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Intermittent fasting is an evidence-based dietary practice which involves taking periodic breaks from eating solid foods. While you should consult your doctor before making a drastic dietary change, intermittent fasting is generally considered a safe and healthy practice for most people.  It may be a successful weight loss strategy on its own or following your bariatric surgery in Houston.

Fasting is an age-old practice which, through popularity and casual research, might sometimes be misunderstood. Let’s delve into:

  • The scientific evidence about how the body’s systems react to fasting
  • The physical, mental, and weight loss benefits of fasting at regular intervals
  • The possible risks and side effects of planned fasting

close-up of woman with fruit water in glass bottle

The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting

There are numerous animal studies and some human research that strongly support fasting as a healthy practice, which may increase weight loss, reduce oxidative stress, and improve brain function. Some of this evidence suggests that our bodies may be designed to function best with periodic fasting.

Fasting Strengthens Cellular Function

Both intermittent fasting and long-term caloric restriction put mild stress on cells. Just as exercise strengthens muscles, fasting periods may encourage cells to adapt and increase their ability to cope with future stress or diseases.1

Following a fasting regimen before or after gastric sleeve surgery allows you to take advantage of a periodic fasting plan and the science behind restricting caloric intake long term.

Here’s what the studies have shown:

The Evidence for Fasting Continues to Grow

A wide variety of studies have been published which point to the biological effects of fasting on various bodily systems. Just a few of the facts that have come to light include:1

  • Young women who were overweight saw improvement to biomarkers for conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer after fasting.
  • Studies also show that intermittent fasting was as effective as continuous caloric restriction in helping speed weight loss and reduce insulin sensitivity.
  • Adults with asthma who practiced alternate day fasting not only lost significant weight, but also saw improvement of asthma symptoms and reported an improved quality of life.
  • Fasting for more than 10 hours results in the burning of stored fat and subsequent release of protective fatty acids (ketones). Ketones are understood to slow cognitive disease processes and protect memory function.

What Are the Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

The hard science backs up the advantages of fasting for good health and natural vitality. Weight loss and overall fitness improve as the cells grow stronger from the “exercise” of fasting.

The benefits span a wide range of functional systems, which work together toward your overall wellbeing. Fasting for 24 hours as little as twice per week shows benefits, and alternate day fasting can be highly effective, with your doctor’s approval.

1. Enhancing Healthy Weight Loss

Intermittent fasting improves both sides of your caloric balance. By increasing your metabolism up to 14%,2 you burn more calories continuously and, of course, you are consuming far less than you would on a normal day.

Weight loss rates may be as high as 8% with an intermittent fasting diet plan followed for up to 24 weeks. Studies found that this approach caused less loss of muscle versus continual caloric restriction. The weight loss was also in desirable areas, including belly fat and up to 7% of waist circumference.2

2. Reducing Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance causes increased blood sugar levels, is often associated with being overweight, and is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting reduces insulin levels, lowers fasting blood sugar, and may protect against diabetic kidney damage.

3. Restoring Healthy Hormonal Balance

These low insulin levels promote an increase in human growth hormone and norepinephrine. These hormones promote muscle gain and fat metabolism. Intermittent fasting also increases a key brain hormone (BDNF), which may help prevent depression and other mood disorders.

african woman feeling very proud of herself

4. Reducing Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is caused when free radicals react with the cells and DNA of the body, causing damage and inflammation. Periodic fasting seems to enhance the body’s resistance to these two key drivers of disease.

Healthy cells have the ability to resist these unstable molecules, as well as the ability to repair and even regenerate themselves. As each cell of the body becomes more resistant to damage, our ability to fight disease improves.

5. Improving Cardiovascular Health

Fasting also benefits heart health and lowers known risk factors of heart disease.2 Improvements have been demonstrated to key cardiovascular health markers like:

  • Blood pressure
  • LDL and total cholesterol
  • Inflammatory markers
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Triglycerides levels

6. Preventing and Fighting cancer

There is some evidence that intermittent fasting may help prevent cancer, slow cancer growth, and help reduce chemotherapy side effects.2 These studies encourage controlled eating and support the practice of fasting.

7. Delaying the Onset of Debilitating Diseases

The cellular process of autophagy breaks down damaged proteins that build up over time. Intermittent fasting promotes this healing process, which studies suggest may protect against, delay the onset of, and reduce the severity of these neurodegenerative diseases:2

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s Disease

8. Promoting Longevity and Brain Function

Research also shows that intermittent fasting promotes nerve cell regeneration and protects against brain damage. Animal studies demonstrated drastically increased lifespans using alternate day fasting techniques.2 Beneficial changes in gene expression related to heart health and longevity were also noted, which may be related to the anti-aging benefits.

What Are the Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting?

Having drastically reduced your food intake by fasting periodically or after a weight-loss-focused bariatric surgery in Houston, you might experience some of these side effects in the first few weeks. The body’s chemical balance and hormone levels vary in response to your daily diet, and they will adjust again to healthy eating or fasting, but this process takes time.

At first, you may be prone to:

  • Binging or consuming extra calories on non-fasting days, which should be avoided
  • Cravings caused by hormone spikes at expected mealtimes
  • Increased urination caused by system cleaning and drinking additional fluids to combat hunger
  • Headaches, feeling cold, and experiencing low energy levels caused by changing blood sugar levels, hormones, and possible dehydration if you aren’t consuming enough liquids
  • Heartburn, nausea, or constipation as your digestive system adjusts to the new eating schedule
  • Irritability and mood swings caused by hormones, blood sugar levels, and simply feeling hungry while dealing with cravings

cheerful young couple in the morning at home

Tips for Success on Your First Fast

  • Have a healthy meal the night before, without binging.
  • Immediately upon waking, drink 12 oz. of water.
  • If you feel hungry after that, drink another 12 oz.
  • Black coffee or plain tea (no cream, creamer, or sugar) can help combat hunger or boredom.
  • Exercise gently and focus on taking care of your body’s needs.
  • Know that the cravings and feelings of hunger will become less and less over time.
  • Plan a healthy meal to end your fast and avoid overeating.

Always Listen to Your Body and Your Doctor

A healthy fasting schedule or the gastric sleeve diet our Houston clinic recommends is intended to improve your health, help you lose weight, support brain functions, and make you feel better. If you become dizzy or unable to complete daily tasks, or if avoiding eating begins to become obsessive, you should stop fasting and consult your doctor.

At Bariatric Care Centers, we are committed to providing obesity help for Houston residents who are weighing their weight loss surgery options. We respect our patient’s choices, empower their ability to lose weight, and celebrate their recovery through positive lifestyle changes.

Finding the right relationship with food and your healthy body starts with good nutritional counseling and support for your individual needs and goals. Reach out to us today to find out how many possibilities are open to you and if intermittent fasting is a safe and healthy path to your weight loss goals.

Disclaimer: This is only for general information. All patients should consult their doctors prior to following any of the recommendations in any articles, posts, infographics, or videos. All patients have individual needs and limitations of which only their treating physicians can be fully aware.