What is Intermittent Fasting?

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Intermittent fasting isn't exactly a diet, but a meal timing plan. On an intermittent fasting diet, you fast for part of the day and eat for a part. Different methods require different windows of eating and fasting.

Dieters base this meal timing plan on physiology. The body has two states of blood glucose levels controlled by glucagon and insulin, called fasted and fed state.

After eating, the gut releases glucose into the bloodstream. When there is too much glucose in the blood, the pancreas secretes insulin, which tells the muscles and liver to uptake glucose. This state is considered the fed state. The energy used comes from the food you ate—the body stores any extra power for later.

When blood glucose levels are too low, the pancreas secretes glucagon, which signals the body to release glucose into the blood. This state is considered the fasted state. In this state, your energy is coming from the body's storage. Your body uses fat and glycogen to make energy through lipolysis and gluconeogenesis.

The basic theory behind intermittent fasting is that the body is eating its stored fats during the fasted state. By using fat instead of blood glucose or stored glucose, the result is weight loss. The dieter must break the fast after a certain amount of time because if you fast too long, the body panics and starts breaking down essential tissues like muscle for fuel instead of stored fat.

Intermittent fasting has a few different methods. Some diets require fasting for 16 hours, some for 18 hours, and others for 20 hours with 8, 6, and 4-hour eating windows, respectively. Another meal timing plan requires a 24 to 48 hour fast, though experts don't recommend doing this fasting regularly. The 5:2 diet is another version of intermittent fasting; you eat an average amount five days a week, then fast two days a week.

The misconception about intermittent fasting is that you can eat whatever you want in your fed state window. That's incorrect. Dieters still need to eat a reasonable amount of calories. If you eat more calories than you burn during your fasted state, the body will store those calories as fat, and the fast is worthless.

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