This article is written in partnership with Noom—they’re dedicated to making healthy living easier for us all, and we’re honored to work with them. ~ ed.
When I tell people I do intermittent fasting, they tend to look at me like I’m a type-A, overly obsessive health freak.
Which I might be—but not because I do intermittent fasting.
It’s actually one of the best (and easiest) things I’ve done for my well-being.
I’ve never been super interested in restrictive diets—nor have I been able to stick to any I’ve attempted. There’s just too much self-bargaining and guilt and deprivation involved.
So, I had mostly given up on diets and rules and restrictions.
The problem was that I was going through cycles of gaining 15 pounds, then losing them, then gaining…and on and on. And I was also feeling sluggish every day, and in desperate need of coffee just about, well, all the time.
Then one day, I stumbled across an article on intermittent fasting, and I thought, Hmmmm, I guess I could try that.
And, just like they say in cheesy love stories, the rest is history.
How Intermittent Fasting Works
Intermittent fasting (IF) is different from most diets, because it’s about when you eat as opposed to how much you eat or what you eat. (Granted, what and how much are both also important if you’re trying to give your body all the love and health it deserves, so it’s best to educate yourself and make healthful food choices while trying out intermittent fasting.)
Basically, as the name implies, intermittent fasting involves alternating between periods of fasting and periods of eating. There are a few varieties of this, and you can try one, try them all, or find some combination that works for you.
It can be tricky to navigate this adjustment to a different eating style and schedule, which is where Noom comes in. Their mindful, psychology-based approach to eating fits hand-in-hand with intermittent fasting and can be the perfect tool for managing our healthful eating progress.
The Different Types of Intermittent Fasting
1. Daily fasting
16:8, a 16-hour fast followed by an 8-hour eating window. 20:4, a 20-hour fast followed by a 4-hour eating window.
This is the most common type of IF, and it’s the one I’ve become addicted to. The 20:4 approach was a little too extreme for me, but I’d highly recommend the 16:8 version. It tends to be the most doable for most folks.
If neither feel quite right for you, you can of course find a happy medium. Some people do 18:6 or 17:7 or 19:5. It’s generally considered intermittent fasting if you go for at least 15-hour stretches without food. Anything less than that becomes the more typical break that a lot of us take between dinner and breakfast.
2. Alternate day fasting
With this approach, people typically go 24 to 36 hours without food, then eat up to two days worth of calories over the course of 12 to 24 hours.
This one is a little less common than the daily fasting approach—but it is definitely still popular, and worth trying (safely) if your lifestyle, exercise regimen, and schedule allow it.
3. Multiple day fasting
In this type of fast, people might choose to go several days without food. It’s typically only used in clinical settings to treat or manage certain medical conditions.
This variety isn’t recommended to try casually at home (and most of us can’t or wouldn’t want to make this a habit anyways).
Why Intermittent Fasting Is So Beneficial
Intermittent fasting uses a phenomenon called “metabolic switching” to our benefit. When we’re eating regularly, we’re providing our body with a steady supply of glucose to use as energy. As a result, we don’t end up dipping into our fat stores and are just running on sugar energy all the time.
When we take longer breaks between meals, we drain our glucose supply and start to burn body fat. Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at John Hopkins, recently explained this process to The New York Times: “It takes 10 to 12 hours to use up the calories in the liver before a metabolic shift occurs to using stored fat.” He said that “Most people trying to lose weight should strive for 16 calorie-free hours.”
Dr. Monique Tello at Harvard further explained how IF impacts our metabolism:
“Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.”
It’s a little incredible that, in our diet and weight-obsessed culture, so few of us are aware of this phenomenon in our own bodies. But it’s hugely helpful and valuable information to carry with us, whether we’re practicing intermittent fasting or not.
Understanding the physiology and psychology of weight, exercise, body image, and healthful living is so damn important in general, no matter our goals. Noom’s education and tools provide just that—and give us the knowledge to move through life with the healthy body, well-being, and self-love we want.
Intermittent Fasting Is Not Just for Weight Loss
Yes, there’s a lot of evidence that intermittent fasting can significantly help with weight management. But there are more reasons why it’s become increasingly popular.
One such benefit is extended life span. According to Medical News Today, “Animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting may help animals live longer. For example, one study found that short-term repeated fasting increased the life span of female mice.”
While we are not mice, and there needs to be more research done on humans, this is extremely promising for the benefits we can reap from IF.
Another commonly cited benefit of intermittent fasting has to do with our concentration, memory, mood, and energy levels.
Energy, Concentration, Memory, & Mood
Some research has found that IF can actually boost memory performance. And, while much of it thus far is anecdotal, many people have reported that they have increased energy and improved concentration while practicing IF.
And this is, by far, the biggest reason why I have stuck with intermittent fasting.
At first, the idea of having more energy during daily periods of fasting sounded counterintuitive. I had always been told to eat breakfast every morning and that I would crash during the day if I didn’t. So I didn’t know what to expect when I started fasting from dinner until lunch the next day.
After a couple of years of doing pretty consistent intermittent fasting, I’ve found that it’s an essential part of me being productive, happy, and focused at work each day. I spend the first half of my day sipping water, tea, and coffee, then have a medium-sized lunch in the middle of my workday, and then a larger dinner at the end of the day. Meals during the day always slowed me down and made it near-impossible to concentrate, so IF has honestly been a transformative switch for my everyday well-being.
How to Get Started
A lot of people are wary of intermittent fasting. And I get it. It can sound kinda daunting when we think about “depriving” ourselves of food for hours every day.
And, I’ll admit, it was a little tough at first. Bodies and minds and habits are stubborn things that can take some time to adjust.
But after a not-too-long adjustment period, my whole self got used to the practice—and actually stopped craving food for the whole fasting period each day. I’ve even come to enjoy the feeling of fasting every morning: it makes me feel jazzy and light and able to kick butt.
We’re used to eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks in between because we’ve conditioned ourselves to it. But that also means that we can condition ourselves out of it—and feel even better as a result.
And we don’t need to do it alone.
Noom has been an awesome resource for tracking what and when I eat, and I can’t say enough good things about what I’ve learned from their approach to eating and taking mindful care of our bodies. Noom is a bit like a helpful, encouraging, unusually wise friend who is there to guide us over any well-being hurdles we’re facing.
With Noom, we can figure out the blueprint of what a healthful life looks like for us, whether we’re type-A, overly obsessive health freaks—or just looking for a more mindful way to eat, move, and live.