Two weeks ago, in my Breakfast Makeover blog, I suggested that it was not “when” you broke your overnight fast that was important but “how.” Several wrote to me asking about my “take” on Intermittent Fasting. So, I am going to give you some insight on intermittent fasting, its potential health benefits, whether or not its right for you and how to get started.
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating which includes cycles of fasting and feeding.
It differs from what you typically think of as fasting where you go numerous days refraining from food. In intermittent fasting, there are certain hours during the day when you eat and certain hours when you refrain from consuming any food, or fasting.
For example, many will stop eating immediately after dinner and then won’t eat again until late the next morning, fasting for 14-16 hours.
How does intermittent fasting work?
At its very core, intermittent fasting gives your body a break from digesting and absorbing food and allows the body ample time to repair and rejuvenate. This happens through a process called autophagy. Autophagy literally means the consumption of the body’s own tissue. It is the body’s way of cleaning out old, damaged cells so it can rejuvenate itself with newer, healthier cells.
I like to use the analogy of changing your engine oil in your car. If you don’t change your car’s motor oil on a regular basis, over time the oil breaks down and accumulates contaminants, leaving your car’s engine at risk of overheating and failing.
Autophagy is one of the most important bodily functions for rejuvenating our cells and promoting health and longevity. However, when we are eating every 2-3 hours, our body is constantly putting time and energy into digesting food instead of cleaning our body. So, giving our body a break from digestion and allowing it to undergo autophagy is crucial for our health.
Intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways of achieving autophagy. During your period of fasting, the body takes a break from digestion and goes into starvation mode. I understand that the word “starvation” has a negative connotation, representing a bad feeling that needs to be immediately fixed because we fear being hungry. However, to achieve true autophagy, you need to reach starvation mode. Once you achieve starvation mode, your body can stop being consumed with digestion and focus on replenishing and rejuvenating your body. In a society with an abundance of food, a healthy period of starvation is nothing to fear.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Here are several reported health benefits of achieving autophagy through intermittent fasting:
- Aids in weight loss because it gives your body the opportunity to burn stored fat
- Can help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and improve blood sugar control
- Improves the efficiency of the immune system by cleaning out toxins and enhancing the cells ability to protect against incoming microbes
- Helps to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
- May help to prevent cancer by slowing tumor growth
- Improves body composition by reducing fat and increasing muscle mass
All of these benefits undoubtedly will also contribute to healthy aging and longevity.
Different Methods of Intermittent Fasting
There are a couple of different protocols for implementing an intermittent fast:
- Daily intermittent fasting where you follow the Leangains method, also known as the 16/8 intermittent fasting protocol. This method has you fasting for 16 hours and eating all your meals during an 8-hour window. When following this protocol, most people choose to fast from 7-8 pm in the evening after consuming dinner until 11-12 the next day.
- Alternate day fasting where you alternate “fast” days and “eating” days. With this protocol, you can choose to completely abstain from eating food on the fasting days or consume a single low-calorie meal once a day.
- Fasting 2 days a week is another option. On fasting days you eat 500-600 calories and the other 5 days you eat a normal diet.
Is Intermittent Fasting right for you?
Intermittent fasting appears to be safe and effective for most people. However, if you are underweight, have unstable blood sugars (hyper or hypoglycemia), low blood pressure, are prone to eating disorders, or have recently undergone surgery, intermittent fasting might not be appropriate for you. Fasting does stress the body, so it also may not be beneficial for those who are already dealing with significant stressors, such as an illness. Although intermittent fasting can be beneficial for diabetics, please find a qualified health care practitioner that can guide you through the process. I also do not recommend intermittent fasting for women with osteoporosis who are underweight.
How to get started
First and foremost, if you decide to try intermittent fasting, keep in mind that maintaining a good diet is crucial. You can’t binge on junk food during the eating periods and expect to gain the benefits of fasting and/or boost your health.
I generally recommend you start with the daily fasting method. I find this is the easiest way for most people to faze into fasting and follows our body’s natural daily circadian rhythm. Start by finishing up your dinner by 7 or 8 pm and then not consuming anything but water until 7-8 the next morning. This means once you have finished dinner, the “kitchen is closed” until the next day. No bedtime snacks or nightcaps. From there you can gradually extend your fasting period until later in the morning. Lengthening your fasting intervals over a week or more will help you to adjust and accept the feelings of hunger and make intermittent fasting more sustainable. You should expect to feel hungry, and that is OK! Remember the goal is to go into a brief period of starvation.
Consuming non-caloric beverages throughout the morning can help stop the pangs of hunger. However, adding sugar or cream to your morning hot beverage will cause you to break your fast. If you are thinking no way can I go without consuming my morning Latte or Cappuccino, believe it or not, intermittent fasting will help you curb cravings for these beverages and other nutrient-poor foods and reduce hunger over time.
I am also not a fan of using artificial sweeteners. Even though they have no calories and won’t break your fast, they are linked to a variety of health issues. If you need to sweeten your morning beverage you can use a naturally occurring non-caloric sweetener like stevia or Monkfruit.
Exercising in the morning during the fasting period can also help to curb hunger and can actually increase your body’s rate of fat burning.
Once you get accustomed to fasting, you can experiment with the other types of intermittent fasting to see if they are better suited to your lifestyle.
Signs that intermittent fasting isn’t for you
Intermittent fasting isn’t right for everyone. If while following an intermittent eating protocol you find that you aren’t sleeping well, have fatigue or low endurance, feel more stressed and anxious, or experiencing hair loss, then intermittent fasting isn’t benefiting you. Everyone needs to listen to their bodies and find an eating approach that works and is sustainable for them.
Lastly, whenever you are looking to make changes to your dietary or exercise routine, it is best to seek guidance from a qualified healthcare professional.
is a Physical Therapist,
Nutrition Consultant and
Doctor of Integrative Medicine.
She has been treating women with osteoporosis for over 30 years and is dedicated to helping people achieve
lasting good health and vitality.
Want to learn more about how you can improve your bone health? Contact me for a free 15 minute phone consult to learn more about the BONES Method™ and how it can help you achieve strong, healthy bones for life!