Intermittent Fasting for Health and Weight Loss
If you’re a regular reader, you know that Jon Barron has long advocated intermittent fasting for health and weight loss. His recommended protocol includes fasting one day a week on juice plus a superfood such as chlorella, spirulina, stabilized rice bran, or something equivalent. He also suggests a three-day juice and superfood fast once a month, plus a five-day juice/superfood fast twice a year as part of a bi-annual liver detox.
Those who follow Jon’s protocol get great results, but the idea of giving up a day of gluttony once a week may seem too difficult for some people. Fortunately for the fast-phobic, there’s a different type of intermittent fasting that seems to be a bit less daunting, and lately it’s been catching on like a California wildfire. The concept, known as the 16/8 diet, involves limiting food consumption to a narrow window of time each day, but during that time window anything goes.
Here’s how it works: You’re allowed to eat for eight hours a day. Outside of that, you can’t have anything except water or zero-calorie drinks. So, if you finish dinner by 6:00 pm, you essentially fast until 10 am the next morning, giving you 16 hours without food.
It sounds so simple, and yet preliminary research indicates that it works on many levels. Animal studies found that rats that were allowed to eat high-fat foods in unlimited quantities within a limited daily time period weighed less and had normal cholesterol and blood glucose levels, while rats allowed to eat whenever they wanted within 24-hour periods gained weight, developed high cholesterol and high blood glucose plus had impaired motor control.1
There’s only been one small human study to date, but the results were equally promising. Twenty-four obese subjects followed the 16:8 plan for 12 weeks. At the end, participants saw significant drops in blood pressure and weight. Strangely, there was also a control group that consisted of subjects who followed a different type of intermittent fasting routine (alternate day fasting), and those on the 16:8 plan lost more weight, consumed fewer calories, and reduced systolic blood pressure more than those fasting every other day. 2
Jon Barron explains some of the benefits of fasting in his book, Lessons from the Miracle Doctors. “First, when you deprive your body of food, your body begins to consume itself to survive. Being geared to self-survival, your body chooses to consume damaged cells and toxic cells first, saving the healthiest for later. It takes a tremendous amount of energy, and puts a tremendous strain on your body's organs, to process food. (Check your heart rate after eating a large meal and observe how exhausted you feel.) When you fast, your body diverts that energy to repair and rebuilding.”
Advocates of time-restricted eating point out that every time you eat, your pancreas releases insulin to keep blood sugar levels stable. If you confine eating to an eight-hour window, you’re releasing less insulin into the bloodstream, and that’s good because insulin build-up promotes fat storage and inflammation in the body. As research confirms, when insulin levels drop through fasting, insulin sensitivity increases, blood sugar levels normalize, and the body burns fat.3
Intermittent fasting helps you lose weight in three ways. First, unless you’re succumbing to gluttony during the eight-hour eating period, you’ll most likely end up eating fewer calories each day. But more importantly, because you will tend to use up all of your body’s available glucose during your fasting hours, you force your body to start burning fat for energy, which results in weight loss. And finally, as a result of moving your body into a fat burning state, your insulin levels will drop—since it’s no longer needed at the same levels—while at the same time, growth hormone and noradrenaline levels are increased, which yet again increases your body’s breakdown of fat for energy.
As just mentioned, studies show that intermittent fasting triggers the body to produce more Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH is key for strength, muscle development, immunity, resistance to disease, recovery from injury, weight loss, and optimized metabolism. Research also indicates that intermittent fasting can induce a type of cellular repair process called autolysis that helps the body “intelligently” rid itself of waste and toxins, and animal studies show that it might even extend lifespan. Other benefits include increased resistance to injury from cardiac events, heart-rate stabilization, and reduced oxidative damage.4
And finally, research indicates that intermittent fasting might be good for the brain as well. One study of fruit flies found that fasting blocked the synaptic activity of neurons.5 Since overactive synaptic activity is associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, it’s possible that fasting has a protective effect on the brain. Meanwhile, rat studies out of Johns Hopkins found similar results, but in addition, concluded that the brain stimulates chemicals that promote cell growth, and, in fact, the brain creates new cells and becomes more resistant to plaque when stressed by fasting.6 According to study director Dr. Mark Mattson, neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, "There's an increase in adaptive stress responses when people intermittently fast that is good for maintaining the brain…As is similar to what happens when muscles are exercised, the neurons in the brain benefit from being mildly stressed.”
If you decide to try the 16:8 diet, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Experts suggest very young children shouldn’t fast as they need extra calories for growth. On the other hand, fasting has been shown to reduce seizures in epileptic kids. Also, diabetics and those with low blood sugar should check with their health practitioner before fasting.
- You can choose any time window you prefer, as long as you restrict food intake to an eight-hour window each day. But do keep in mind that the later you eat, the more difficult weight loss will be for you, as studies show that once the body releases melatonin, which happens close to bedtime, calorie burning naturally slows down. Finishing dinner by six and then fasting until breakfast at 10 the next morning is ideal.
- Some sources say it’s okay, or even good, to drink coffee or tea (without cream or sugar) during your fasting hours to help you combat hunger. Others claim that such beverages will trigger metabolic processes in your body, and so it’s better to simply drink water.7
- For weight loss, the usual rules apply during eating hours. If you pig out during your eight-hour window, you’ll sabotage any benefits you might have gained during the fasting hours.
- Experts say the average person loses seven to 10 pounds within 10 weeks of starting the intermittent fasting regimen.8
- You probably won’t get that hungry. 16:8 fasting isn’t like fasting for an entire day, and drinking water (or coffee or tea) will most likely sustain you during your fasting hours. Staying busy helps so you don’t focus on what you’re missing. If you really can’t make it 16 hours without food, try going 15 or 14 hours at first, and work your way up. But keep in mind, you really do need to get up to around 16 hours of fasting a day for the benefits to kick in.
- 1. Burrell, Susie. “Eight-hour diet is key to weight loss, according to experts.” News.com.au. 6 September 2018. https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/diet/eighthour-diet-is-the-key-to-weight-loss-according-to-experts/news-story/1391a5a5113e650b8ffd2cf0322c1b66
- 2. University of Chicago. “Daily fasting works for weight loss, finds study on 16:8 diet.” 18 June 2018. Science Daily. 6 September 2018. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180618113038.htm
- 3. Heilbronn, LK et al. “Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism.” 8 January 2005. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 9 September 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15640462
- 4. Mattson, MP and Wan, R. “Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems.” 16 March 2005. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 9 September 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15741046
- 5. Lidicker, Gretchen. “New Research Shows How Intermittent Fasting is Like Decluttering for Your Brain.” 14 December 2016. Mindbodygreen. 7 September 2016. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-28129/new-research-shows-how-intermittent-fasting-is-like-decluttering-for-your-brain.html
- 6. Anft, Michael. “Don’t Feed Your Head.” September 2012. Johns Hopkins Magazine. 9 September 2018. https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2012/summer/dont-feed-your-head/
- 7. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/11-things-nobody-tells-start-intermittent-fasting
- 8. Haney, Stephanie. “This is How Long It’ll Take for Intermittent Fasting to Work.” 5 September 2018. MSN Health & Fitness. 9 September 2018. https://www.msn.com/en-gb/health/diet/this-is-how-long-itll-take-for-intermittent-fasting-to-work/ss-BBMTPba?li=BBoPH6F#image=5