Benefits of a Fasting Diet – Calorie Restriction, Exercise and Weight Loss
The simplest fasting definition is that it is the practice of abstaining from all or some kinds of food and/or drink. Intermittent fasting for weight loss is rapidly increasing in popularity as people search for easy-to-follow diets that fit around their busy lifestyles. But, there are also lots of other fasting health benefits including lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and improved body fat measurements. Calorie restriction is even said to delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Other reasons to fast include improving the structure of your eating by increasing hunger awareness and breaking snacking habits, as well as the social flexibility that some other diets don’t offer.
In this post, we’ll cover types of fasting, the benefits of fasting, and how to stay healthy and keep up your workout routine while sticking to your fasting diet.
Types of Fasting
There are several types of fasting that are particularly popular:
- 16:8 diet – otherwise known as time-restricted feeding, fasting takes place for 16 hours per day. You are free to eat whatever you want for the other eight hours. With this diet, it’s best to pick an early eating window when your body is better at processing sugar.
- Alternate day fasting – one day you limit your eating to 500 calories, and the next day you can eat whatever you want. This process repeats for the duration of the diet.
- 5:2 plan – you can eat anything you want for five days of the week, but for two days your calorie intake is limited to 600 calories for men and 500 calories for women. It’s recommended that you limit your eating to between 12 pm and 8 pm on fasting days.
- Eat-stop-eat – this is one of the most extreme versions of fasting and requires you to consume nothing but water for a 24-hour period once or twice per week.
What Can You Eat During Fasting?
With regards to what you can eat and drink during fasting, that all depends on which plan you’re following. With intermittent fasting diets like the 5:2 diet, you can eat and drink whatever you like as long as you don’t go over the calorie allowance on the fasting days. It goes without saying that you should still aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet during your non-fasting periods rather than pigging out on candy and junk food.
On the eat-stop-eat fasting diet, no calories should be consumed during fasts. There are some liquids that are ok, though. Obviously, water is calorie-free and should be consumed in abundance. You might also consider adding a teaspoon of baking soda into your water as it can reduce fatigue, relieve constipation and bloating, and keep your sodium levels in check. Black coffee is calorie-free and full of antioxidants that your body needs to stay healthy, as are various teas including green, licorice, and cinnamon. Caffeinated tea and coffee will also help improve concentration and boost your energy when your blood sugar levels are low.
With regards to the times that you can eat, it’s important to get organized with your intermittent fasting schedule. Otherwise, it can be all too easy to go over your calorie count out of convenience. Download a calorie counting app like My Fitness Pal and plan your meals ahead of time, and if you intend to use a plan which only requires fasting on certain days, schedule those according to your work and social commitments to make your diet as easy as possible to stick to.
How to Suppress Hunger during Intermittent Fasting
Hunger is obviously the main challenge with intermittent fasting and is the reason why many people can’t maintain this diet for a substantial period of time. But, being smart about what you eat when you can eat can make it much easier. One way to suppress hunger is to eat high fiber foods such as nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables during your eating window. Chewing high-fiber gummies can also keep you away from the cookie jar when you’re struggling.
High protein foods can have the same effect, so fill up on meat, fish or tofu during your eating times. Often, people are actually thirsty when they think they’re hungry, so reach for your water bottle before you reach for a snack.
Is it ok to Exercise during Fasting?
Some people who follow a fasting diet find that they can still take down a killer workout with ease, and you might be surprised by how energetic you feel on fasting days. But for many fasters, low blood sugar causes weakness and lethargy which makes the gym seem very unappealing. The key is to listen to your body. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy you should reduce the intensity of your workout to a rate that you can safely maintain.
It’s important to keep active though, and with some slight tweaks you can still keep up your gym routine:
- Stick to low-intensity cardio – if you can’t carry on a conversation mid-exercise you’re going too hard. Take your pace down a notch while you’re fasting and focus on endurance instead, especially if you’re water fasting for weight loss.
- Go hard after eating – if you crave high-intensity exercises in your workout, only do them after you’ve consumed something during your eating window. That way, you’ll have some fuel in the tank to power you through.
- Lifters need protein – if you want to continue packing on muscle during periods of fasting, timing is key. Eat a protein-rich meal (or a snack at the very least) before and after strength training for optimal muscle synthesis.
You may find that exercise can bring on intense feelings of hunger, so if you choose to work out on a calorie restricted day you should do it before you eat. Otherwise, you might be tempted to go off-plan.
Is Fasting Dangerous?
It’s unlikely that fasts lasting up to 24-48 hours will be dangerous for a healthy adult, but it’s important to note that intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. Pregnant and lactating women and people with type 1 diabetes should avoid extreme calorie restriction regimes, as should elderly people and anyone with a chronic disease.
Long-term fasting comes with the risk of muscle loss, so if you’re working on making gains you’ll need to limit your calorie deficit to ensure that you’re only losing fat. Longer periods of fasting can also increase your risk of side effects including dehydration, dizziness, and fainting. It’s recommended to consume around two liters of fluid every day but we get 20-30% of our fluids from food so it’s very easy to become dehydrated during fasting. By the time you feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated, so be mindful to keep on top of compensating for that 20-30% of fluid you’re losing by not eating.
There are plenty of intermittent fasting benefits to be enjoyed, and calorie restriction can be an easy and effective way to lose weight and improve your overall health. As is the case with all diets, if you’re considering fasting you should speak to your doctor first. It’s also important to stay well hydrated and to stick to a healthy, balanced diet during your eating windows.
Have you enjoyed positive intermittent fasting results? Let us know in the comments.