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Intermittent fasting is probably the biggest dieting craze in the world right now, with the hugely popular 5:2 diet - but what is intermittent fasting? Can it really help you lose weight and can it really improve your health? Read all about it here.

Intermittent fasting is the most popular "diet" out there at the moment - even though it's not a diet. Intermittent fasting is a way of life, a dieting pattern that involves intermittent fasting either every day or every week.

Some people choose to fast for a few days a week, as in the 5:2 diet, whilst others choose to fast for one meal per day or two meals per day.

It basically involves eating completely as normal throughout the rest of the day or the week, consuming the same calories at the same meals as you usually do, then consuming no calories throughout the fasting period (or very limited calories).

Some people choose to fast through breakfast, only eating from 12pm to 8pm, while others fast for two days at a time. 

Fasting For Weight Loss

Intermittent fasting can boost weight loss in a couple of ways. The most obvious is simply because fasting causes a calorie deficit, and any calorie deficit will eventually cause weight loss. If you take in fewer calories than your body needs to perform its basic functions, you'll burn calories from your fat stores instead, resulting in weight loss. 

When you eat a meal, there's a decent store of energy readily available in your body from the food you just ate. In the hours following a meal, your body will take energy from that meal instead of from your fat stores. If you've just eaten a carb or sugar-heavy meal, this is especially true - sugar is easier to burn than other sources.

When you fast, this source of energy isn't available and so your body has to use calories from your fat stores instead - resulting in weight loss.

If you fast and work out, your body will also use energy from your fat stores to fuel your work out, again resulting in weight loss.

Fasting For Health

A landmark research study by BBC Horizon found that a calorie deficit, or calorie restriction, is also known to improve life expectancy in animals. Intermittent fasting has been found to increase life expectancy in mice, and mounting data shows that it could increase life expectancy in monkeys too - so it's not unreasonable to assume that the data could also apply to humans, too.

Recent research has also found that fasting can reduce the levels of the growth hormone IGF-1. IGF-1 is found in higher quantities when we are young as it's basically what keeps all of our cells in growth mode - but as we get older and reach our full height, this hormone could be dangerous, causing cell mutations that could lead to cancer. High levels of the IGF-1 hormone can be reduced with fasting, according to new research, and this could reduce the risk of cancer and related diseases. People with Laron disease have very low levels of IGF-1 and this means they are very short - but they also seem to be protected against diabetes and cancer. 

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