Intermittent fasting and intermittent dieting has become quite the health craze in the modern world. But did you know that there are many ancient cultures that have integrated fasting for spiritual, mental, and physical health long before dieting fads?
Catholics: during the season of Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter, there is a Catholic custom to avoid eating meat on Fridays, and to abstain with a personally selected act or food item in order to achieve a state of spiritual purification. This time period corresponds to the number of days that the bible says Jesus fasted in the desert, so fasting and abstinence are particularly embraced during these weeks, as a means of penance.
Muslims: Islam follows a lunar calendar, and during the month of Ramadan, muslims mark the revelation of the Quran to Mohammed with the custom of fasting during the day. From sunup to sundown, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual relations, while focusing on prayer, reciting the Quran, and refraining from sinful acts. Because the fast is based on solar times, it varies around the world. Some countries have long fast days, while others have short fast days.
Jews: The most well-known Jewish fast is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. However, there are several fasts throughout the year, which commemorate various days in the calendar, such as the Fast of the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First Temple by Babylon, and the Second Temple by Rome. While some fasts mark tragic occasions, others are meant to induce a higher spiritual state beyond physical needs like food.
Hindus: There are many different deities in the Hindu religion, and adherents may fast on different days that are connected to a particular deity. For example, some Hindus will fast on Mondays, a day that corresponds to Shiva, and they believe that this act will help them achieve a granted gift of wisdom from the many-armed god of destruction and transformation.
Secular fasting: would you believe that there are even some cultures that observe a secular, cultural fast? In the Swiss city of Geneva, there is a public fast day, Jeûne genevois. Truth be told, it originated as a religious fast in the Middle Ages, in response to massacres of Protestants, but over the years it has become an almost totally secular holiday marked (at the end) with the eating of plum pie.
6 Ways To Stay Safe With Intermittent Dieting
Intermittent dieting is the practice of incorporating fasting into your diet. While it seems simple enough, it’s important to consider the safety factors of such a practice, because in case you haven’t noticed, people need food to live. Going overboard with cutting much needed caloric and nutritional intake out of the picture can yield some dangerous results…but there are ways to do this safely. Keep these tips in mind:
1. Check with your doctor. If you have a general practitioner, bring this idea up with them. They have your medical chart handy, and are familiar with your clinical history, so they’ll be able to tell you if they think you have a condition where dieting in such a way would be counter-intuitive or dangerous.
2. Take note if you have any of the following conditions. If you’re pregnant, underweight, breastfeeding, or a teenager, you should not fast. If you have type 1 or 2 diabetes, take prescription meds, or have a lot of uric acid in your urine, you can fast, but you need supervision (say a spouse, or someone at home in case you need help).
3. Start out slow. There are several types of intermittent fasting/dieting, but whichever one you pick, start out slow. For example, if you’re fasting every day for a certain chunk of time, don’t start off going 14 hours right off the bat. Start with a smaller number, like six or seven hours, and then work your way up.
4. Remember to stay hydrated. You can drink tea, water, or coffee to help you get through. Don’t let yourself get dehydrated, just because you’re fasting. Remember, these beverages have no calories, so they don’t need to be included in your fast.
5. Get into a routine. Don’t throw your body off by doing one thing today and then a different thing the next. Stay consistent with your plan, and don’t change it unless you have a good reason to (as in, it’s too much, or it’s not well-timed to coincide with a family meal, etc.). As you keep going, your body will get used to the intermittent dieting routine.
6. Don’t’ starve. You may be dieting to lose weight, but you don’t want to make it a dangerous loss of calories and nutrients. If you’re becoming sick, lightheaded, or your doctor suggests you stop, then stop. Make sure you know how many calories you need every day, and don’t attempt to decrease that number.
6 Types of Intermittent Diets
What on this green earth is intermittent dieting, you might be asking. Intermittent dieting (or fasting) involves going through cycles of eating and fasting in order to lose weight. However, it doesn’t just mean you can eat what you want, and then not eat on the weekends. There are specific types of intermittent fasting, and here are a few.
1. The Daily Window. This one is perhaps the most common, and it basically involves picking a time frame each day during which you will fast—such as not eating until noon. This type of intermittent fasting is easiest for most people to implement, but you have to remember to make sure you get the requisite amount of calories and nutrients during your remaining meals, without going overboard to compensate.
2. Alternate Days. This one just involves eating one day, and fasting the next. Another variation in this category is to eat normally on select days of the week, while, on other days only eating a percentage of your normal caloric intake.
3. Skipping a meal. This one is also an easy way for beginners to start with intermittent fasting. As the name suggests, you just eliminate a meal from your daily schedule, such as lunch. Like the daily window method, you’ll have to make sure you don’t go overboard on your other meals.
4. Fat fasting. With this method, you basically just cut fats out of your diet. You can still eat the other things you want to, or even combine this method with some of the other ones, but the main point here is to abstain from fatty foods. The severely reduced caloric intake implemented by this diet means you shouldn’t carry it out long term, but it is good for short term weight loss goals.
5. The Warrior Diet. Like a knight on the go, you only eat snacks during the day. You know, healthy thing like fruit, nuts, veggies, and proteins like yoghurt. Then, at night, you can sit yourself down for a larger meal. The drawback here is that you might be tempted to pig out if you haven’t eaten all day.
6. The 24-hour fast. As the name implies, you basically fast for 24 hours of your choosing (it could be from dinner to dinner, to include your sleep time in the mix and make it easier). Obviously this is not something you should do every day, but you could do it once or twice a week.
5 Diet Type And How They Compare to Intermittent Dieting
How does intermittent dieting compare to other diets? Let’s take a look and find out…
1: The Atkins Diet. The premise of the Atkins diet is avoid carbs, while eating as much protein and fat as you would like, in order to regulate the amount of insulin in your bloodstream. Carbs can trigger a rise and fall in insulin levels, queuing the body to store energy in the form of fat. To that end, the Atkins diet is sort of like intermittent fasting…it’s just a fast of carbs. Critics have decried these type of low-carb diets as being dangerously fat heavy, while proponents suggest that they actually decrease the presence of harmful cholesterol.
2: The Zone. This diet promulgates a healthy balance of 40% carbs, 30% fats, and 30% protein at each and every meal. To that end, it’s really not intermittent fasting/dieting at all, but it does encourage abstaining from highly processed and refined carbs, and instead consuming good quality, unrefined carbs, such as whole wheat.
3: The Keto Diet. Similar to the Atkins Diet, the Keto Diet discourages carb consumption and encourages practitioners to eat highly fatty foods—with a catch. Unlike the sort of laissez-faire attitude of the Atkins diet when it comes to fat consumption, the Keto Diet requires you to eat healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, coconuts, seeds, and oily fish. However, since the Keto Diet also involves refraining from carbs, it is somewhat comparable to the idea of intermittent fasting.
4: The Vegan Diet. Vegans do not come from the planet Vega, but rather, are those who believe modern farming techniques are bad for planet earth. To that end, they do not eat anything that comes from an animal, instead subsisting on the fruits (and veggies) of the land. In that sense, veganism is really more a of belief system that a diet based on health concerns. You could say it’s a sort of “ethical fast.”
5: Weight Watchers: There are a number of diets that fit into this category, but we’ll just refer to the most popular of the bunch. These diets work with prepackaged meals, a support network and health coaches. You may need to abstain from food between meals, but it does not really involve fasting or eliminating a meal entirely, since you’ll be often given prepackaged food or smoothie powder. This might be a better option for anyone who needs some backup when it comes to sticking to the plan.
5 Dangers of Intermittent Dieting
Intermittent dieting has become somewhat of a craze lately, but it carries some dangers as well. Don’t get swept up into the fad of setting aside food without taking note of these dangers.
1. Medical Conditions. If you’re pregnant, nursing, underweight, or a teenager, you should not fast. You need calories to grow healthily, and/or provide for the little one relying on you. There are other conditions where you technically can fast, but should rely on someone to spot you and make sure everything is safe, such as diabetes type 1 and 2. If you take prescription meds or have high amounts of uric acid in your urine, you’ll also want to make sure your fasting is supervised.
2. Overeating. Ironically, the idea of fasting to lose weight can result in some serious overeating for those who maintain poor count of their requisite calories, or have no self control. Overeating is not only counterintuitive, but it can be dangerous as well, causing stomach and digestive problems like bloating and gas, and long-term problems like heart disease.
3. Lack of calories. Everyone needs a certain number of calories to live on every day. Usually that number is tied to somewhere around your bodyweight x10. If you get fewer calories than that, you’re setting yourself up for poor health, malnutrition, and a lack of energy to basic things.
4. Lack of nutrients. Unless you’re living in outer space and taking one meal a day in the form of a super-dense nutrient pill, the requisite amount of nutrients you need are scattered throughout the food groups you consume over a daily basis, like grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and even fats. If you cut certain meals out of your diet, you run the risk of eliminating much needed nutrients.
5. Dehydration. Believe it or not, some of the liquids we consume come from foods, such as fruit. By eliminating meals, you eliminate potential sources of fluid. Also, most people tend to drink at mealtime, so eliminating a repast may also lead you to forget to consume enough fluid during the day.
So what can I do?
If you really want to fast intermittently, make sure you’ve considered the above points. Speak to a medical professional about making a plan for your diet, which includes taking in the requisite number of calories and the right nutrients every day. Of course, if you also have one of the conditions outlines in point #2, now may not be the time to fast.