Intermittent fasting and weight loss often go hand-in-hand, but weight loss is not the only benefit of intermittent fasting. For most people, it’s not even the most impactful benefit.
Lesser-known (but no less powerful) benefits of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is a popular eating pattern that involves alternating periods of eating with periods of fasting. It offers a range of benefits that can improve your health and overall well-being.
1. Helps reduce insulin resistance
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. When you eat, your body releases insulin to help your cells utilize glucose (sugar) from your bloodstream for energy. Excessive insulin over time can lead to insulin resistance, which means our bodies can’t process insulin the way it should. With the modern diet that prioritizes convenience over nutrition, insulin resistance is becoming more and more common in our society, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance, and to reduce blood sugar levels, as well. This allows your body to use insulin more effectively, which means more energy and better overall health for you.
2. Can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation
Inflammation is the immune system’s natural response to injury and infection. Inflammatory cells and cytokines, the immune system’s messaging system, are the body’s “first responders” when the immune system is activated. However, chronic inflammation can cause problems over time. Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation by lowering the production of cytokines, and may also enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress.
3. Supports heart health
Intermittent fasting can help improve blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol (aka, the “bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, all of which can be risk factors for heart disease, one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
4. Supports gut health
Spending less time eating each day does more than reduce calories. It also gives your body a break from having to digest all those calories, which is a boon for gut health. Intermittent fasting supports the microbiome, improves digestion, and supports a healthy gut-brain balance, all of which can have a noticeable impact on your quality of life. Because let’s be honest, if there’s one thing you want to be going right in your body, it’s digestion (and anything else having to do with gut health).
5. Supports cellular repair processes
After 12–16 hours of fasting, autophagy begins, which is the body’s natural process of breaking down old, damaged, or abnormal cells. Just like you feel better after some R&R, your body feels and functions better when it’s able to self-cleanse regularly. This internal “housekeeping” can help you feel more focused and energized in the short term and can help ward off various health problems later down the line.
6. Can boost brain function
If it’s good for your body, it’s probably good for your brain, too. Intermittent fasting may help protect against age-related cognitive decline and help improve memory.
7. Helps control cravings
All too often, cravings control us. Intermittent fasting can help us take back that control. As mentioned earlier, intermittent fasting can help stabilize blood sugar levels, which limits the amount of glucose entering the bloodstream. Having steady blood sugar levels can help reduce cravings.
Intermittent fasting also increases the levels of hormones like ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” and is responsible for stimulating appetite; it’s also associated with improved abdominal fat loss and improved insulin sensitivity. GLP-1 helps regulate insulin secretion and decreased appetite. In other words, having more of these hormones makes some of those cravings go away and helps you feel more satiated, making avoiding cravings something your body can do naturally so you don’t have to rely on willpower alone.
8. Improves sleep
Intermittent fasting helps to reinforce your circadian rhythms, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Circadian rhythms rely primarily on the sun to keep your sleep-wake cycle consistent, but food—specifically, when you eat—can also help reinforce your natural circadian rhythms. Eating at irregular times or late at night can throw off this delicate balance and affect your sleep quality and amount. For this reason, it’s best to finish eating for the day at least three hours before bed so your digestion doesn’t disturb your sleep.
More than just weight loss
Intermittent fasting isn’t a fad diet; it’s an eating pattern that can be integrated into almost any lifestyle and maintained long term. Yes, weight loss is one of the benefits of intermittent fasting, but it has so many more benefits beyond that to help you feel better overall, which is why so many decide to make it a permanent part of their lifestyle.
If you’ve tried intermittent fasting in the past but haven’t been able to stick with it, try Unicity’s Feel Great Program, which makes it much easier to succeed at intermittent fasting long term. [link to ufeelgreat] Starting with a shorter fasting window, like 12 hours, and gradually working your way up to a 16-hour fast (say, by adding an hour to your fast each week), is another way people have found success with intermittent fasting.