Intermittent fasting: What is it, and how does it work?

    Fasting of the body is food for the soul!

    Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that switches between fasting and eating on a regular schedule. Intermittent fasting is a way to manage your weight and prevent or even reverse some forms of disease. But how do you go do it? And is it safe?

    There are several diets that focus on what to eat, but intermittent fasting is all about when you eat.

    With intermittent fasting, you only eat during a specific time. Fasting for a certain number of hours each day or eating just one meal a couple days a week, can help your body burn fat.  Our bodies have evolved to be able to go without food for many hours, or even several days or longer. In prehistoric times, before humans learned to farm, they were hunters and gatherers who had evolved to survive and thrive for long periods without eating.

    It took a lot of time and energy to hunt game and gather nuts and berries. Even something as close as 50 years ago, it was easier to maintain a healthy weight. There were no computers, and TV shows turned off at 11 p.m.; people stopped eating because they went to bed. Portions were way smaller. More people worked and played outside and, in general, got more exercise!

    Nowadays, TV, the internet and other entertainment are available 24/7. We stay awake for longer hours to catch our favourite shows, play games and even chat online. We are sitting and snacking all day and most of the night!  Extra calories and less activity can mean a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. Intermittent fasting may help reverse these trends.

    How does intermittent fasting work?

    There are several different ways to do intermittent fasting, but they are all based on choosing regular time periods to eat and fast. For instance, you might try eating only during an eight-hour period each day and fast for the remainder of the day. Or you might choose to eat only one meal a day two days a week. So what happens is hours without food, the body exhausts its sugar stores and starts burning fat. It is referred to as metabolic switching!

    Intermittent fasting contrasts with the normal eating pattern for most people, who eat throughout their waking hours!  If someone is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and they’re not exercising, then every time they eat, they’re running on those calories and not burning their fat stores. Intermittent fasting works by prolonging the period when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal and begins burning fat.

    Intermittent Fasting Plans       

    It’s important to check with your doctor before starting intermittent fasting. Once you get his or her go-ahead, the actual practice is simple. You can pick a daily approach, which restricts daily eating to one six- to eight-hour period each day.

    You may choose to try 16/8 fasting: Eating for eight hours and fasting for 16. Most people find it easy to stick with this pattern over the long term.

    Another, known is the 5:2 approach which involves eating regularly five days a week. For the other two days, you limit yourself to one 500–600 calorie meal. An example would be if you chose to eat normally on every day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays, which would be your one-meal days.

    Longer periods without food, such as 24, 36, 48 and 72-hour fasting periods, are not necessarily better for you and may be dangerous as well. Going way too long without eating might actually encourage your body to start storing more fat in response to starvation.

    It can take two to four weeks before the body becomes accustomed to intermittent fasting. You might feel hungry or cranky while you’re getting used to the new routine. It is observed if you make it through the adjustment period and tend to stick with the plan, then you will feel better.

    By reducing your calorie intake, all of these methods will cause weight loss as long as you don’t compensate by eating much more than you need to during the eating periods. Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest, most sustainable and easiest to stick to. It’s also the most popular!

    How It affects your cells and hormones: When you fast, several things happen in your body on the cellular and the molecular level. Your body adjusts hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible. Your cells initiate important repair processes and change the expression of genes!

    Here are some changes that occur in your body when you fast:

    Human Growth Hormone (HGH): The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing as much as 5-fold. This has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain.

    Insulin: Insulin sensitivity improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels make stored body fat more accessible.

    Cellular repair: When fasted, your cells initiate the cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up on inside cells!

    Gene expression: There are changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease.

    These changes in hormone levels, cell function and gene expression are responsible for the health benefits of intermittent fasting. When you fast, human growth hormone levels go up and insulin levels come down. Your body’s cells also change the expression of genes and initiate important cellular repair processes.

    A very powerful weight loss tool

    Weight loss is the most common reason for people to try intermittent fasting. By making you eat fewer meals, intermittent fasting can lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake.

    Intermittent fasting changes hormone levels to facilitate weight loss. In addition to lowering insulin and increasing growth hormone levels, it increases the release of the fat burning hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

    Because of these changes in hormones, short-term fasting may increase your metabolic rate by 3.6–14%. By helping you eat fewer and burn more calories, intermittent fasting causes weight loss by changing both sides of the calorie equation.

    People also lost 4–7% of their waist circumference, indicating a significant loss of harmful belly fat that builds up around your organs and causes disease. Intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than the more standard method of continuous calorie restriction.

    The main reason for its success is that intermittent fasting helps you eat fewer calories overall. If you binge and eat massive amounts during your eating periods, you may not lose any weight at all.

     What can I eat while intermittent fasting?

    During the times when you’re not eating, water and zero-calorie beverages such as black coffee and tea are permitted.

    And during your eating periods, “eating normally” does not mean going crazy. You’re not likely to lose weight or get healthier if you pack your feeding times with high-calorie junk food, super-sized fried items and treats.

    Intermittent Fasting is that it allows for a range of different foods to be eaten and enjoyed. We want people to be mindful and take pleasure in eating good, nutritious food. Eating with others and sharing the mealtime experience adds satisfaction and supports good health.

    The Mediterranean diet has a good blueprint of what to eat, whether you’re trying intermittent fasting or not. You can hardly go wrong when you pick complex, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains, leafy greens, healthy fats and lean protein.

    Intermittent fasting benefits      

    When changes occur with this metabolic switch, it affects the body and brain. The health benefits associated with the practice include a longer life, a leaner body and a sharper mind.

    Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many forms of cancers.

    Fasting is not nearly as deadly as feasting.

    Here are some intermittent fasting benefits revealed so far:

    Thinking and memory. Intermittent fasting boosts verbal memory in adult humans.

    Heart health. Intermittent fasting improves blood pressure and resting heart rates as well as other heart-related measurements.

    Physical performance. People who have fasted for 16 hours show fat loss while maintaining muscle mass.

    Diabetes and obesity. Intermittent fasting prevents obesity. Obese adult humans lose weight through intermittent fasting.

    Tissue health. Intermittent fasting reduces tissue damage in surgery and improved results are observed.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Here are answers to the most common questions about intermittent fasting.

    1. Can I Drink Liquids During the Fast?

    Yes. Water, coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages are fine. Do not add sugar to your coffee. Small amounts of milk or cream may be okay. Coffee can be particularly beneficial during a fast, as it can blunt hunger.

    2. Isn’t It Unhealthy to Skip Breakfast?

    No. The problem is that most stereotypical breakfast skippers have unhealthy lifestyles. If you make sure to eat healthy food for the rest of the day then the practice is perfectly healthy.

    3. Can I Take Supplements While Fasting?

    Yes. However, keep in mind that some supplements like fat-soluble vitamins may work better when taken with meals.

    4. Can I Work out While Fasted?

    Yes, fasted workouts are fine. Some people recommend taking branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before a fasted workout.

    5. Will Fasting Cause Muscle Loss?

    All weight loss methods can cause muscle loss, which is why it’s important to lift weights and keep your protein intake high. Intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than regular calorie restriction.

    6. Will Fasting Slow Down Metabolism?

    No. Short-term fasts actually boost it. However, longer fasts of 3 or more days can suppress metabolism.

    7. Should Kids Fast?

    Allowing your child to fast would probably be a bad idea.

    8. Who can you begin?

    Simply fast whenever it’s convenient; simply skip meals from time to time when you’re not hungry or don’t have time to cook. There is no need to follow a structured intermittent fasting plan to derive at least some of the benefits. Experiment with the different approaches and find something that you enjoy and eventually it does fit into your schedule!


    Intermittent fasting may slightly boost metabolism while helping you eat fewer calories.

    This is particularly important if you:

    • Have diabetes.
    • Have problems with blood sugar regulation.
    • Have low blood pressure.
    • Take medications.
    • Are underweight.
    • Have a history of eating disorders.
    • Are a woman who is trying to conceive.
    • Are a woman with a history of amenorrhea.
    • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.

    All that being said, intermittent fasting has an outstanding safety profile! There is nothing dangerous about not eating for a while if you’re healthy and well-nourished overall!

    The best of all medicines are resting and fasting.

    Trishna Patnaik
    Trishna Patnaik
    Trishna Patnaik is a BSc (in life sciences) and MBA (in marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. Previously a corporate professional, she realised that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion, painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter based in Mumbai, as well as an art therapist and healer.

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