A lot of diets and exercise regimens are over-hyped and misrepresented. It can be difficult to figure out what actually works, what is safe to do, and whether there are legitimate benefits. With that being said, does fasting have any real benefits? It does, and these benefits are backed up by scientific research!
The Science of Fasting
We need food for energy. If we fast, we are not eating, and our bodies are not receiving energy in the form of a meal. This means we have to rely on our energy storage. Initially, this stored form of energy is in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles and is a form of glucose (AKA sugar). Once we deplete our glycogen stores, our bodies shift.
When this shift occurs, the liver produces something called ketones. These ketones are able to metabolize fat for energy. In other words, burning fat! So intermittent fasting, if done long enough, can cause your body to start producing ketones, which aid in fat burning, and can also lead to weight loss, provided you do not overeat at your next meal and end up in a calorie surplus, of course.
A Word of Caution
You cannot lose weight continuously by fasting. Your body will not continue making ketones and metabolizing fat until you no longer have any fat left. In fact, some fat is necessary for survival! If you are trying to get rid of some excess weight, however, you still need to be mindful of the time you fast. Experts believe that after around 12 hours, the liver will start producing ketones. You do not want this to go for extended periods of time though.
If you do, you can end up with various health problems, like gallstones (due to the accumulation of fats) and even a condition called ketoacidosis, which can cause organ damage! Never attempt to lose weight by depriving yourself of all food. Fasting is best done in the intermittent, or moderate, form.
Benefits of Fasting
So what exactly are the benefits to responsible intermittent fasting?
- Possible weight loss, when combined with a healthy diet during non-fasting times
- Increased physical performance
- Better heart health, including a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure values
- Improved memory
- Prevention of obesity
- Prevention of diabetes
- Better surgery recovery
Fasting Benefits Explained
The above list is pretty lengthy. Fasting can truly improve multiple aspects of your life and overall health. In order to lose fat or prevent obesity, fasting needs to be accompanied by responsible eating patterns. Furthermore, do not go days without eating, because too many ketones can lead to ketoacidosis and other harmful effects.
In line with preventing obesity, fasting can help prevent the development of Type 2 Diabetes. Unfortunately, Type 1 Diabetes is a genetic condition, so reduced risk only applies to type 2.You can improve your heart health, with lower heart rates and blood pressures, both of which reduce your risk of disease and help you feel better. Along with this, you might find your workouts are easier to do, or that you can go longer without tiring. You might also notice a sharper mind, too. Research has found intermittent fasting to improve working memory in particular, which is responsible for things like holding a phone number in your mind long enough to dial it.
Finally, research has also shown that intermittent fasting led to better surgery recovery. Specifically, the tissues that were damaged by the operation healed quicker in animals who fasted versus those who did not (this was in non-human animals, but can reasonably be expected in humans as well).