When you start a diet, you likely have a few goals motivating you. You want to shed excess pounds, build muscle for beautiful tone, and reduce fat. Many diets teach calorie-counting or portion control to attain those goals, but you could choose a fasting diet instead. Intermittent fasting has more health benefits than you might guess.
You may have heard that fasting has little advantages for health and weight loss, but one small study shows otherwise. The study was conducted by a professor from the University of Illinois and published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
For one year, 100 obese adults from Chicago attended diet sessions and adhered to one of three diet groups. One group practiced alternate-day fasting in which they would eat around 500 calories one day followed by a normal day of eating. On the normal day, participants could eat up to 125 percent of their recommended calories.
In the next group, dieters had to count calories on a daily basis for weight loss. Finally, the last group did attend the sessions on portion control and nutrition labels, but they did not adhere to a specific diet.
After testing, researchers analyzed the data and found an interesting result. Those who counted calories reduced their body fat by 5 percent. However, those who practiced intermittent fasting lost 6 percent, making this diet a comparable choice for many people.
While fasting days might need some motivation, people using them often like the freedom from counting the calories they eat at every meal.
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Another positive effect of intermittent fasting is that it stimulates the metabolism. While other diets may be simply forcing the body to burn calories, fasting actually triggers the stress hormone norepinephrine.
The hormone activates your body’s fight-or-flight response and, as a result, releases more fatty acids for the body to use. One study of 11 men showed that intermittent fasting can boost metabolism by as much as 14 percent.
Because of increased metabolism and fewer calories, many people have successfully lost weight and fat through this method. They also tend to lose fat at a faster rate than those on calorie-counting diets.
In addition to helping people lose weight and burn fat, intermittent fasting can also prevent disease and improve health. First of all, fasting has shown to drop glucose levels in the blood and improve insulin sensitivity significantly. At a time when many people are overweight and sedentary, this practice may help reduce a person’s risk of Type 2 diabetes.
At the same time, many diseases root themselves in damage from free radicals and inflammation. In one study, 10 overweight adults with asthma participated in the alternate-day fasting plan. After eight weeks, these adults saw significant improvement in asthma symptoms, lower LDL cholesterol, reduced oxidative stress, and an increase in an important antioxidant.
These results suggest that intermittent fasting has many healthy benefits beyond weight loss. During animal testing, researchers have even found that animals who fast live 30—40 percent longer than those who do not. While research hasn’t exactly confirmed this fact in humans, the potential is there.
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One of the most interesting benefits that fasting has on the body is cell regeneration. During fasting periods, the body actually metabolizes old, damaged stem cells. Basically, the body is trying to use up all forms of energy not necessary for daily function.
In its place, the body then makes new, healthy cells that can better fend off disease. Tests have shown that chemotherapy patients have even lowered their white blood cell count by participating in short periods of fasting. A short period without food may just be what you need to improve your immune system.
While you might be searching for the perfect weight loss plan for you, intermittent fasting can actually provide benefits beyond weight loss. Research shows that it boosts the metabolism, improves insulin resistance, and helps your body make new cells. Fasting for weight loss may not be for everyone, but it can certainly serve to improve your health.