Does intermittent fasting work? If so, how?

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Intermittent fasting is a great way to lose weight. It has been demonstrated and hyped up by the fitness industry across the world for those who struggle to control their weight as well as their chronic medical conditions. It is by no means a cure-all method, but it is a lifestyle that you can easily change in order to lose some of those stubborn belly fat to improve your health. This article is going to give you an overview of the method of intermittent fasting, as well as providing a basic scientific background of IM and how it can improve your health by better controlling your weight.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

For those of you who do not know what intermittent fasting is: it is a lifestyle that can ultimately limit the amount of food that you are eating throughout the day. In short, you are restricting your overall eating window to 8 hours per day, with a 16 hour fasting window. For the majority of individuals who are on intermittent fasting, they tend to be skipping breakfast. They also stop eating at around 8-9 pm daily, and fast until the next day. You may choose your fasting and eating window however you like. Within those 16 hours, you are not “permitted” to eat anything except for black coffee (without sugar and milk) and water. And you will be eating your daily calories within the 8 hour window, that is, about 1800-2500 calories depending on your metabolic needs.

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How does it work? How does it affect our blood sugar level?

Intermittent fasting works simply by reducing the amount the calories you consume throughout the entire day. Your body will feel uncomfortable at first when you are attempting to eat such large amount of calories within a short window of time. Without constantly snacking throughout the day, you will also find that your appetite have increased without eating excessive amount of calories. For most people, they will not need to calculate the amount of food they eat during this time window. However, for those who wish to gain muscle and lose weight, it might be beneficial to complement intermittent fasting with the ketogenic diet or a well balanced planted based diet.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by an abnormal elevation of insulin within our body, that is triggered by the large amount of food that we eat on a daily basis. This hyperinsulinemia (high insulin in the blood) leads to a condition namely insulin resistance within our body. It is similar to bodybuilder who constantly uses anabolic steroid in order to gain mass. Over time, their testes shrink and do not produce enough testosterone on their own to support their body. They will also require a higher dose of testosterone/GH to achieve similar effects of mass gain because of hormonal resistance. Our body is really smart, in a way that it becomes unresponsive if you overwhelm it with hormones and toxins. Similarly, insulin is an anabolic hormone that is naturally synthesized by the beta cells of our pancreas. When you ingest a meal that is rich in carbohydrates, your pancreatic beta cells trigger the release and the production of insulin, which mobilizes the amount of sugar in the blood into the cell in order to produce ATP, the energy currency in our body. The high amount of insulin then also increases lipid storage and protein synthesis, and that is why hyperinsulinemia causes weight gain (or a condition call lipohypertrophy). Imagine your body is constantly have very high level of insulin, which leads to increase in lipid storage all the time, either as visceral fat or subcutaneous fat! No wonder we cannot lose weight as a society! Via intermittent fasting, we decreases the level of insulin in the blood during majority of the day. This decrease in insulin will then help to normalize the sensitivity of insulin and it allows our body to enter a mode that helps us to break down excessive fat.

In addition, the intermittent fasting  and the ketogenic diet are well known dietary method in the medical field to prevent the the recurrence of many seizure disorders. By decreasing the amount of carbohydrates and insulin level, it appears to lower the seizure threshold in our brain to prevent further attacks. Although it is not recommended by most general practitioner, family medicine, and internal medicine doctors as a mean to prevent coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, and morbid obesity. Intermittent fasting has shown significant benefits for weight loss and appetite control, which are significant risk factors for developing those aforementioned diseases. With the rising concern of obesity, DM2, stroke, and heart attacks in our society. I have no doubt that intermittent fasting will become a standard medical recommendation in the future to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

My personal results

I have tried intermittent fasting for the past 1.5 months to lose weight/ reach my fitness goals. I  lost about 15 lbs (mixture of water and fat) in this past month and I have felt better regarding my overall health than I was before starting IM. I have experienced a better focus in the morning when I head to the hospital to take care of my patients. I find better motivation and concentration because my mind is clear without constantly being fogged by the high level of insulin and glucose within my body. It also gave me extra time in the morning as I do not have to prepare breakfast. It is definitely a lazy person’s way to fitness and weight loss. I did struggle with low blood sugar towards the end of fast, more prominent as I work up at the end of my fast period on most days. The hypoglycemia was worst during first week but I have not experienced futher episodes since then.

Let me know how you feel about intermittent fasting and comment down below. I would like to hear your results and your tips/ tricks to lose weight in a healthy manner.

Jeff Lei, MSIV

University of Utah School of Medicine

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