Intermittent Fasting

After last week’s post (which you can access here, in case you missed it) all about meal quantity and timing, the topic of intermittent fasting seemed to naturally be the next logical conversation topic.  I hope you find this information useful and interesting–there is much more where it came from, so you can expect to see a follow up post (or two!) coming your way over the next couple of weeks.  The concept of intermittent fasting is a huge mental shift for most of us, so if you have any questions after reading, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Though the term intermittent fasting (IF) sort of defines itself, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t start out this post by saying that intermittent fasting is simply the practice of allowing prolonged periods of time between meals.  These prolonged periods range anywhere from 12 hours to 16 hours, sometimes more, sometimes less…basically, there are a variety of ways one can practice intermittent fasting (which I’ll get to).

You may be wondering why anyone would decide to live a lifestyle of intermittent fasting, especially because, when you really think about it, eating meals (at the very least all three of them) is kind of ingrained in our culture. We have social interactions around them; we discuss what we’re going to cook and/or eat for them; we even have “working lunches,” and there are countless other ways eating meals is really a part of our culture.  However, there are some really fantastic and attractive advantages to intermittent fasting that may have you rethinking our traditional paradigm.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

  • Fat Loss

    • So you may be thinking that if you cut down on the amount of time you eat during the course of a day, you’ll, quite obviously, lose fat because you’ll automatically be eating less.  And while that is sort of true, it’s not true in all situations.  It is actually quite possible to overeat in a time period of 4, 6, or 8 hours in the same way that it is possible to do so over the course of 14 or 16 hours.  Thus, while you can probably be a bit more lenient with yourself as far as what you eat and how much, you still need to be cognizant of the amount of food you’re consuming, listen to your body’s satiety signals, and feed your body good, quality foods.

    • The more interesting reason that IF can help to accelerate fat loss (assuming your caloric intake is at a moderate level) is because it has a significant impact on our hormones.  Fasting decreases the amount of insulin running around in our bodies–and remember, insulin is the energy (or fat) storing hormone–which in turn signals our bodies to release a hormone called glucagon which actually triggers our cells to start burning energy, i.e. stored fat for fuel.

  • Mental Clarity

    • What You Feel:  Many people report having more focus, energy, and clarity when fasting; fasting has been known to alleviate “brain fog.”  On a very basic level, thinking about how the foods we eat affect our bodies physically and mentally, it’s no wonder that this is the case.  Those highs and lows in your blood sugar throughout the day are one-hundred percent affecting your energy level and mood.  All that yummy dessert from last night?  Absolutely affecting your clarity the next morning.  (And I say all this because I know from experience )

    • What You Don’t Feel: Fasting induces a process in our brains in which the cells recycle waste material (yes, our cells produce waste too) and repair themselves; it increases a protein called BDNF that basically protects our neurons and helps to grow new ones…so the mental clarity isn’t a placebo, there are actually REAL beneficial things happening in our brains when we fast.

Approaches to Intermittent Fasting

  • Daily eating windows

    • This approach looks probably like what you would imagine IF to look like.  This approach involves setting specific time blocks during each day in which you are either eating or fasting.  This time-blocking approach can vary anywhere from 12 hours of fasting followed by a 12 hour eating window, to 20 hours of fasting with a 4 hour eating window, and anything in between.  From much of what I’ve read and gathered, it seems that most people who follow and IF lifestyle are somewhere around a 16-18 fasting window and a 6-8 hour eating window.

    • Most people also seem to set their eating window toward the latter part of the day–so maybe skipping breakfast, or skipping breakfast and lunch, and opening their eating window in the afternoon or evening.  The benefit to this framework is that, if you’re like most people, you’ll stop eating a couple hours before bed, and then you’ll be asleep for much of the remainder of your fasting period.

  • On days and off days

    • Another approach to IF is to choose 2-3 days per week on which you severely restrict your calories (like 500 total calories) on each of those days; on the days in between, you’d eat a “normal” diet.  The days would be spread out through the week so that you would still follow the same cycle of fasting (though the fast would be in a calorie-restricted form) followed by feasting.  With this approach, though the fasting still allows for some calorie intake and is only occurring 2-3 days a week, you will still reap the same benefits that you would from daily periods of fasting.

    • In a similar vein, an additional option for IF is to choose one day out of the week during which you fast for the full 24 hours.  For the remainder of the 6 days, you eat normally.  Most people who follow this approach will begin their fast after dinner of the previous day of the fast and then break their fast at dinner time on the fasted day.

Really Important Considerations…

  • If you decide to give this a try and you find that you feel deprived, or you can’t seem to get past your feelings of hunger during your fasting periods, try opening your eating window and shortening your fasting window.  If those feelings persist, then listen to your body–it’s telling you this approach to food is not for you.
  • Deciding how to approach IF can be challenging; heck, deciding to approach it ALL is challenging given we’re so accustomed to doing things a different way.  So take baby steps if you decide to try it.  Maybe ease into it by having some fatty coffee in the morning followed by some bone broth in the afternoon.  The more “fasted” you can be during your fasted window, the better the health benefits; however, feeling good, satisfied, and like you want to stick with it, is more important than doing it to the extreme.

  • There does exist a concern about how IF affects women, specifically.  Men have been shown to only reap the benefits of IF. But because men and women have such different hormonal make-ups, IF affects women’s hormones in a different way than it does men’s hormones.  IF can trigger a stress response in women that can cause a biological reaction and affect reproductive hormones, especially (hormones which actually are also highly influential in our metabolism).  For more on this, check out this article from Precision Nutrition.

  • During the time period that you do eat in the practice of IF, make sure you are feeding your body whole, nutritious foods.  This becomes especially important if you’re only eating 1-2 meals a day as opposed to 3-4.  While less meals a day can suggest fewer calories and less tough decisions around food, it also means that you need to ensure you’re still getting all the necessary energy (calories) and nutrients (vitamins and minerals–from FOOD) that you would get by following a traditional approach to food.

  • Observe and listen to your body.  If you experience negative changes physically, mentally, or emotionally when you begin trying IF, then you either need to make some adjustments in how you approach it, or you need to be open to the idea that it doesn’t work for your body.  As with any other health related concept, treatment, etc., you need to do what works for YOU–that and only that.

As I said, there is a ton more information to cover on the topic of intermittent fasting, so next week I’ll cover additional benefits that you can experience from fasting as well as address some of the arguments against the approach.  In the meantime, I’ll be doing some experimenting with intermittent fasting of my own!

Share This:

Leave a Reply