Intermittent fasting is all the rage these days and I bet a lot of people have a lot of questions. I am going to answer some of them here.
1. Is intermittent fasting just another fad?
I mean I guess it could be looked at that way, but I see it more as a result of new knowledge (and a return to old intuitive knowledge).
Remember when we were told that fat was the enemy and the whole low-fat craze? And also that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that we should eat 5-6 small meals a day because it was 'better' for us? Well turns out that that was completely WRONG! There are many reasons that we have now learned that that was all bad advice but the main reason is insulin. We did not know then what we know now about this all important hormone. Before, we thought that it was just for managing blood sugar. Now we know that insulin has many functions in the body but the main ones are fat-storage or not, fat-burning or not, and blood sugar control.
We have learned that having consistently high insulin levels from, for example, eating all the time instead of having breaks is very bad for us. Having consistently high insulin levels triggers our bodies to store fat. Also, having consistently high insulin level means that we constantly have sugar to be used up in our blood steam. If we always have blood sugar readily available for an energy source our cells are never stimulated to use fat for energy instead. So, we are storing extra fat and never being able to use it all because we constantly have glucose and insulin in our bloodstream.
When we eat less often we don't have as many spikes in blood sugar and therefore less spikes in insulin levels. When we don't have spikes in insulin levels, blood sugar is maintained within a range, we do not signal the body to store extra fat, and cells have the opportunity to access our already stored fat and burn it for energy.
Enter: intermittent fasting as a method to accomplish this.
2. Why does fasting accomplish this?
When we are in fasted state blood sugar levels go down but are maintained within a normal range in non-diabetic people. In this state, insulin is low and glucagon and growth hormone, opposing hormones to insulin, are elevated. The low levels of insulin in the body signals cells to start mobilizing stored body fat from your fat cells and burning this fat for energy instead of glucose.
This is called ketogenesis. As you can see you do not have to follow a strict ketogenic diet to accomplish ketogenesis. With a ketogenic diet ('the keto diet') you use ketones exclusively for energy, and I think the jury is out on the long-term safety of that. My inclination is to believe that it is unhealthy. We have two systems for energy and it would make sense that we are meant to use both of them.
Everything in life and nature is about finding balance and with intermittent fasting we do.
I would add another MASSIVE benefit of intermittent fasting. Digestion uses more energy that any other system or process in our bodies. When we give our digestion a break, our body can use this same energy for other things. Things like healing, fighting pathogens, dis-inflammation, and who knows what else!!
When people do complete fasts, after a few days they have a TON of energy and this is why. I do believe that fasting is important for spiritual reasons and also to connect with the reality of what it feels like to be hungry a little bit, to increase our compassion for our fellow humans who experience this too much.
3. How do I intermittent fast?
There are many ways to intermittent fast. The most popular and achievable one is the 16/8 that can have some variation. The 16/8 means that out of 24 hours you have a 16 hour fasting period and an 8 hour feeding time. Eight hours of your fasting time will be spent sleeping, so you have eight hours of your waking day where you are not eating.
It takes 8-12 hours after eating for your body to get into a fasting state, depending on many factors like what you eat. A variation on the 16/8 and a great place to start is 14/10, then you can move to 15/9 and if you want to 16/8. Any of these variations are better than what we have been doing.
Here is my intermittment fasting schedule
I eat from 12pm-8pm and fast from 8pm-12pm the next day.
Twice a week I stop eating at 5pm instead of 8pm
I do this on days that I am not eating with other people or have dinner plans. Social life is very important for our health and should not be sacrificed. If one day I don't finish eating until 9pm that's ok too. I might adjust the next and eat at 1pm and if I can't I eat at 12 and still had a 15 hour fasting period, yay me!
I exercise in the morning (intense) and I have gotten used to doing it in a fasted state. I have my black coffee before and if I really need something I have it, like a third of a banana or a couple bites of chia pudding. Under fifty calories is said to still be considered fasted.
I have friend who eats at 6am and then doesn't eat again until 8pm. He has a 14 hour fast because it works for his work schedule. You can play around with the schedule and hours and see what works for you. That is the beauty of intermittent fasting.
It works for weight-loss for two reasons. One, we eat less, generally two meals a day instead of three. And two because we are accessing our fat stores and burning it for energy. You don't even have to change what you are eating to get benefit from intermittent fasting you just have to change when.
Here is a TedTalk on intermittent fasting by a functional nurse practitioner.
Tips, Tricks & Important Things
The most important tip that I have learned is to eat enough during your feeding period. I found on the days that I stop eating at five especially were harder because I was not eating enough before 5. The point is not for you to feel starving or even really hungry; (you will a little in the beginning but it should be tolerable) it is for you to be fasted, which is different.
Another Important Tips
Avoiding obsessing over food.
Resting and relaxing.
Making every calorie count.
Eating high-volume foods.
Increasing the taste without the calories.
Choosing nutrient-dense foods after the fasting period.
Do not avoid healthy fats, fat is so important to health and satiety.
Choose a plan and schedule that suits your life - there are other ways of intermittent fasting that you can look up
Go gradual for greater success- eg 12/12 and gradually increase to 16/8.
Do not overdo your feeding period
Intermittent fasting is NOT for:
The very young or old
People with history or current disordered eating or excessive exercise
People who do not want to
If you have been wondering about intermittent fasting I hope this clears some things up for you. If you have more questions or concerns, I am available for 1 on 1 appointments in person or by phone/video chat.
Until next time, stay well, from Sinergia Wellness