In the past several years we have been told to eat meals and snacks every 2-3 hours to stimulate our metabolism and keep muscle on etc. We constantly hear breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and feel pressured to eat even when we are not hungry. Fasting in contrast sounds scary and possibly even "unhealthy," but a lot of these facts on timing of food have not been proven true. Timing is simply not as significant as we have been led to believe.
Frequent eating causes us to be constantly spending energy digesting and takes away some important functions that happen when our organs have time to rest, clean and repair cells within. When energy is not focused on the constant break down of food our bodies focus energy on maintenance and self-digestion, which is a great thing. Fasting or spending extended hours without shoving our faces actually carries many health benefits.
Intermittent Fasting is not an extreme diet where you reduce significant calories and starve to lose weight. Generally calorie consumption is not changed though meals are condensed into a shorter window in your day while you enjoy several health benefits within a 12-18 hour window of fasting (not consuming calories).
Note that fasting may not be advised for those who rely mainly on processed foods. It is not recommended for some specific conditions and therefore consulting with your primary health care physician is advised. It is NOT recommended to fast if you are pregnant or breast feeding, for children, for those with extremely irregular blood sugar, underweight, nutrient deficient or have a history with any restrictive eating disorders.
For those on a nutrient dense, whole food based diet, Intermittent Fasting may be a great additional health practice. Fasting has been proven to be successful in strengthening our immune systems, reducing inflammation, and burning fat for energy. It is often used in cancer treatment and by fitness professionals to aid in weight loss and performance, reduce development of diabetes and several other diseases.
Normalize Grehlin Levels - (Our Hunger Hormone) this allows us to feel hungry only when we actually need calories for energy, this system is suppressed when we eat because we "think" we need to eat, overeat, and snack out of habit, eat for comfort when stressed or anxious etc.
Fat Adaptation - the body learns to burn fat stores quickly for energy during fasted state
Weight Loss - we burn fat quicker due to fat adaptation, in addition a condensed eating window may support specific calorie intake more easily and reduce eating when we are not hungry
Insulin Sensitivity Improves - better controlled blood sugar, disease prevention, mood stability
Increased Human Growth Hormone Production - exercise during a fast increases HGH which is beneficial to muscle growth, cellular repair, higher levels of HGH reduces muscle waste and aging
Reduced inflammation and free radical damage by "cleaning house" - eliminating old, damaged, potentially harmful cells
Reduced bloating and digestive stress
What happens in our body when fasting for longer periods, is a state of autophagy. Within this state you are no longer spending cellular energy digesting food to create energy but in a sense digesting yourself or your own cells. This means burning stored fat and breaking down dead, sick or old cells and using that for energy instead. Spending time in autophagy is the best detox or cleanse you can do to remove toxic build up and potentially harmful cells within your body. These old or dead cells are often what cause us excess inflammation, contribute to cancer growth or manifest into other diseases and degenerative conditions. As inflammation plays a big part in all disease progression and aging, having less can reduce our risk of these chronic diseases.
Generally true autophagy requires a longer fast for most but a 12-18 hour fast still allows you to achieve many of the benefits listed above. Instead of relying on constant glucose and glycogen stores we burn stored fat and if we also exercise before breaking our fast we speed up these processes.
What Intermittent Fasting may look like in your day:
By skipping breakfast or dinner and setting a time to either start your first meal late or last meal early you will spend 12-18 hours without any food or calories, this fasted time to include the time that you are asleep.
If your first meal is at 8 am and your last meal is at 6 pm (you fast from 6 pm to 8 am the next day = 14 hour fast, including the time you sleep)
If your first meal is at 12 pm and the last meal in the day is 8 pm (you fast from 8 pm to 12 pm the following day = 16 hour fast, including the time you sleep)
There is no magic time of day so finding something that compliments your schedule is recommended.
If your goal is not weight loss but simply reducing inflammation and detox make sure to add in the extra calories to the window of time you are eating that you lost by skipping breakfast.
If your goal is reducing calories for weight loss, this is an opportunity to reduce some unmissed calories. As long as you are still getting in your minimum caloric intake from nutrient dense foods, you can skip adding back calories missed by omitting breakfast. Intermittent Fasting (IF) works for weight loss and cutting calories because it burns fat stores quickly while in the fasted state, which is even more effective with fasted exercise. IF allows you to safely reduce calories by skipping a meal if needed, your feeding window is shorter so there are less opportunities for snacks when meals are closer together. You may also be less hungry as Grehlin levels normalize
It is essential to drink plenty of fresh water during fasted hours to avoid dehydration and promote cleansing, adding lemon to water supports detoxification further. Plain black coffee, herbal and caffeinated teas may also be included as they are free of calories, should not affect insulin and therefore will not affect the fasted state.
Some may choose to include fat during their fast such as a "bulletproof coffee", which provides energy to the brain but should not affect insulin or blood sugar. Without glucose, consuming some fat on its own still allows you to extend your fast and continue burning fat stores for energy.
How To Start IF
To start, I recommend only adding a few hours of fasting before or after sleep a few days per week and ease into a comfortable schedule for you. Make progress with small time increments, it gets easier and more comfortable after a few days to a week. If you feel like you are starving and weak in your daily activities, you may be going too fast or fasting for too long.
Some chose to water or fat fast for 24-48 + hours every few months instead of daily which may allow for fuller benefits. Though this approach may be more challenging to begin for those who are used to frequent meals.
If fasting still sounds dangerous think about times before we had access to a Starbucks, vending machines, markets or restaurant on every block. Humans weren't eating on a clock every few hours, this wasn't an option or on the mind. Our ancestors feasted when there was food and worked fine when times were scarce. So unintentionally, occasional fasting was part of a normal lifestyle and still is in many cultures.
In some cultures fasting is done regularly as part of religious practice. This has been done for hundreds of years without question.
For many medical tests fasting is a prerequisite asked by doctors.
Periods of fasting is safe and beneficial to our health, but like anything else - moderation is obviously essential.
The next time you are considering an expensive juice cleanse or other trendy cleanses, try some Intermittent Fasting to detoxify instead. It's free, totally natural and highly effective.
Start your morning with fasted exercise and drink more water.
Always listen to your body, if you have less energy and feel weak in your daily tasks, IF may not be for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I do not prescribe or treat. I am a holistic nutritionist and this information is based off my education, experience and research. Fasting is not safe for everyone, therefore talking to your MD before beginning any extended periods of fasting is advised.