by Justin Curcio

Intermittent fasting is exactly what it sounds like—fasting intermittently. Experts have praised the healthy benefits of intermittent fasting, which include weight loss, increased energy levels and improved digesting. By limiting your body’s caloric intake for an extended period of time you allow your body to fully digest what you have eaten and burn stored fat for energy.

How it Works
Researchers believe that intermittent fasting begins to work around the sixteen-hour mark and experts recommend that this is a good starting point. This means that you have an eight-hour window to eat and a sixteen-hour window when no calories are absorbed. Intermittent fasting for a minimal of sixteen hours a day provides the body a break from digesting and focuses it on burning fat, increasing muscle mass, reducing inflammation, and increasing cardiovascular stamina. A sixteen-hour fast window is only the baseline of when people start seeing the benefits of intermittent fasting. Studies have shown that for some individuals, it is better to fast for eighteen to twenty hours a day based on age and sex, but for those who are just starting out, begin at sixteen hours and work from there.

Dr. Monique Tello, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, describes this process in his article “Intermittent Fasting: Surprising Update”. He explains that “The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If we don’t use all this energy our body stores it in our fat cells, as well, fat.

Yet, sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into fat cells and keeps it there. Therefore, in fasting between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. According to Dr. Tello, “the entire idea of intermittent fasting is to allow insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.”

In short, reducing caloric intake to a small window of time will assist in weight loss and increase physical fitness and energy levels. This is done by forcing the body to break down the fat for energy it already stored instead of breaking down the latest meal that is currently being digested for energy. Thereby, leaving the stored fat as just that—stored fat.

What to Do/ What Not to Do
Intermittent fasting is a simple idea, but it does take discipline and persistence. It is easier if you fast for the same time periods each day to get your body acclimated to its new routine. For instance, if your last meal for the day is 6 p.m., you would not eat any calories until 10 a.m. the next day. Try to keep whatever time frame for your fasting consistent throughout the week.

Drink plenty of water. Keep your body hydrated! This is not just a rule for intermittent fasting but a rule of life. Drinking a half-gallon of water throughout the day improves cardiovascular circulation, helps balance your blood sugar levels and hydrates your muscles.

Don’t stop your exercise routine. While you may see weight loss results relatively quickly, do not slow down your normal workout regime. Exercise goes hand-and-hand with proper nutrition, so stick with whatever exercise routine you have been doing and enjoy the improved results!

While intermittent fasting, you may have the urge to eat more in your eight-hour window then you normally would have eaten throughout the entire day. If your average calorie consumption increases while you intermittently fast compared to when you do not, you will not get the results you want.

Coffee and Tea. Good news! You can still have your caffeine fix without breaking your intermittent fast. The caveat: You CANNOT add milk, sugar or any other sweeteners. Intermittent fasting is restricting the calories you absorb to a certain window of time. Black coffee and tea will help maintain your prior energy levels during intermittent fasting, just remember to steer clear of artificially flavored teas that may contain calories.

Gum. You may be tempted to chew gum during you intermittent fast, but be aware that most gum, even sugar-free gum contains calories. So you’ll want to avoid this when fasting.

As with any new diet, consult a doctor if intermittent fasting may be right for you. Especially if you are diabetic, take daily medications or have any specific dietary restrictions.