What's the Deal with Intermittent Fasting?
Some athletes swear by it, others are more skeptical. But one thing's for sure: timed dieting is here to stay. Intermittent fasting is a dietary technique where you abstain from eating food for anywhere from eight to 16 hours. The theory behind intermittent fasting says it supports certain aspects of repair and rejuvenation in the body more effectively than when your body is in digestion mode. According to Dr. Nada Milosavljevic, MD and Director of Integrative Health at Mass General Hospital, intermittent fasting may actually play a big role in increasing your vitality and longevity.
3 Ways Intermittent Fasting Can Support Your Body
1. Weight Loss
Obviously, weight loss is one of the biggest benefits to fasting. Eating more strategically automatically limits your caloric intake, and you'd be surprised how quickly the calories pile up. If you're a late-night snacker, for example, intermittent fasting can help you clean up your nighttime eating habits and cut yourself off at a specific time. If you eat each day from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., you'll still be able to snack and go to bed with food in your stomach, but in your off hours, it's all about abstinence. (Best of both worlds!)
2. Increased Metabolism
"While it's true that long-term fasting can decrease your metabolism, short-term fasting can have the opposite effect," says Dr. Nada. "And perhaps up to 14%." Intermittent fasting also promotes brain health, supporting the growth of neurons and memory performance.
3. I.D. Cravings Vs. Real Hunger
Intermittent fasting can also help people distinguish between authentic hunger (think: my body needs nourishment!) and cravings (think: I'm bored, let's eat!).
Intermittent Fasting, Mitochondria & Healthy Aging
We often think about micros and macros when it comes to nutrition—from complex carbs to vitamin supplements. But, we tend to forget that healthy metabolism actually starts on a cellular level, and it drastically impacts how you feel as you get older."As we age, our cells ability to process energy decreases," says Dr. Nada. "This can lead to aging and diseases associated with it."
Essentially: the more efficiently your cells are running, the better you will age. According to a recent Harvard study, intermittent fasting may increase your lifespan by manipulating your mitochondrial networks to your advantage. Think of it as a reset on a cellular level. Here's how it works:
What Are Mitochondria?
Mitochondria are powerhouse structures in your cells that form networks to breakdown fatty acids and carbs, releasing energy. In a healthy state, they are a "fused" network, working in sync to support the metabolic process. In an unhealthy state, they become fragmented, which can slow down metabolism and decrease function. Intermittent fasting focuses on [mitochondria's] role in breaking down fat, and supports healthy fused mitochondrial networks (which are critical to keeping cells healthy). Basically, intermittent fasting isn't just about shorter weight loss goals—it actually helps slow the aging process.
How Can I Get Started?
Starting any new diet requires patience and self-compassion as you adjust to new habits and ways of being. "The good news is that effective fasting doesn't involve long periods of difficulty and self denial," says Dr. Nada. Instead, it simple requires that you don't eat for a specific time period, and that you resist cravings. As your body gets accustomed to your new food time frame, your mentality (and stomach) will adjust, too. "Remember anything worth striving for requires a little struggle and a little effort."