Intermittent fasting is a term used to describe a routine that alternates between a period of fasting and non-fasting. Intermittent fasting is sometimes used alongside calorie restriction for health or weight loss reasons, however for Muslims, there is an entirely different reason to adopt this practice.
Daily fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Between sunrise and sunset Muslims abstain from all food and drink, to exercise self-restraint and to strengthen empathy with those who are less fortunate.
From a health perspective, many people wonder what happens to the body during fasting. Clinical dietitian, Victoria Pena-Acuna, addresses some of the most common myths and facts.
1. Fasting puts your body in starvation mode
Myth. Your body will use energy in different ways, but it won’t go into starvation mode. The human body is designed and has evolved to survive short periods of fasting. What’s more, there are even studies that state there could be benefits to your health as a result of fasting.
2. Fasting increases stress levels
Myth. Short-term fasting does not place stress on the body and impact cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress. In fact, fasting can help keep your cortisol levels low, which regulates your immune system, maintains blood pressure, and metabolizes fats in the body.
3. Fasting makes it difficult to focus
Myth. Available data does not support the notion that intermittent fasting has a negative effect on cognitive functions. Whether during Ramadan or for health reasons, studies show short periods of fasting could even improve cognitive function, stimulating faster learning and better memory.
4. Fasting improves toleration of carbohydrates and sugars
Fact. While fasting, your body uses insulin more efficiently, to take glucose from the blood. Overall, intermittent fasting can lead to a significant reduction in blood sugar levels.
5. Fasting can improve long-term brain health
Fact. Fasting increases the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes neural health. This powerful protein can help protect your brain cells from neurological changes associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Fasting can help clear your skin
Fact. When you take a break from eating, your body is able to focus on other regenerative systems. This allows the body to clean up toxins and regulate the functionality of other organs, including your kidney and liver, which in turn can help clear your skin.
7. Fasting can help with weight loss
Fact. Intermittent fasting can be an effective method for weight loss, in combination with a healthy diet. The percentage of weight loss will vary depending on age, gender and overall calorie intake. Ramadan offers a good opportunity to start on a weight loss journey, but consistent healthy eating patterns are essential for achieving and maintaining an ideal weight.
8. Fasting can benefit your heart
Fact. Some studies have shown that different methods of intermittent fasting can decrease blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity, increase heart rate variability, and decrease cholesterol levels, all of which consequently decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and strokes.