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Intermittent fasting has been around for all of human history, but it has recently become a popular health and fitness trend. When done properly, fasting is a safe and effective way to lose weight and improve your health. It's important to do your research before committing to a new diet or lifestyle change, though. Before you try intermittent fasting, you should understand how and why it works.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a dieting pattern that alternates between periods of fasting and eating. There are a variety of intermittent fasting methods that use different schedules, but most people who practice fast for at least 16 hours between their eating windows.
Intermittent fasting contradicts the common belief that you should eat five or six small meals daily to stay healthy. Some people feel better when they graze throughout the day, but this isn't true for everyone.
Ancient hunter-gatherers didn't always have access to food, so fasting has been commonplace throughout human evolution. It may even be more natural for humans to fast occasionally than to always eat several meals per day. Fasting has also played an important role in religion for almost all of human history. As long as you follow your doctor's advice and don't go to extremes, fasting can bring about a number of physical and mental health benefits.
Intermittent fasting is only an eating schedule, so it doesn't dictate which foods you should or shouldn't eat. You can follow other diets like the keto diet or the Atkins diet while practicing intermittent fasting, or you can eat whatever you want during your eating window. However, you'll achieve the best results if you eat healthy, balanced meals.
The exact rules of intermittent fasting can vary. Some people drink coffee and zero-calorie beverages during their fasts, and others believe you should only drink water. What's most important is that you practice an intermittent fasting plan that is comfortable and sustainable for your lifestyle.
Methods of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a broad term to describe a number of different eating patterns. Here are some of the most popular fasting protocols:
The 16/8 method: This protocol involves fasting for 16 hours and eating within an eight hour window. Your eating window can be at any time, but many people like to eat between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. or 12 p.m. and 8 p.m. With these schedules, you're essentially just skipping breakfast.
The 18/6 method: The 18/6 protocol is just like the 16/8 method, but your fasting window is 18 hours, and your eating window is six hours. For example, you could eat between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and fast from 8 p.m. until 2 p.m. the following day.
The 5:2 method: With the 5/2 method, you'll eat normally for five days of the week without following a particular plan or schedule. On the other two days, you'll only eat 500 to 600 calories in one large meal or in two or three small meals. You can plan your fasts for any days of the week, but there should be at least one non-fasting day in between.
The 24-hour method: This method involves one or two 24-hour fasts per week. For example, you could fast after your dinner on Tuesday night until your dinner on Wednesday night. On your non-fasting days, you can eat at any time.
The OMAD method: OMAD stands for "one meal a day." It's similar to the 24-hour method, but the fast happens every day instead of just one or two days per week. When you follow the OMAD protocol, you consume all of your daily calories in one large meal, and you fast for 23 to 24 hours until your next daily meal.
Everyone has different lifestyles, schedules, and preferences, so the best method for you may not work well for someone else. It can take some time for your body to adjust to intermittent fasting, so you should try out a pattern for a few days or weeks before deciding whether or not it's right for you.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
One of the most common reasons people practice intermittent fasting is to lose weight. If you reduce the number of meals you eat in a day, you'll also probably reduce your calories. Even if your meals become slightly larger, it will be easier to eat fewer calories when you can only eat for part of the day.
Intermittent fasting may also help with weight loss because it can cause some hormonal changes. After you eat, your body produces insulin, a hormone that helps your body process the sugar in your food. Your body becomes more sensitive to insulin after a period of fasting, and the more sensitive your body is to insulin, the more efficiently your body will process your food.
Fasting can also increase your body's levels of norepinephrine, a fat-burning hormone. This can result in an increased metabolic rate, which means your body will burn more calories and lose more weight. Intermittent fasting doesn't dramatically change your metabolic rate, but even a slight increase can add up to significant weight loss over time.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
In addition to being a good weight loss tool, intermittent fasting has a number of other benefits. It helps your body regulate its insulin levels, so it can be helpful for reversing type 2 diabetes. It also can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which are two major contributors to many chronic diseases.
Some of the other documented benefits of intermittent fasting include the following:
Better heart health
Stronger cell repair processes
Improved brain function
Better energy levels
Increased growth hormone
Lower cholesterol levels
Many people find that the simplicity of intermittent fasting is beneficial to their lifestyle, too. Instead of buying, cooking, and eating three or more meals per day, you only have to worry about one or two meals. You can save time, money, and energy while losing weight and improving your health.
If you have any medical conditions, you should ask your doctor for advice before trying intermittent fasting. Some people may not be able to fast safely because of certain health issues. However, if your doctor approves, intermittent fasting can be a great way to lose weight and get healthier.