Intermittent fasting is the practice of going for prolonged periods without eating.
For a long time it was thought that eating little and often is healthiest and also best for weight loss. This could not be more wrong has been since debunked many times. One theory is that we as humans put too much energy into digesting food. Instead we should allow that energy to be put to work in more important processes in our bodies such as oxygenations, detoxification and regeneration. Man, at one point would hunt for food when he needed it for survival and could then go for days or perhaps weeks on rations. Now we are spoilt for choice being surrounded by fast food outlets and restaurants all around us.
What Happens To Your Body When You Fast
• Helps promote insulin sensitivity – Optimal insulin sensitivity is crucial for your health, as insulin resistance or poor insulin sensitivity contributes to nearly all chronic diseases
• Normalizes ghrelin levels, also known as your “hunger hormone”
• Increases the rate of HGH production, which has an important role in health, fitness, and slowing the aging process
• Lowers triglyceride levels
• Helps suppress inflammation and fight free radical damage
In addition, exercising in a fasted state can help counteract muscle aging and wasting, and boost fat-burning.
A common fear is that fasting equals starvation, which is not true. First of all, starvation is a forced situation that you have no control over whereas fasting is optional. You have complete control. Many also believe they cannot or should not fast because it will send their body into “starvation mode” — a situation where the body starts holding on to fat rather than burning it off. Starvation mode actually is guaranteed if you just try and cut your calories. But what’s interesting is that fasting does not do that. What happens during fasting is that after four days of fasting, the basal metabolic rate is actually 10 percent higher than when you started. What it’s done is it switched fuel sources. It switched from burning food to burning [body] fat.
This is also why fasting tends to increase energy opposed to leaving you feeling drained. If you’re overweight and lethargic, fasting helps unlock all that energy already lodged in your body that you previously had no access to. Fasting forces your body to start accessing those stores of energy, and once that happens, your body suddenly has a near unlimited supply of energy.
A study shows that if you don’t eat for 10–16 hours, your body will go to its fat stores for energy, and fatty acids called ketones will be released into the bloodstream. This has been shown to protect memory and learning functionality as well as slow disease processes in the brain.
Fasting the Way That’s Right for You
There are many considerations to take note when fasting intermittently:
• Intermittent fasting is not a form of extreme calorie restriction. It’s a practice that should make you feel good. If your fasting strategy is making your feel weak, you need to re-evaluate it.
• Typical fast time ranges from 14 to 18 hours. You may also opt to delay eating, I advise that you skip breakfast and eat your lunch and dinner within a six to eight-hour time frame, and stop eating three hours before you go to bed.
• Fasting will help your body adjust from burning carbs to burning body fat. Eating on a six- to eight-hour window can take a few weeks and should be done gradually. Once your body has successfully shifted into fat burning mode, it will be easier for you to fast for as much as 18 hours and still feel satiated. Your craving for sugar will slowly dissipate and managing your weight will be easier.
• It is not advisable to practice intermittent fasting if your daily diet is filled with processed foods. Addressing the quality of your diet is crucial before you venture into fasting. It’s critical to avoid the wrong calories, including refined carbohydrates, sugar/fructose, and grains.
Within the six to eight hours that you do eat, you need to eliminate refined carbohydrates e.g. bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, potatoes, etc. Fill your diet with vegetable carbohydrates, healthy protein, and healthy fats such as butter, eggs, avocado, coconut oil, olive oil, and raw nuts. The food you choose to break your fast with is as important as the fast itself.
On the days that you work out while fasting, it’s best to consume a recovery meal—ideally consisting of fast-assimilating whey protein—30 minutes after your workout.
Intermittent fasting is not something you should carelessly undertake. ALWAYS pay close attention to your body and your energy levels.
A simple way to start intermittent fasting
Start by not eating 4 hours after waking up, but rehydrate with lots of water as you awake (I recommend hot water with a slice of lemon), and not eating 4 hours before you go to bed. As most people sleep on average 8 hours, this will give your 16 hour fast. This routine is easiest to manage and has the most immediate results that you will feel on a daily basis. In studying mitochondrial function, it is not a good idea to eat late at night anyway, because that’s when your body is readying for rest, regeneration and repair.
You may find it a little uncomfortable if you are used to eating several times a day and breakfast may be something very difficult to give up. However your body soon adapts and after a week or so it should become a normal habit without any major hunger pangs. Drinking water when you wake up and if you are feeling hungry usually solves that issue too. Water, herbal tea, and black coffee are fine, however.
While 80 percent of the population would likely benefit from fasting, there are several absolute contraindications. If any of the following apply to you, you should NOT do extended types of fasting:
• Underweight, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 or less.
• Malnourished (in which case you need to eat healthier, more nutritious food).
• Children should not fast for longer than 24 hours, as they need nutrients for continued growth. If your child needs to lose weight, a far safer and more appropriate approach is to cut out refined sugars and grains. Fasting is risky for children as it cuts out ALL nutrients, including those they need a steady supply of.
• Pregnant and/or breastfeeding women. The mother needs a steady supply of nutrients in order to assure the baby’s healthy growth and development, so fasting during pregnancy or while breastfeeding is simply too risky for the child.
• Females need to take care in noting there the menstrual cycles and any changes in their cycle which may occur due to fasting.
• If you are on prescribed/chronic medication it is advised to only fast under the guidance of a practitioner.
• A study in the June 5 issue of the Cell Stem Cell shows that cycles of prolonged fasting not only protect against immune system damage — a major side effect of chemotherapy — but also induce immune system regeneration, shifting stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. Prolonged fasting forces the body to use stores of glucose, fat and ketones, but it also breaks down a significant portion of white blood cells. During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells.
By now, you may have heard of some of the incredible benefits of intermittent fasting. Higher metabolism, weight loss, increased energy and human growth hormones and cell regeneration among many other benefits, can all be experienced.
There are so many advantages to it: It’s not complicating your life. It’s actually simplifying your life. It doesn’t cost any money. In fact, this saves you money. It doesn’t take any more time.
Below I have put a link to a TEDx talk by Dr. Mark Mattson who raises some valid points I haven’t touched on.
“Why is it that the normal diet is three meals a day plus snacks? It isn’t that it’s the healthiest eating pattern, now that’s my opinion but I think there is a lot of evidence to support that. There are a lot of pressures to have that eating pattern, there’s a lot of money involved. The food industry — are they going to make money from skipping breakfast like I did today? No, they’re going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry loses money. What about the pharmaceutical industries? What if people do some intermittent fasting, exercise periodically and are very healthy, is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?” – Dr. Mark Mattson (taken from his TEDx talk linked below)
In essence… we should eat to live. Not live to eat.