The Science of Intermittent Fasting Diet Plans
Nowadays, with social media marketing being such a prevalent part of modern society, it seems as if there are now more weight loss solutions than ever before. You can’t browse social media without encountering at least one ad per day by social media influencers promoting various health supplements or exercise programs.
It seems as if we’re more desperate than ever to lose weight but what’s the best way to go about doing so? Well, intermittent fasting diet plans have been grabbing a lot of the headlines recently, and while opinions are mixed, there is certainly a lot of science to help us make up our own minds as to whether or not intermittent fasting really is all it’s cracked up to be.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Before we can start weighing up the pros and cons of intermittent fasting (IF) diet plans, we need to ensure that we all know precisely what IF really is.
IF has been around for centuries, in fact, each time you go to sleep and go for several hours without food, you’re performing a variant of IF. It wasn’t until 2012 however, that IF really started to grab headlines and become much more of a staple part of the health and fitness industry.
To cut a long story short, intermittent fasting is a method of eating whereby those following the diet will cycle between prolonged periods of eating and prolonged periods of fasting. Some people will perform IF every day and will fast for, say, 16 hours per day, leaving the remaining 8 hours open to eating. Alternatively, the 5:2 diet is another form of IF, whereby for 5 days of the week you eat normally, but for 2 days you will consume just 500 calories per day.
The Science Behind the Benefits of IF
When it comes to weight loss, any form of caloric deficit will result in weight loss, so why is intermittent fasting considered by many trainers and nutritionists to be superior to a regular calorie-restrictive diet for people looking to lose weight? Well, it all comes down to insulin.
You see, when we eat food, enzymes in our gut break it down into molecules that enter the bloodstream. Simple sugars, carbohydrates, and refined grains are all easily converted into glucose sugar, which is utilized by the cells for energy. Whatever is leftover once the cells have their energy is converted into fat and stored as body fat.
The glucose can only enter our cells with the presence of insulin. Insulin basically unlocks the cells and shuttles the glucose inside. Providing we don’t snack or consume sugary beverages our insulin levels gradually drop between meals.
We still need energy during this time, and if we aren’t eating our fat cells need to act. Here, they release stored glucose for fuel so essentially, we’re burning off stored body fat for energy. IF is basically about keeping insulin levels low so that we fuel our bodies with stored body fat.
Potential Downsides of Intermittent Fasting
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that IF does indeed promote weight loss and provide certain health benefits. However, research does suggest that it may not be any more or less superior than a standard calorie-restrictive diet.
One study in Germany entitled HELENA took 150 people and split them into three groups. The first group ate normally, the second group followed the 5:2 diet approach, and the third group simply consumed 20% fewer calories than normal. They concluded that the first group did not lose nor gain any significant weight. The second and third groups however, both lost weight and enjoyed certain health benefits.
Basically, they concluded that IF is still beneficial, but it is no more beneficial than a standard calorie-restrictive diet. The added bonus of following a calorie-restrictive diet, is that you don’t necessarily have to deal with extreme hunger.
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