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Explained: How intermittent fasting works, its different stages

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

New Delhi: Time restricted fasting or intermittent fasting recently got attention and a lot of people around the world are adopting this diet regime to reduce weight. This popular science-backed method that alternates between eating and fasting cycle, changes your metabolic state, which in turn helps you loose weight.

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How intermittent fasting helps you lose weight?

Any form of fasting works by moving the body through a fed-fast cycle. However, of all other fasting types, intermittent fasting is considered to be one of the most beneficial and works in different stages, depending on the number of hours you go without eating and shows results accordingly.

What happens when you start Intermittent Fasting?

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It has been observed that each stage of intermittent fasting delivers specific results, effecting your energy, metabolism, hormones, and showcases significant health benefits. Thus, before hitting out this road of weight loss one may decide which pattern of Intermittent Fasting is best suited for them.

So, let’s first understand what actually happens once you start intermittent fasting for weight loss and how the different stages impact your weight loss.

Stage 1: ‘Fed state’

The ‘fed’ state of intermittent fasting kicks off some hours after you eat. During this stage, the food gets digested, nutrient absorbed and transportation of these nutrients through blood occurs. Depending on the type, and the quantity of food you eat, your body tends to remain in the ‘fed state’ for hours.

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However, this usually happens first 2-3 hours after you have food. At first, the sugar level in blood rises and insulin secretion increases, depending on the type of meal you have had. Now, the extra sugar is converted into glycogen, which is stored as energy for future use when needed (when food isn’t made available).

In this stage, other important hormones, including ghrelin and leptin (hunger hormones), are managed.

Stage 2: ‘Early fasting state’

The early or pre-fasting state kicks off 3-4 hours after you stop consuming your food, and tends to last for upto 18 hours. It’s also referred to as a transitory state when the body turns to use the ‘extra’ stored glucose (glycogen) as fuel. Slowly, after the body runs out of glycogen sources, it starts to break down amino acids (proteins) and triglycerides to use as energy sources and carry vital functions.

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This is the most basic manner in which intermittent fasting works, and some of the most common methods of doing IF, such as the 16:8 eating window – alternate between fed-early fasting states.

Stage 3: ‘Fasting state’

This is an extension of the pre-fasting state and may happen anywhere between 18 hours- 2 days of fasting. During this state, your body runs out of its glycogen storage while amino acids and other fat sources are broken down, which ultimately results in the production of ketones – a compound that results when the body converts fat for fuel, and forces the body to turn into state of ketosis, deriving primary energy from fats and not from carbs.

At this stage, Ketosis can be noticed by primary markers like decreased appetite, change in breath, fatigue, and seldom, a reduction in body weight. During this state, your body may shed some water weight too.

It is to be mentioned that while ketosis is claimed to help one achieve weight loss faster, it suggestively gives better results when one follows longer fasting hours. Intermittent Fasting patterns of less than 24 hours may end at the pre-fasting stage only, although, following an intrinsically low-carb diet may show varied results.

Stage 4: ‘Starvation state’

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As the name itself suggests, starvation state follows up longer, extended hours of fasting, most times 48 hours after food intake is curtailed.

During this state, insulin levels in the body steadily drop, while ketone markers rise and kidneys turn to generate energy by a process called ‘gluconeogenesis’. This also helps conserve the muscle tissues from breaking down. However, always keep in mind that this state occurs only when you follow radical fasting windows, and may not be appropriate for everyone as they might have some underline health conditions.

Enjoy these benefits with Intermittent Fasting!

-Intermittent fasting is a good tool for calorie control/calorie restriction depending on your goals.

-Maintaining a daily eating window can take the inconvenience out of calorie restriction.

-Starvation mode can help you sustain consistency with an eating window while fasting the rest of the day.

-Starvation mode positively affects insulin sensitivity, as well as the hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin.

-While, in theory, metabolism slows during starvation mode, fat is preferentially burned.

-During exercise, fasted muscles have been shown to stiffen more slowly.

-At the cellular level, fasted cells accumulate fewer oxidants and free radicals, which slows the degradation of proteins and DNA. Mitochondria have time to rest and allow free radicals to dissipate.

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