Fasting is not a new concept to humans nor are the benefits newly recorded. Virtually all major religions include periods or elements of fasting throughout the year within their rituals. Many religions use fasting as a means to cleanse not only the body but also the mind.
Many modern-day advocates refer to this process as cleansing or detoxing. Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine), Plato and Aristotle all wrote about and extolled the virtues of fasting.
One of the earliest modern-day investigations into the benefits of intermittent fasting was conducted by the Spanish physician Eduardo Vallejo, who conducted a three-year study of healthy elderly men, some of whom followed a fasting protocol, and who were subsequently compared to others who did not fast. He discovered that those who fasted were healthier on several important health markers.
In 2005, researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana conducted the initial alternate day fasting protocol in a strict clinical setting. These researchers noted that alternate day fasting increased fat burning and promoted weight loss. However, they also noted that hunger did not decrease with alternate day fasting and therefore it may not be effective as a long-term strategy.
Several researchers have introduced low caloric intake on intermittent fasting days such as in one study wherein overweight subjects consumed 320 to 380 calories every other day and consumed a normal caloric intake on the alternate days.
These subjects exhibited significant weight loss, burned more fat and had improved quality of life measures over control subjects who did not adopt the intermittent low calorie fasting days. Other studies have compared both calorie restriction as well as intermittent fasting as tools for weight loss and found that both strategies are equally effective for weight and body fat loss accompanied with metabolic health measures including improved measures of cardiovascular health.
Intermittent fasting is not starvation or a fad diet. If it properly performed, intermittent fasting can be an extremely beneficial and sustainable method to achieve optimal body fat loss and improve metabolic markers. It is important on fasting cleanse days to stay hydrated with water, tea or unsweetened herbal tea. As well, if using calorie restriction days be sure to include high fiber foods to help move things along and help you feel full.
Changing your food intake in terms of quality and quantity is the most important step that you can take to reduce your body fat.
I’ve told my clients many times throughout my career that they can exercise until they are blue in the face, but if they don’t get their diet under control they won’t realize the results that they wish for.
Sure, you will get stronger and fitter, have better balance and endurance and flexibility if that’s what you are training for, but to be lean and fit, you need to address the food component and eat for success.
On the flip side, typically when individuals lose weight and don’t exercise, but just change their dietary habits, up to a quarter of the lost weight comes from lost lean body mass … that is, muscle!
So, by strategically eating, using proven methods such as calorie restriction, intermittent fasting and incorporating a comprehensive exercise program you can achieve an optimal body mass/fat ration that will minimize muscle loss and maximize fat loss. This strategy is also a proven strategy for long-term maintenance.
The exercise component should have both a resistance component as well as a cardio component in order to maximize fat loss and muscle retention.
Cardiovascular training helps you burn more visceral (belly) fat. This is the most dangerous type of fat that exist internally, lodged around the organs and increasing the risk of chronic disease states associated with metabolic syndrome.
Resistance training can help build additional muscle mass and therefore raise the metabolic rate. Muscle requires more energy (calories) and is metabolically more active than fat so your overall daily calorie burn is higher if you develop more body muscle mass. Other aspects of training such as flexibility and balance work round out a comprehensive approach.
Being truly healthy and fit does not come by accident; it takes a concerted effort and requires a lifetime of devotion to one’s own well-being and fitness. I urge you to take responsibility for your own health and life your life to the fullest!
Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-8119 cell/text and www.janerileyfitness.com.