When you eat could be as important as what you eat. Mounting evidence confirms that regular fasting enhances health as well as superfoods or medicines. This makes sense because giving our bodies a break from food processing allows them time to rejuvenate. Instead of slashing calories or drastically altering food choices and portions, the 16:8 diet cuts back on the time frame during which you eat each day. Rather than spreading out your meals between when you wake up and a couple hours before you go to sleep, the method requires limiting consumption to an eight-hour window and fasting for 16 hours.
What is the 16:8 Diet?
The 16:8 diet isn’t technically a diet; it is a form of intermittent fasting (IF) or time-restricted eating. During the fasting period, you refrain from consuming any calorie-bearing foods or drinks; water and unsweetened beverages are allowed. While you can eat whatever you desire during the eating period, a nutrient-rich food selection will naturally yield greater health benefits.
Various forms of IF have been a part of eating patterns around the world for ages. Historians believe our ancient ancestors practiced IF naturally, as food sources and daylight were limited. Many religions suggest or require periodic abstinence from food; Islam’s Ramadan is among the most widely known faith-based fasting observances. Modern medical researchers have been studying IF since the 1930s. Personal trainer Martin Berkhan popularized the 16:8 concept through his Leangains diet in the 2000s. In 2012, David Zinczenko and Peter Moore published their best-selling book, The 8-Hour Diet, following research at the National Institute on Aging and the Salk Institute. This form of restricted eating has gained more notoriety with the endorsement of celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Terry Crews.
Chronutrition and Time Restricted Eating
The circadian rhythm influences metabolic, neuronal, endocrine, and behavioral functions. Our internal clocks run in key tissues such as the pancreas, liver, skeletal muscle, and white adipose. Chrononutrition, a developing field of scientific study, explores how nutrition interacts with circadian rhythms. Time Restricted Eating (TRE) methods such as the 16:8 diet is one way scientists are applying chrononutrition to dietary health. Animal studies suggest TRE can reduce the risk of metabolic diseases and obesity. Human studies produce varying results; nonetheless, increasing evidence supports the possibility that TRE can positively impact metabolism.
Lower Fat Stores
Our bodies utilize sugar first for energy, storing the excess as glycogen in the liver and muscles as fat. Intermittent fasting encourages the body to burn up more fat cells for fuel. Authors of a 2016 study in the Journal of Translational Medicine reported that an IF program with an eight-hour eating window, along with resistance training, could decrease fat mass while maintaining muscle mass.
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Insulin is the hormone that helps move glucose out of the bloodstream into cells for energy production. When insulin is not working as it should, elevated blood sugar levels breed a host of discomforts and illnesses. Research is finding that IF helps the body regulate the release of insulin, curtailing blood sugar fluctuations. The World Journal of Diabetes published a study in which participants with diabetes fasted 16 hours a day for 14 days. The subjects experienced lower caloric intake, weight loss, and reduced blood glucose levels.
Somatotropin, the human growth hormone (HGH), is integral to many physiological functions, but we produce less of it as we get older. This decrease correlates with symptoms of aging such as lower energy. However, fasting naturally elevates HGH levels. Scientists at the Leiden University Medical Center observed that levels of the hormone rise significantly within 13 hours of fasting.
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham posit that eating early, in sync with your circadian rhythm, is better than eating later in the day or evening. For example, these scientists have noted that the body is more capable of regulating blood sugar levels in the morning than in the afternoon or later. The 16:8 diet enables you to schedule eating within an ideal time frame to maximize fasting benefits.
16:8 and Ghrelin
TRE helps retrain the release of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Ghrelin also stimulates memory development and spatial learning. Cells in the stomach lining secrete it in accordance with the times we normally eat, prompting a growing desire to consume food. Scientists believe that if we are constantly eating, the release of ghrelin goes unregulated. The 16:8 diet helps establish a regular eating pattern that normalizes ghrelin secretion.
What to Expect as a New Faster
Some people experience grogginess or increased irritability when they begin intermittent fasting. Fasting may temporarily spike stress levels because the same biochemistry behind appetite also regulates mood; any change in appetite may lead to changes in emotions. This increased stress may also dysregulate sleep patterns for a few days. To counter these unpleasant effects, take up activities that lower stress and distract the mind from eating. During the eight-hour eating window, it is essential to eat enough nutritious whole foods to make feel satiated but not overstuffed. Getting sufficient sleep can help regulate mood as well.
Small-scale studies demonstrate notable potential benefits of intermittent fasting. However, because it is a new method in modern society, we have no data to indicate its long-term effectiveness or safety. Always seek medical advice about any major dietary changes, especially if you use medications or have a history of eating disorders. Women who are pregnant or planning to conceive should not attempt the 16:8 diet.