3 Little-Known Changes You Can Trigger With Intermittent Fasting


by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
Photo Credit: Jean Fortunet

Photo Credit: Jean Fortunet

Intermittent fasting (IF) promises to teach you how to control your hunger and drop unwanted pounds.

Studies show that our organs and immune cells can be regenerated by practising intermittent fasting. And by choosing not to eat, some people use IF to actually bump up their commitment to health and wellness.

If this all sounds outlandish, continue reading to learn about the amazing changes IF can trigger in your own body.

What is intermittent fasting?

The elemental definition of intermittent fasting is to ‘take a break from eating’. That covers the ‘fasting’ part of it. The ‘intermittent’ part refers to how you vary the frequency of fasting.

But, is it really a healthy choice to not eat?

When you restrict calories by timing your food intake, you set up major scenarios to trigger big changes in your body.

Humans are predisposed to fast, according to Dr. Marc Hellerstein, Ph.D., a professor of human nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. He reminds us that our ancestors didn’t have the option to eat every couple of hours. “…the two things we do best are pass on our genes and starve,” he says.

However, keep in mind that intermittent fasting is not a diet; it is a lifestyle choice.

There are several ways to slice out an intermittent fasting plan. The two most frequently used are referred to as a longer fast and a shorter fast. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? In a moment, I’ll share the details of each and explain why you might want to choose one over the other. But for now, I’ll teach you what intermittent fasting can do for your present health and future longevity.

Disclaimer: Medical supervision is recommended for any fast over 24 hours. Fasting is not recommended for pregnant/lactating women, diabetics, active athletes and those following a structured training programme, individuals under 18, persons with an eating disorder or a BMI under 18.5, and anyone with an illness, a medical condition, or following a medical treatment.

Intermittent fasting can:

1. Regenerate your entire immune system

When you fast for as little as three days, which should only be done under medical supervision, there can be a significant shift in how your body produces new white blood cells (the very base of your immune system).

Professor Valter Longo, Professor of Bio-gerontology at the University of California, tells us that when you stop eating, the body uses up stored glucose, fat and ketones, and also recycles worn out and damaged immune cells.

Once you resume eating, your white blood cell count gets a boost. The result is similar to a trigger switch that regenerates brand new white blood cells to invigorate and reinforce your entire immune system.

We are not promoting the idea of a three day fast; rather, simply providing the information from what scientists recently have found in a breakthrough described as “remarkable”.

2. Provide a robust anti-aging intervention

Our cells will adapt to fasting.

This can have a remarkable enhancing effect on autophagy and thus anti-ageing.

Studies show that autophagy – a response present in all of our cells to basically clean out and recycle – is an essential part of the anti-ageing mechanism of caloric restriction.

Essentially, we need autophagy – or our cells will become sluggish and less efficient.

When you fast intermittently, the autophagic response is bumped up. You’re giving your cells the space and time needed to get DNA debris and waste products out. It has been identified that the calorie restriction via fasting is the most robust anti-aging intervention known so far.

3. Help you break unconscious habits around eating

Undoubtedly, meals, snacking, and emotional eating can go unchecked during the day.

If you took a big pause, you might find the sensation of hunger can be more about habit than anything else. Sometimes we’re not even listening to our body signals because we’re mindlessly stuck in our habits around eating.

So take something like intermittent fasting where you take a break from eating. Skipping a meal or two every now and then isn’t a bad thing and intermittent fasting can help you re-route your track and tune into the hunger signals your body is sending.

Sure, you might love to eat, but think about the simplicity of fasting or missing a meal. You’ve removed that possible stressful combination from your day altogether. This opens space for relaxing. Some people have even referred to it as relieving.

Imagine the freedom in being able to mentally and emotionally unplug yourself from food woes and do something else instead.

Professor Valter Longo, considered one of the world’s foremost experts on prolongation of lifespan and longevity, says that one of the toughest parts of fasting is being away from food. He says, “we are so used to having food all the time that we cannot conceive separating from it. This is one of the most important factors.”

An additional side benefit from choosing an intermittent fasting plan is that it might change your relationship with food. When it’s time to eat again, take notice of how you respond, and relish the enjoyment gained through eating. Even the most ‘bland’ health foods can taste delicious when you experience true hunger.

What plan fits your lifestyle?

There are quite a few varieties of intermittent fasting. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to briefly share two popular ones.

The first is: restrict your daily eating to a specific window of time. For instance, choose an eight-hour window and plan your meals within that time-frame.

Another one is called the 5:2 plan, popularised by BBC’s health journalist Dr. Michael Mosley in his book The Fast Diet. You can eat whatever you want for five days, and then restrict your calories to 500-600 per day for the remaining two.

Before considering fasting, learn more from my interview with Professor Valter Longo HERE.

So what do you say? Are you up for the intermittent fasting challenge?

Let us know in the comments below! Please share this with anyone who might be up for it, too.

And for those of you who have already tried intermittent fasting: how did it work out for you?


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30 Comments

  • Cassy

    Reply Reply August 14, 2014

    IF worked great for me, but I think I did it too drastically by restricting myself to only one meal a day (and what a meal it was everyone!) – I trimmed down and really started enjoying my food more. I stopped due to fear and the idea of metabolic slowdown if I don’t eat every two hours. I think I’ll try the 8-hour window approach here or extend it to 10-hours as has been advocated by Martin at Leangains.

  • Ivor Prosser

    Reply Reply August 14, 2014

    I went on 5:2 diet and lost 15 stones over 6 months. I stabilised but need need to refocus and do more. I know starving is the thing of the future. In 20 years it will b prescribed by the Government and everyone will love to over 100

  • Carmen

    Reply Reply August 14, 2014

    I am so confused by this article! :-o

    I’ve always been under the impression that we should all be eating at regular intervals to ensure that our bodies don’t go into “starvation” mode, because when they do the next thing we eat is going to be stored as fat in anticipation of more starvation to come!

    I don’t agree with the statement “Even the most ‘bland’ health foods can taste delicious when you experience true hunger”… If you’re hungry – you’re not going to opt for bland, tasteless foods – you’re going to go for the biggest, greasiest, super-sized burger and chips you can find!

    Surely fasting is not something we should be advocating for our health? Especially not for our clients already struggling with their relationship with food?

    Interest in what other people think!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply August 14, 2014

      Carmen, glad to read your questions, that’s why we’re here :-) We need to operate on the premise that everyone is different – what works for you may not work for someone else, so the more information you have, the better you’ll be able to adjust a plan for a client. The most successful coaches are those who keep an open mind and learn as much as they can about a client, filtering out what may not work for them. Now, here’s some things for you to consider:

      – Starvation (metabolic decline) is one of the processes that brings about the health benefits of a fast, e.g. IGF-1 decrease, which foments life-span prolongation and is chemopreventative in cancer patients: https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/learning/eat-fast-live-longer-interview-professor-valter-longo/

      – After a period of fasting, “insulin sensitivity” is normalised, increasing the amount of nutrient uptake by your muscles, meaning that your body is less likely to store what you eat as fat. For this reason, many body builders use IF to gain muscle mass. Here’s one of the several studies on this: http://jap.physiology.org/content/99/6/2128

      – When you feel true hunger (e.g. after a period of deprivation), your taste buds become more sensitive and you “feel more of” the flavour: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15028115 The French instinctively arrive at the table with a healthy appetite by limiting their eating occasions, also allowing their children to get hungry helps cut down picky eating.

      – What you eat after a period of fasting is largely influenced by your current eating habits. So if a person wants to lose weight, retraining their eating habits and relationship with food should be the priority.

      There’s much more to it but I wanted to give you an overview as to how this may help other people. We’ll dive deeper into these topics in our newsletter, so stay tuned :-)

      • Carmen

        Reply Reply August 14, 2014

        Wow thanks for the insightful feedback Alex!
        Learn something new everyday!

        Only recently started coaching clients after going through some major changes in my own lifestyle and I’m realising more and more that people are different and what may have worked for me may not necessarily work for them!

        All I can do is provide them with as much information and guidance as I can in order for them to make their own lifestyle choices.

        Looking forward to reading more about this.
        Thanks!

  • Diane Corriette

    Reply Reply August 14, 2014

    I watched the Dr. Michael Mosley program around 4 weeks ago and decided to complete a 16 hour fast (after reading online about IF)

    I stop eating at 7pm and start again at 11am the next day. I work from home so its easy to fit into my lifestyle and most of the fasting is carried out while I am asleep.

    It has only been a few weeks and to be honest nothing has happened yet. I certainly haven’t gained weight, which is good.
    My eating time is only 8 hours – 11am until 7pm

    Now I need to work on reducing the amount of calories I eat in my 8 hour window.

  • Max

    Reply Reply August 14, 2014

    I have tried Intermittent Fasting a couple of years ago and lost a noticeable amount of weight (beware, I am not fat), mostly fat mass.

    I just picked 2-3 days per week for the fasting, and usually didn’t eat anything from 7pm until next day at 6:00pm. I only drank plenty of still water during the fasting period. I always tried to eat a normal evening meal after the fast.

    The first days of fast were tough, but then I got used to it. After the initial period, I felt I had a lot of energy during the day, even without eating.

    I felt much better after my Intermittent Fasting experience and will probably do it again in the future (when not training).

  • Isobel

    Reply Reply August 14, 2014

    I turned 55 last year and I have done the 5:2 for over a year and it is simply a part of my life now. I am still doing it, just not quite as strictly as the first year. I’ve lost 40 lbs, run 10k in May, competed in a triathlon in June and attempting my first half marathon in October and haven’t felt so good in years. I think if you want to use it as a way to lose weight , you definitely need to up the exercise, but once I lost that first 14lbs, I was already picking up on my exercise. All I can say is a huge thank you to Michael Moseley for his inspiring programme.

  • Deirdre

    Reply Reply August 15, 2014

    I think it’s brilliant. Having lost a substantial amount in 2000, the pounds crept back on (not all of them) and nothing seemed to work for me until I saw Michael Mosley’s programme a while ago. I first tried two consecutive days of fasting which I wasn’t able to sustain, thus giving up and gradually gaining weight again. After a while I was inspired to give it another go and now fast on two days a week (generally Monday and Thursday), as well as rowing as often as I can during the week. The pounds are dropping quite slowly, but that’s the best way I believe. I don’t refer to 5:2 as a ‘diet’, more as a ‘way of eating’.

  • Joanne

    Reply Reply August 16, 2014

    I have recently tried IF and to my surprise I have noticed a real difference in my outlook on food and my taste buds seem to have changed…. However this isn’t the only changed I have made and I was only fasting for maximum 18 hours… And it isn’t that hard to do…

  • susan, nutrition coach

    Reply Reply August 17, 2014

    I love Intermittent fasting especially when its practiced through a 5:2 fast diet regime. I run a successful class in Nottingham, based on this principle. Everyone is consistently losing weight and more importantly challenging their behaviour with food http://www.nutrition-coach.co.uk/blog/52-fast-diet-update/

  • Caroline Rees

    Reply Reply September 4, 2014

    I have astonished myself at how successful intermittent fasting has been for me. I have lost over 40kg (88lbs) over an 18 month period and feel and look better than I have done for 25 years! My success story is here: https://www.fastday.com/how-it-works/carolines-story/
    I now fast every day by not eating after my evening meal through to lunchtime the next day (about 16-18 hours fasting each day) and have maintained the 40kg loss for 4 months and counting. It is definitely my new way of eating for life.
    A summary of the many different ways of intermittent fasting can be found here: https://www.fastday.com/fasting/how-should-i-fast-different-ways-of-intermittent-fasting/

    • Allan Chua

      Reply Reply January 23, 2016

      before i was confuse to do the intermittent fasting,until i try it. Eat calorie defecit 1500 and 8hrs feeding window. My skin glow and feel good eating clean food.now i do intermittent fasting with msintenance 2100 calorie. you should give it a try specially to the skinny fat

  • RS

    Reply Reply September 19, 2014

    I enjoyed reading this article – I found it very informative. Thank you!
    One extra area that I thought could’ve been mentioned is how IF works with athletes, the effect it has on the body, the timing of exercise in relation to the daily/3 day fast, etc.
    I assume that most of the people here, by design, aim to lead a healthy lifestyle that incorporates exercise so this would be very useful!

    • admin

      Reply Reply September 19, 2014

      Thanks, Ramon! We’ll consider this for a future article. In the context of athletic performance and fitness, the topic deserves its own space :-)

  • Chelsea

    Reply Reply September 22, 2014

    I have been curious about trying IF after reading about it at different times, but could I do it while breast feeding, or would it negatively affect my milk supply/ my baby?

    • admin

      Reply Reply September 22, 2014

      Hi Chelsea, congratulations on your baby! As you can see in the disclaimer in this article, lactating/breastfeeding women are advised against fasting. But if you don’t breastfeed and use baby formula only, then there’s nothing to worry about.

  • Sarah

    Reply Reply November 6, 2014

    I haven’t tried IF yet. But after this article and the comments that i’ve read i’ll be definately giving it a try. My partner and i have always watched what we’ve eaten but have hit a rough patch and have gone way of course. I’m thinking IF may just help us get back to where we were. And then incorporate it into our everyday lives.
    Thankyou for all the information you’ve given me. Definately gives me a starting point!!

  • Karl

    Reply Reply January 5, 2015

    Hi,
    Just wondering if there is any sign of the IF article in the context of athletic performance and exercise? I have done in the passed IF but when I started weight training I felt that I wasn’t recovering fast enough and felt weak. Plus the indications for weight training is that you should eat more, not less. So I would be really interested to hear what the science says from your guys?
    Thanks,
    Karl

    • admin

      Reply Reply January 7, 2015

      Hi Karl, we love this topic and will be sharing a few fascinating studies on the effects of IF on athleticism in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned! :-) Maria (Research Analyst)

      • RS

        Reply Reply January 9, 2015

        Hi. Can you post a link here once it’s written (so that all interested parties above receive an email notification)? Many thanks

        • admin

          Reply Reply January 9, 2015

          Hi Ramon! Of course, I’ll add a link to the new fasting piece when it’s published, and also make sure you’re subscribed to our Thursday emails if you aren’t already, so you won’t miss out on anything: https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/free-newsletter/ Thanks!! Maria :)

  • Maria, Research Analyst (The Health Sciences Academy)

    Reply Reply January 22, 2015

    Hi! I just wanted to let you know that the report “Fasting and Training: Good or Bad?” is now up and you can find it here: https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/health-tips/fasting-and-training Thanks! Maria (Research Analyst)

  • Andrea

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    I actually enjoyed this little article for a number of reasons. Fasting frees up time that is normally spent eating, preparing food, or thinking about food. Fasting cleanses the body and resets your “cravings” in my experience. When I do extended fasts, what I want more than anything is fresh fruits and veggies and many things that I would eat normally when I am under a time crunch are no longer appealing to me….greasy burgers, pizza, heavy meals for example. Juice fasts are pretty incredible as well. I feel like I am supercharging my body with nutrients with very little waste. Sometimes I struggle with drinking enough water during a cleansing fast even though I know it is absolutely essential (one of my strongest cravings isn’t so much a type of food, but flavor in what I consume, so that is where juice fasts really become the fast of choice because there are so many wonderful combinations). Fasting boosts willpower. Having gone to food for comfort many times in the past, and having paid the price in weight gain, I found that fasting helped me overcome what I am going to call “comfort addictions” — foods or even alcohol that I would fall back on if I had a bad day. It feels way better to be in control of my appetites and cravings and to find constructive ways to overcome the “blues”, and fasting was one of the key ways that I learned to do that.

  • Kat

    Reply Reply March 18, 2015

    As a ballet dancer, the first rule you were taught was to not eat after 6pm, with only minimum restrictions before that time – it left a 12 to 14 hour window of fasting. Then parents got scared by the media, I remember a phase about 12 years ago when every teenage girl leaving food on her plate was given the anorexia talk. And now people comment that starvation is the thing of the future! It always amazed me how people judged thin girls and fell on them like a ton of bricks if they happened to not be hungry that very moment, yet nowadays obese teens are taught they should accept and flaunt their curves… Sorry it got a bit off topic! I found this site by accident for a paper, and was astonished by the reported health benefits claimed.

  • umm natural

    Reply Reply March 21, 2015

    Great article! This has been a well known practice amongst Muslims for 1400 or more years and now science offers us the reasons why. This is reall exciting. I always wanted to know the science behind fasting and now I understand.
    I fast 2 days a week, and the benefits are numerous. Not only do I feel more energetic but I feel in total control of my health and lifestyle. I no longer go through periods of ‘binge’ eating and I enjoy healthy snacking. Intermittent Fasting is a great way for mind, body and mental control, as it gives you the tools to really listen to your body and what it needs.

  • Rebecca

    Reply Reply April 13, 2015

    Great article! I think I will give IF a try, for a few reasons. (1) I need to overcome a very very bad habit of eating (until stupidly, uncomfortably full!) after dinner. (2) I.m about to start your Nutrition course so I need to set a good example and not be a hypocrite. (3) I really WANT to rest my relationship with food. With regards to the days of IF, would it be best to try for two days in a row with smaller hours to fast, or, separate the two days with a ‘normal’ eating day, but aim for longer hours of fasting?? What have other people found successful? Thanks

  • Nicole

    Reply Reply April 19, 2015

    Hi, thanks for the wonderful article!
    I have been looking in to intermittent fasting lately, and have been doing my research. I’m currently training in a pre-professional ballet program and need to look and feel a certain way in order to excel now in training, and in my future career as a dancer. My goal is to lose about 5-10 lbs (all from fat) while still maintaining my muscle mass. In other words, I’d like to look slimmer with long, lean muscles.
    Weight loss is hard for me because I am already fairly slim, but I want to lose it in as healthy yet effective way as possible. I think intermittent fasting may be my answer!
    I would like to try doing daily 16-18 hour fasts. My only question is how this will effect my intense daily training. Should I be worried about dancing on an empty stomach?
    Thanks,
    Nicole

  • Steve J

    Reply Reply April 21, 2015

    I am 62 now. Had allergies all my life. 10 years ago I had numerous food allergies. I fasted for 8 days while drinking just water and nothing else. Those food allergies are gone and have never returned.
    Also about 5 years ago I developed eczema which lasted for about 3 years. The best local dermatologist I saw told me I would have it the rest of my life and I would have to use a topical steroid regularly. I went on a 16 day water only fast. It left after 3 days of fasting and has never returned. I have not used steroids since

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