There's been a lot of hype around Intermittent Fasting lately. So, what is it, how do you do it, and should you try it? Read on to find out if incorporating an Intermittent Fasting routine might work for you.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
If you sleep, you fast. Unless you get up in the night to eat, we’re all practicing intermittent fasting every day. That’s actually where the word breakfast comes from. You’re literally breaking your fast.
Intermittent fasting is kind of the opposite of dieting. While I always recommend following a healthy, balanced diet, you actually do not need to restrict food quantity or count calories to get the benefits of fasting.
While it’s become a trendy topic in the wellness scene as of late, fasting is not new. In fact, many cultures have a long history of fasting; Lent, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, and other religious holidays also incorporate fasting into their rituals.
What Happens When You Fast?
Your body needs a constant supply of glucose for brain, muscle and cellular function. In a fed state, this comes from the food we eat. When you fast, your body uses up all the dietary glucose, then it hits up your glycogen stores, and then dives into your fat stores to create ketones that fuel your brain, muscle and all the other tissues and organs that need energy. Ketones are incredibly efficient fuel source and don’t effect blood sugar levels.
Fasting is also like a daily detox for your body. The time and energy you’re not expending digesting food allows your body to work on eliminating toxins and cellular repair.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
The benefits and experience of Intermittent Fasting are going to be different for everyone. Here are just a few of my observations drawing from personal experience, my client work and scientific journals on the subject.
1. Manage Cravings
Fasting eliminates feelings of hunger that result from low blood sugar. Breakfast foods—think oatmeal, cereal, muffins, fruit, even smoothies (gasp!)—are often carbohydrate-heavy and cause a spike in blood sugar levels. When you’re blood sugar levels raise early in the day, your body starts to ride a rollercoaster of sugar cravings all day to try and maintain those elevated levels.
2. Become More Aware of Hunger Cues
Often times, we perceive feelings of thirst, fatigue, boredom or perhaps even a stomach growl as hunger, but we’re actually not hungry. Biologically, we were made to withstand weeks without food (btw I don’t recommend this). Compared with dieting, which studies show to increase hunger and cravings, fasting can help you get in touch with your hunger cues, have more willpower, and become more satisfied with your meals so you don’t overeat.
3. Cell Maintainance
During a fed state (i.e. when you’re not fasting), your body expends over half of its energy digesting food. That’s a lot of work! When you’re fasting, your body can allocate those resources to other functions. This is important for reducing oxidative stress, eliminating toxins, keeping your immune system healthy and improving biomarkers for disease.
4. Regulate Hormones
Fasting can help increase insulin sensitivity, which regulates hunger and fat storage, and also increases the amount of HGH (human growth hormone) that you produce. HGH helps build muscles, burn fat, increase bone density, improve your sleep, elevate your mood and reduce signs of aging (yes, please!).
5. Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting has been shown as an effective weight loss tool, without the need for dieting. Also, when you crave less sweets, are more in tune with your hunger cues and have healthy hormone levels, you will naturally lose weight (if that’s your goal) without any tedious calorie restriction/counting.
6. Brain Function
Fasting has been shown to improve and preserve learning and memory function.
How to fast?
There are many different methods of intermittent fasting. Here are a few of them in detail:
Time restricted fasting. This means an overnight fast of a minimum of 12 hours, but up to 18 or 20 hours of fasting. This works for me and many of my clients, and is relatively easy. Eat dinner earlier and breakfast a little later. There's a good chance you already do a 12 hour fast a few times a week (dinner by 8pm, breakfast at 8am). You can experiment with different fasting periods a couple of days per week, or you can go on a 16:8 or 18:6 eating schedule, which means 16 or 18 hours in a fasting state and 6 or 8 hours in a fed state.
Alternate day fasting. This means severe calorie restriction (under 500 calories) two non consecutive days a week. In my opinion this is too hard for most people, and the idea is not to be starving, grumpy, or hangry, but to find a way where fasting can seamlessly integrate in your normal life.
Daylight only. This means only eat during daylight hours. I like the idea of this, but I also like to go out to dinner after 6pm, so for me, this is no go.
What can you have while you fast?
I’ve seen some conflicting literature on this, but I go by the under 50 calorie rule. That means, black coffee, tea/matcha (with water), a little kombucha (check labels for sugar content!), bone broth and water. You could even put a pinch of stevia or a splash of milk in your hot drinks. Bulletproof coffees, while great for many reasons, do not count as fasting.
Working out in a fasted state.
Can you work out while you’re fasting? That’s a resounding YES. You’ll be surprised how much energy you have, especially when you are fueling your body with adequate protein and healthy fats. Depending on the type of exercise you do, you may feel like you don’t get as strong a workout in a fasted state, but everyone is different.
You can also take BCAAs to give your muscles an extra boost. Make sure to read labels, as a lot of the BCAAs are full of artificial sweeteners. I like THIS brand, which is stevia sweetened. You can also find a raw one, but the taste is a little harsh.
Who shouldn’t fast.
Pregnant women, anyone with fertility issues or who have experienced disordered eating should not fast. The most important thing is to listen to your body. If fasting makes you a hangry a-hole, don’t do it. And if you’re not sure, ask your doctor.
The bottom line.
There are lots of different fasting methods, but it all kind of boils down to this: eat well most of the time, indulge occasionally and give your body ample time to rest by fasting a couple of times a week. If you’re interested, try it! You certainly do not have to do it every day.
Start with 12 hours and see how you do. I’ve found that it gets easier the more I do it. But, as with all things nutrition, it works for some people, and not for others.