Dieting and weight loss are popular New Year’s Resolution for many. Most popular diets require caloric restrictions at mealtime, which can be difficult and frustrating. Among the many new diets that roll around each year, fasting, or periodic abstinence from food, has regained popularity in the health and fitness arena. Fasting has been practiced from antiquity and exists in various forms. Some well-known forms of fasting are voluntary abstinence from all foods for a period of time, while others involve voluntary abstinence from certain foods, such as animal products in The Daniel Fast. “A partial fast may be preferred to overcome an illness; a total fast may be used on other occasions”(A. Thrash).
Intermittent fasting gained quite a following in 2016 and 2017 and is defined as a long cycle of fasting and shorter period of non-fasting throughout the day. There are different versions but the idea is basically to choose 8-10 hours of the day in which to eat your meals, leaving the remaining 14-16 hours of the day for fasting. So why would someone choose this lifestyle and what are the health benefits?
Among the many benefits of intermittent fasting, are weight loss, improved blood pressure, and glucose control. It serves as a multitasking tool that helps fight inflammation, improve digestion, and boost your longevity. In several studies, the practice of intermittent fasting helped decrease inflammatory numbers, c-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), adiponectin, leptin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and IGF-1, all of which have a negative impact on our health. Therefore, through intermittent fasting that skips late-night meals, these inflammatory substances are no longer being produced.
Fasting also aids in the production of ghrelin, which suppresses inflammation and improves dopamine concentration in the brain. So high ghrelin produces an anti-depressant effect. Intermittent fasting also increases nerve cell production, improving growth in the hippocampus and reducing age-related atrophy and brain cell wasting.
How to begin
If you are at high risk of multiple diseases and uncontrolled weight or want to improve your longevity and quality of health, you may consider a healthy intermittent fasting diet plan for you. You can start by choosing two or three non-consecutive days to fast after 5 pm, thus allowing your gut and digestion to rest until 8 am the next day.
To avoid dehydration, water intake is crucial in all forms of fasting.
Some fasting fads suggest skipping breakfast, however, a study by researchers from Loma Linda University School of Public Health and the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague, Czech Republic, showed that eating breakfast and not skipping it, and making it the biggest meal of the day, rather than lunch, had the most significant impact on weight loss. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that night time eating increases the inflammatory hormone insulin in our bodies, which leads to poor sleep quality, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. This just confirms an ancient adage: "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper."
“The true fasting which should be recommended to all, is abstinence from every stimulating kind of food, and the proper use of wholesome, simple food, which God has provided in abundance. Men need to think less about what they shall eat and drink of temporal food, and much more in regard to the food from heaven, that will give tone and vitality to the whole religious experience. Now and onward till the close of time the people of God should …set aside days for fasting and prayer. Entire abstinence from food may not be required, but they should eat sparingly of the most simple food.”—Counsels on Diet, p 188
1. Antelmi E, Vinai P, Pizza F, Marcatelli M, Speciale M, Provini F. Nocturnal eating is part of the clinical spectrum of restless legs syndrome and an underestimated risk factor for increased body mass index. SleepMed. 2014;15:168–172
2. Fontana L, Meyer TE, Klein S, Holloszy JO. Long-term calorie restriction is highly effective in reducing the risk for atherosclerosis in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004;101:6659–6663.
3. Hana Kahleova, Jan Irene Lloren, Andrew Mashchak, Martin Hill, Gary E Fraser. Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2. The Journal of Nutrition, 2017; jn244749 DOI: 10.3945/%u200Bjn.116.244749
4. Intermittent fasting is neuroprotective in focal cerebral ischemia by minimizing autophagic flux disturbance and inhibiting apoptosis. Jeong JH, Yu KS, Bak DH, Lee JH, Lee NS, Jeong YG, Kim DK, Kim JJ, Han SY.Exp Ther Med. 2016 Nov; 12(5):3021-3028. Epub 2016 Oct 31.
5. Johnson JB, Summer W, Cutler RG. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Free Radic Biol Med. 2007;42:665–674
6. Mosley M, Spencer M. The FastDiet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting. Atria Books. 2013
7. Patterson RE, Laughlin GA, Sears DD, et al. INTERMITTENT FASTING AND HUMAN METABOLIC HEALTH. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015;115(8):1203-1212. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.018.
8. Raffaghello L, Lee C, Safdie FM. Starvation-dependent differential stress resistance protects normal but not cancer cells against high-dose chemotherapy. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008;105:8215–8220.
9. Thissen JP, Ketelslegers JM, Underwood LE. Nutritional regulation of the insulin-like growth factors. Endocr Rev. 1994;15:80–10
10. Varady KA, Hellerstein MK. Alternate-day fasting and chronic disease prevention: a review of human and animal trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86:7–13.
11. Yamaguchi M, Uemura H, Katsuura-Kamano S, et al. Relationship of dietary factors and habits with sleep-wake regularity. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2013;22:457–465.