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LOW-CARB diet plans are nothing new. For as long as the wellness industry has sought to control our relationship with our bodies, they’ve positioned carbohydrates as something to be avoided. To see yourself walking down the bread aisle of the supermarket is to be confronted by an enemy most don’t have the means nor power to resist. But as dieticians can attest, our bodies need carbohydrates to thrive. Even so, this hasn’t stopped a number of individuals from swearing them off entirely in favour of ketosis for weight loss. 

Essentially on the keto diet, carbohydrates get the axe and are replaced instead by a high-fat diet that allows protein, but only in moderate amounts. On the diet, the daily intake of total carbs is around 50 grams—the equivalent of one cup of rice. Such an upheaval in one’s diet plan has seen many champion the keto diet as being beneficial for weight loss. But while it might see you shed some excess kilos in the short-term, just as many people have gained the weight back due to the restrictive nature of the diet which makes it unsustainable in the long-term. So, should you give the keto diet a go? And if so, what side effects can you expect? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is intermittent fasting?

As the name suggests, intermittent fasting is a way to limit caloric intake by reducing the time you allow yourself to eat. In other words, you will have fasted windows throughout the day (or week) in which calorie intake is greatly restricted, putting your body into a fasted state.

Many who have come to adopt intermittent fasting as part of their daily routine celebrate its benefits while also proclaiming it feels more natural than eating three large meals throughout the day and grazing throughout. It’s not hard to see why, as intermittent fasting goes back to our hunter-gatherer roots. According to a 2019 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, our ancestors fasted often when food was scarce, causing our cells to learn how to function in a fasted-state.

What happens to your body when you fast?

While there’s little research to reveal exactly what happens to the body during a fast, some scientific studies have sought to analyse the body’s response during intermittent fasting. According to a 2005 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that fasting can lower insulin levels, with healthy adults experiencing a decline in insulin levels after fasting. Too much insulin has been linked to obesity and conditions like heart disease, with the hormone made by the pancreas proving vital when it comes to the regulation of blood sugar.

Though there seem to be other benefits like improved cholesterol levels, glucose and blood pressure, many are quick to note that these can’t be applied directly to fasting, per se. Rather, they’re a response to overall weight loss, which is aided by intermittent fasting.

How long should you fast?

When it comes to intermittent fasting, there’s no hard-and-fast rule. Rather, there are three common fasting schedules that proponents of the diet plan choose to adhere to depending on their lifestyle and desired goals.

Alternate-day fasting

For those fasting every alternate day, they’ll switch from a ‘fast day’ to a ‘feast day’. On fast days, individuals consume just 25 per cent of their daily calorie needs which might just be one 700-calorie meal, or two 350-calorie meals. Then, on the next day – the feast – they’ll resume their normal diet. When it comes to weight loss, people typically lose twice as much weight following alternate-day fasting than they day whole-day or time-restricted fasting. However, while it might be an option for those looking to lose excess weight, it’s advised that you don’t follow alternate-day fasting for more than six months. Aside from requiring great dedication, it can also prove somewhat alienating, making it difficult to socialise due to eating schedules.

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Whole-day fasting

Otherwise known as the 5:2 fasting schedule, individuals eat roughly 500-calories for two days a week. On the other five days, there are no restrictions when it comes to food intake.

Time-restricted fasting

One of the more popular and easily accessible options of intermittent fasting is that of time-restrictions imposed on eating. This could mean a 16:8 format, where you only eat for eight hours throughout the day and then fast for the next 16. For many, this will see them break their fast with their first meal at 12pm, and then their last at 8pm. Time-restricted fasting is considered the easiest to incorporate into your lifestyle.

Can you exercise while in a fasted state?

Yes, you can still exercise safely while fasting. In fact, many people prefer to exercise on an empty stomach not only for the greater comfort compared to that of a full stomach, but for increased fat burn and less digestive problems like stomach or intestinal cramps.

Are there any side effects of intermittent fasting?

While intermittent fasting is safe to do, proponents of the lifestyle choice do warn about a one-to-two week adjustment period which can see your temper run short as you get used to the fasting window. It’s also expected that during that time you might have headaches, but this is more a result of dehydration than fasting itself, so it’s important to keep hydrated even during the fasting window.

Can you eat or drink anything while fasting?

As the name suggests, you really do want to put your body under fasting circumstances and consume as little as possible during that window of time. However, you can certainly stick to beverages like water or those with very little calories, like black coffee.

Is intermittent fasting dangerous?

Though some have raised concerns that intermittent fasting could lead someone to develop an eating disorder, this hasn’t been proven to be the case. Rather, if done safely, fasting has little symptoms that should be of concern. Research of trials of alternate-day fasting and time-restricted fasting show that they do not cause constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, fatigue or dizziness. However, for those who are susceptible to developing an eating disorder or are in eating disorder recovery, it’s advised not to do intermittent fasting.


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