Fasting has long been an established practice in the religions of the world. Those who are members of the Islamic faith fast for the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The fasting takes place from sunrise to sunset, beginning after the pre-dawn ‘suhur’ meal and finishing with ‘iftar’ once the sun has gone down. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, fast on the first Sunday of every month.
Other Christian groups give up certain types of food or perceived addictions for the 40-day period of Lent. Some Hindus fast on various days of the week, depending on the chosen deities and personal beliefs.
For most religious groups the act of fasting, a physical way of dedicating oneself to God, comes with the promise of blessings and strength. As they exercise self-control, they also work on overcoming natural tendencies and on achieving self-mastery. Charitable giving is often associated with these periods of fasting.
It is no surprise then, that in an increasingly global world, the idea of fasting has caught on in a secular context as well as the religious one.
Intermittent fasting has been a popular cultural concept for about three years now. Moving away from the realms of fitness-focused gym-bunnies and sports people to the normal and ordinary. It is no longer just something a professional athlete might do to achieve peak performance levels; it has become normalised. Everyone has heard something about intermittent fasting, and knows someone who has seriously considered it, if not actually done it.
“Cake?” You offer your friends, or perhaps, “Dinner?”
“No, they tell you, I am not allowed to eat outside of the hours of 9am and 5pm.”
And you think to yourself, who is telling you to live your life that way, and why are you listening to them? The hours between 9am and 5pm are for lunch and trying to ignore the jar of biscuits in the office kitchen.
Intermittent fasting has caught on as a diet to both improve health and assist with weight loss. At its core, the diet doesn’t dictate what you eat, just when you eat. So, if you want to eat nothing but cake between the hours of 9am and 5pm technically you can. As long as you stick to those hours, though that scenario does feel as if it would defeat the purpose slightly.
There are three popular methods. There is the daily method, which requires fasting for so many hours each day. The most common ratio of time is 16:8, where you fast for 16 hours and are allowed to eat for only eight hours of the day, and to be clear that is a consecutive eight-hour stretch, not eight hours scattered throughout the days. Most people don’t actually choose 9am to 5pm, 1pm to 9pm is far more common.
Then there is the calorie limitation method, or the 5:2. This allows for regular (hopefully healthy) eating habits, five days a week, and then limiting your calorie intake to no more than 500 calories, two days per week.
Then there is the full fasting method, the more extreme version of the 5:2. Rather than limiting food one to two days a week, you go without food entirely for those days. It is frankly not surprising that this works as a form of weight loss. Not eating food will do that.
But apart from weight loss, which seems like a rather obvious by-product of intermittent fasting, are there any other health benefits?
Those who take part in intermittent fasting claim that it helps to improve your body at a cellular level. Helping to lower insulin levels and assisting the production of growth hormone. Which doesn’t mean if I fast, I’ll grow taller, what a pity, but it does help with muscle gain.
According to a study published in Science Direct, it is also proven to decrease blood pressure and as well as appetite. As a result, it is a recommended form of diet for pre-diabetics as it will severely decrease the chances of type two diabetes.
So, there we have it. Next time someone suggests you try fasting, it might be something to actually consider.