I talk about the benefits of intermittent fasting a lot in many of my blog posts, but I have never written anything exclusively on the topic. I think you will enjoy reading this as a comprehensive overview of how intermittent fasting could change your life.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Let’s jump right in, but if you would like to learn more about the different intermittent fasting methods and how to pick the right one for you, read How to Decide Which Intermittent Fasting Method Is Best for You.
1. Improved Cognitive Function
Apart from freeing your mind from thinking about food (with practice), fasting has actually been shown to contribute to the growth of new nerve cells in the brain. Pretty cool, right? These new neurons play an important role in learning and memory.
Moreover, fasting will normalize your BDNF levels (a key molecule involved in plastic changes related to learning and memory), which may protect against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
2. More energy
Do you ever feel tired after eating? That’s because your body has to direct energy into digesting food. Furthermore, as many of us suffer from some degree of insulin resistance, we will feel the afternoon “slump” caused by blood sugar ups and downs after lunch. When we are insulin resistant, our body doesn’t respond the way it should to the release of insulin after a meal. Insulin helps your cells use the energy from food. Studies have shown that fewer meals during a shorter feeding window caused better glucose and insulin levels.
3. Improved Sleep
Intermittent fasting can help improve your circadian rhythm as the timing of your meals regulates your circadian system. The timing and duration of fasting can affect your sleep.
One study found fasting periodically reduced awakenings during the night and decreased leg movements (which can be highly disruptive to sound sleep). Other research has shown that fasting may decrease REM sleep.Psychology Today
4. Better Mood
Well, with better sleep, more energy, and improved brain function, it shouldn’t be surprising that your mood would also improve. It turns out that 3 months of intermittent fasting is all you need to reduce feelings of tension, anger, and confusion. A study that examined intermittent fasting for weight loss found that the participants noted an improvement in their emotional well-being as a side benefit.
5. Weight Loss
There are a few mechanisms behind how intermittent fasting helps you lose weight. The most obvious one is that it naturally decreases your calorie consumption. To lose 1 lb a week, you need a calorie deficit of about 500 calories a day. It makes sense that skipping a meal or two will help create that deficit. However, that’s not the end of the story (read How Long Does It Take to Lose 20 lbs? for a more in-depth discussion about calories-in calories-out).
Most people who tell me about their main struggles when it comes to weight loss find that they have poor self-discipline and experience food cravings. Yes! I can totally relate to that! That was my main struggle too! Intermittent fasting over time will reduce your food cravings. It will achieve that by helping your body switch over from using glucose for energy and by decreasing your insulin production (we will get into that further).
Lose Weight While Preserving Your Lean Muscle Mass
As you age, you lose lean muscle mass, which contributes to your decline. Not only you become less strong and more prone to injuries, but your metabolism slows down. You can combat this by making sure you do strength training exercises, whether it’s lifting weights or yoga, and by practicing intermittent fasting. Even though intermittent fasting and calorie restriction yield similar weight loss results, studies seem to show that one benefit of intermittent fasting is that weight loss will mitigate lean body mass loss.
6. Metabolic Switchover
That’s one of the factors I referred to when we talked about weight loss. Most of us always run on glucose. We eat too many carbs and don’t go long enough without food to deplete our glycogen stores. Even after 12 hours without food at night (many of us won’t even fast that long), you still have some reserves left. This compounds food cravings and the inability to go without food. It’s a vicious circle.
Ketones for Energy
Fortunately, there is way out. One very popular method is the Keto Diet. The Keto Diet is a way to mimic fasting in a sense. When you consume very few carbs (less than 20 grams of net carbs a day), your body runs out of glycogen and has to start using fat cells to produce ketones. This metabolic switchover may take a few days the first time. It may not feel good either (have you heard of the “keto flu”?) but once you have done it, it will be easier.
After your body is fueled by ketones, you will notice that hunger doesn’t affect you the same way. Moreover, your cravings will diminish over time. Try my 7-Day Intermittent Fasting Keto Meal plan to get started the easy way.
Intermittent Fasting Without Keto
You can achieve this metabolic switchover without going on the Keto Diet, but you will need to fast longer. I would recommend intermittent fasting methods that require you to go without food for at least 20 hours like the Warrior Diet, OMAD, or Alternate Day Fasting.
7. Human Growth Hormone Production
Does looking young and feeling young longer sound good to you? Yeah! Well, that’s what human growth hormone (HGH) can do. Here are some of its benefits:
- Reduces recovery time from injuries
- Improves lean muscle growth
- Accelerates fat burning
Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase HGH. It does that in two main ways. First, it helps you lose weight, which directly affects HGH production. Second, it will help keep your insulin level low throughout the day (more on insulin further). Insulin spikes can disrupt HGH production.
8. Reduced Inflammation
Another important intermittent fasting benefit is how it contributes to reducing your inflammation markers.
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to infection. Unfortunately, many of us suffer from chronic inflammation these days. Whether it’s environmental toxins, poor food choices, or our lifestyle, this chronic inflammation leads to a variety of issues like chronic fatigue, inability to lose weight, and even diseases like cancer.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation. The cells that cause inflammation are called “monocytes.” Not only will intermittent fasting reduce the number of monocytes, but it will also make them less inflammatory.
9. Decreased Insulin and Blood Sugar
Here we go, now the all-important intermittent fasting benefit: decreased insulin levels. It is a very important benefit because insulin, your fat-storing hormone that helps your body use the glucose in your food, affects everything in your body. We all know that elevated insulin levels are a precursor to diabetes, but that’s not the end of the story.
During a fast, insulin production is reduced by 20-30%, which in turn will reduce insulin resistance.
Anytime you eat, your body produces insulin, so it makes sense that not eating will help stabilize your insulin levels, but on top of that, intermittent fasting will regulate your overall blood glucose levels. It’s been shown that intermittent fasting helps improve glucose tolerance. What it means is that when consuming the same foods is restricted to a 9-hour window (like in the study), blood glucose levels are not impacted the same way as when the meals are consumed over a longer period.
10. Reduction in Cholesterol
It turns out that intermittent fasting also helps reduce your risks of cardiovascular diseases. This may be linked to how your body metabolizes sugar and cholesterol. When your body is low in glucose during fasting, it will start breaking down fats (like we talked about in the metabolic switchover intermittent fasting benefit).
Intermittent fasting improves your lipid profile by reducing your total cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides and increasing your HDL levels.
11. Sustainable Lifestyle
That’s one of my favorite intermittent fasting benefits.
Intermittent fasting will give you a host of health benefit and help you lose weight, and all that in a way you will find easy to sustain long term. Losing weight through calorie restriction alone can feel like an ordeal. You always feel hungry and deprived. On the other hand, intermittent fating feels good (at least after you get used to it and find the best method for you). You feel energetic, you sleep well, your mood improves, you don’t struggle with cravings, etc. Why would you want to stop? It’s just an amazing lifestyle that you will WANT to sustain.
12. Enhanced Resistance to Stress
Our cells become damaged when they encounter oxidative stress, which contributes to aging. This stress is caused by the production of free radicals. Fortunately, intermittent fasting helps improve the body’s resistance to harmful stress (so does calorie restriction) by fighting free radicals. The process by which this happens isn’t exactly clear. It could be the lower-than-usual blood glucose levels. When cells are forced to use fatty acids for energy (to produce ketones), it can cause the cells to turn on a survival process to remove unhealthy cells and replace them with new ones (this process is called autophagy).
Either way, this enhanced resistance to stress will slow down aging and reduce the risks of disease.
13. Cancer Prevention
Animal studies have found that fasting helps improve the survival rate and reduce the tumor growth.
According to another study, a bimonthly fasting mimicking diet reduced the incidence of cancer. A bio trial by the same scientists also showed decreased biomarkers and risk factors for cancer.
14. More Beautiful Skin
Intermittent fasting could improve the condition of your skin by increasing stem cell production, reducing inflammation, and fighting free radicals.
Another mechanism that may help improve the appearance of your skin is by reducing your blood sugar. When your blood sugar is too elevated, it causes glycation. Glycation happens when collagen molecules are bonded on sugar molecules. This causes tissues to stiffen and your skin to age.
Moreover, this article sheds some light on the effects of intermittent fasting on skin growth regulation, skin aging, and skin healing. Very promising information on all accounts!