Intermittent Fasting vs. Prolonged Fasting: Differences, Pros and Cons

Are you fasting for a little while, or for more than 24 hours? See all you need to know about it.

Intermittent fasting is all the rage right now, mainly because it is a very efficient method to lose weight. Prolonged fasting is similar to intermittent fasting, but it is said to bring more significant health benefits. I decided to clear the air about both as someone who’s tried them both. 

How Are Intermittent Fasting And Prolonged Fasting Different? 

Both intermittent and prolonged fasting encompass going without eating for a certain period. While intermittent fasting means interval eating, i.e., you eat in an eight-hour window and fast the other 16 hours, prolonged fasting means not eating for at least 36 hours. With time, the goal of intermittent fasting is to narrow down the eight-hour window to four hours. 

The longest recorded extended fast lasted for 382 days. It was medically supervised and more of an experiment to see what would happen. This person was at no life-threatening risk, and he lost 276 pounds (120 kilos).

It is also said that fasting helps the body heal and repair itself by allowing it to use its own cells as fuel. These are not new concepts to humanity. Even cavemen fasted because food was scarce back then.

Intermittent fasting is the lower-risk option, and its effects are mostly related to losing weight and generally improved digestion, reduced bloating, and better bowel movement. On the other hand, expanded fasting brings certain risks, such as dehydration, no energy, brain fog, and other health-related problems specific to the person’s health condition. 

In my 72 hours of fasting, I drank a lot of water, flavoured sparkling water, and green tea. It really wasn’t that bad. Still, it’s always recommended that you speak to a doctor before doing it. 

Extended fasting also brings the benefit of autophagy. It is a state in which the body starts using itself as a fuel, feeding off the so-called “junk cells” or cells you don’t need. Such junk cells can be anything from excess fat cells to cells of a particular disease.

Autophagy is considered to have a potent beneficial effect on diseases such as Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, etc. It has even been connected to cancer treatment, though additional research is needed to confirm this. 

Anyway, autophagy kicks in somewhere between 24 and 48 hours of prolonged fasting. It is the third of the five stages of fasting. The first stage is ketosis, which occurs after 12 hours of fasting, and here’s where you burn fat cells. You can reach this stage in intermittent fasting too.

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The second stage is insulin reduction, usually occurring after 16 hours of fasting. This is where your insulin sensitivity increases, allowing your cells to use it better. This 16-hour fasting interval is recommended for people with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes

The rest of the stages come in prolonged fasting only. The third stage is autophagy. The fourth stage is the growth hormone stage. It usually kicks in after 48 hours of fasting, and it benefits your muscles and bones. 

The last stage is immune cell rejuvenation or “the fountain of youth.” There are studies stating that to start producing new white blood cells to restart your immune system, you need to fast for 30 days. However, this cell rejuvenation has also been shown to occur between 48 and 72 hours of fasting. 

Still, there is no sufficient research to clearly state the period in which the last stage takes place, but no research denies its existence. 

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After my 72-hour fast, I must say, I felt refreshed overall. My mind was sharper, my body felt lighter, and my energy levels were pretty high. After you finish your fast, start with light food, such as salads and chicken breast, and stay away from bread, sweets, and fatty foods for two-three days.

Now, let’s discuss intermittent fasting. As I said, with intermittent fasting, you reach the first two stages, i.e., ketosis and insulin sensitivity. This makes intermittent fasting great for losing weight.

So, while prolonged fasting brings more health benefits, intermittent fasting is not to be underestimated either. Also, it is easier to fast intermittently, it is low-risk, and it is easier to fit into your daily routine. 

If you plan on doing both or either, consult with a doctor first and make sure your body can do it. Also, whether you fast intermittently or prolonged, you won’t get the expected results if you don’t make any dietary changes to your daily nutrition. 

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Intermittent Fasting Pros

Take a glimpse at the intermittent fasting pros:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased insulin sensitivity 
  • Feeling lighter 
  • Improved bowel movement
  • Feeling refreshed 
  • More energy in the long run

Note that adjusting takes some time. 

Intermittent Fasting Cons

Below are some of the most common side effects of intermittent fasting:

  • Feeling hungry
  • Feeling irritated 
  • Feeling tired until you adjust
  • Headaches 
  • Brain fog 
  • Insomnia 
  • Nausea until you adjust

You may not experience all of the cons, and the ones you experience will likely subdue with time. 

Prolonged Fasting Pros

Take a look at the prolonged fasting pros

  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Lower cancer risk
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease 
  • Increased insulin sensitivity 
  • Weight loss
  • Slower ageing 
  • System reset

Prolonged Fasting Cons

Please see the prolonged fasting cons below: 

  • Generally riskier than intermittent fasting, so talk to a doctor before doing it
  • Severe hunger 
  • Risk of dehydration 
  • Risk of constipation after you are done fasting
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia 
  • Irritability 
  • Brain fog 
  • Nausea 

During your prolonged fasting, make sure you hydrate and take vitamins such as vitamin C and magnesium. Drink green tea and mineral water to boost your energy levels and suppress hunger. 

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Instead Conclusion: How Will Your Workout Routine Influence Your Eating Habits?

You have probably noticed that working out impacts how you eat. But do you know why? It is absurd that the more people eat, the hungrier they are, but that actually makes perfect sense. 

A sedentary lifestyle is often accompanied by a lot of food and a tough time controlling hunger. This happens because you dull up your brain by creating more “white noise” inside your head. This white noise is basically how clear your head is, and the less white noise, the better.

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So, when you sit all day, you find yourself reaching for snacks. This is because you don’t scan your body about what you need and do things mechanically, which is why getting stuck in that routine is so easy.

With each muscle contraction, your body receives a signal from outside, bringing it back to the present moment and reducing this white noise. So, a regular workout routine makes you better aware of what and when you need to eat. 

Working out activates the hypothalamus which clears the white noise. You become more aware of what you need at a given moment and scan your body to see if you really need to eat. This way, you end up eating only as much as you need to be functional. 

One of the best pieces of advice I read was to fuel my workout before training and maximize my recovery with a well-balanced meal. It helped me to focus on what my body needs instead of focusing on what my mind thinks it needs.

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