeling, how your diet is going, any noticeable changes to your environment that might affect your eating. The diary feature also allows you to add pictures to your entry, this is a great feature if you are making dietary changes for weight management.
The symptom tracker allows you to input any symptoms you are experiencing. You can use this to track the symptoms before, during, and after any treatments, you are seeking. If you have symptoms such as high blood pressure, low energy or mental concentration, you can see if there is any progress after you have started your new plan.
Another great feature is the nutrition tracker, which has built-in food selections. You can log your daily meals and snacks throughout the day. You can set your nutrition plan that you are following in your eating window as well as monitor your calories.
If you are following an exercise plan as part of your health journey, you can use this feature to track any physical activity you have throughout the day.
The reports feature is a great feature that can provide a lot of insight into your lifestyle change. It takes the information you have logged into your care plan features (i.e. diary, nutrition, symptoms, activity etc.) and generates a report that shows any correlation between the details you logged. For example, you can monitor your progress, or see if you experience a symptom related to food.
You can create multiple reminders throughout the day and have them repeat on multiple days if you choose. These reminders can help you with your eating window, especially if you are following an intermittent fasting plan where your window might change daily or weekly.
Intermittent fasting has been around for a long time but has only recently been popularized. Take advantage of CareClinic as a useful tool to track your health.