On this blog I like to talk about the big trends going on in the health, fitness and nutrition world.
I’ve been meaning to write a post on today’s topic, intermittent fasting, for months but simply haven’t had the time to sit down and do the proper research to give you all a well written, informative post.
I’ll be honest the whole concept of intermittent fasting is very foreign to me.
My entire life I was taught to never skip breakfast, specifically to “break the fast” your body goes into while sleeping. I truly thought (and still do think) eating breakfast is one of the most beneficial things you can do to boost your metabolism and set yourself up for a healthy, productive day. However, research is emerging showing that intermittent fasting may actually help speed up your metabolism, prevent against disease, help with fat/weight loss, improve cognitive function and so much more.
So yes, intermittent fasting is a very controversial subject…Team breakfast v. Team fasting.
Let’s get right into it…
What is intermittent fasting?
By definition, intermittent fasting is a term to describe an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. The foods you eat don’t matter, it’s more when you eat them.
Since the types of foods that should be consumed are not specified instead of being called a “diet” intermittent fasting is more accurately described as an “eating pattern”.
I think it’s important to address this right away…don’t think for a second that you will lose weight or better your health if you plan on fasting then eating pasta, cake, pizza, fried chicken and doughnuts during your eating periods. Specific foods are not outlined for intermittent fasting but obviously eating a healthy, whole food diet will give you the best results.
How to do intermittent fasting:
The two most common intermittent fasting methods involve daily 16 hour fasts where you are given an 8 hour window of time to eat or fasting for 24 hours a couple times a week.
Let’s think about what a daily 16 hour fast would look like: Eat dinner at 6:00 pm (I wish), head to bed by 10:00 pm then wake up around 7:00 am at this point you’re already 13 hours into your fast. You’d then simply wait until around 10:00 am to consume your first meal and then would stop eating for the day at 6:00 pm again.
I know it sounds crazy to not eat for 16 hours but realistically I think a lot of people do this without even realizing it.
Don’t think you could ever skip breakfast or not have your late night snack…I feel you. Know that while you sleep your body technically goes into a fasted state so even if you can’t commit to 16 hours without food maybe try waiting an hour or two before eating breakfast or skipping your late night snack a couple times per week and see how it goes before jumping all in for a 16 or 24 hour fast.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Most people choose to do intermittent fasting for weight loss/fat burning purposes. If done right it can help teach your body to use the food it consumes more efficiently, and your body can learn to burn fat as fuel when you deprive it of new calories to constantly pull from (if you eat all day long) BUT there are also many other potential health benefits associated with intermittent fasting:
- Weight loss: Simply eating fewer meals will decrease your calorie intake making it easier to lose weight but fasting may also change your hormone levels to make weight loss and fat reduction easier. Studies have shown that fasting can help lower insulin levels (making body fat more accessible to burn), increase growth hormone levels (helps with fat loss and muscle building) and increases the release of the fat burning hormone norepinephrine. This turns your body into a fat burning machine and since you are not constantly giving your body food for fuel it uses stored body fat instead.
- Working out- Studies suggest that working out in a fasted state may also help increase fat burn. Again, since you don’t have food in your system for your body to rely on it instantly taps into your fat stores for energy.
- Insulin resistance: Studies have shown intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels which helps protect against type 2 diabetes.
- Inflammation: Intermittent fasting may reduce inflammation in the body which helps fight against aging and the development of numerous diseases.
- Digestion: fasting acts as a sort of “digestive reset” allowing the gastrointestinal (GI) tract relax for a bit. In practice, this produces both reduced intestinal inflammation and improved motility (the contraction of GI muscles in digestion). Both lead to improved nutrient absorption and better bowel movement quality.
- Heart health: Though more research is still needed, intermittent fasting may improve numerous risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides and inflammatory markers.
- Autoimmine disease: More research is needed on this as well but according to a study done at USC during intermittent fasting cortisone is produced and that initiates a killing of autoimmune cells and also leads to the production of new healthy cells. This in theory could mean that fasting could help rid the body of disease or at least slow progression.
- Brain health: Intermittent fasting may increase growth of new neurons and protect the brain from damage optimizing brain health.
My thoughts on intermittent fasting:
This may sound terrible but I simply don’t think the majority of the population is educated enough about food and nutrition to do intermittent fasting correctly.
People are always looking for an easy fix to lose weight and what’s easier than the idea of simply skipping breakfast then eating whatever you want during a specific time window. Are you kidding me? Skip breakfast then have pizza for lunch, cookies for a snack then a giant bowl of pasta for dinner and lose weight…sign me up…NOT.
I think above anything people should be trying to fit in more lean proteins, veggies, nuts, grains, healthy fats…etc into their diets. Once they’ve mastered the whole REAL FOOD thing then maybe try intermittent fasting but starting with the basics is a must.
For me personally, fasting isn’t my thing. I run 4-5x/ week, do yoga 4x/ week and live a very active lifestyle. It works for me to eat a big breakfast, eat a big lunch, maybe a small snack before working out in the afternoon then a big dinner. I’ve found by eating like this I don’t worry about food between meals, feel energized, sleep great and don’t currently see a need to change anything.
BUT, I will say I think intermittent fasting can be incredible for some people. Bryce’s brother recently was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and in addition to taking prescription medication he fasts for several days at a time and during his eating periods focuses on eating a healthy diet. According to his most recent tests since being diagnosed roughly a year ago the MS has not progressed. So hey who knows if it’s the drugs, the diet or the combination of both but I’m seeing first hand how impactful fasting may be for those with autoimmune disease. Currently, studies are being done at USC showing very promising results that intermittent fasting may truly help improve the quality of life for those with MS. Pretty cool stuff.
Take home message:
At the end of the day please remember everybody is unique and different. What may work for me may not work for you.
If you’re intrigued by intermittent fasting and want to learn more I highly recommend consulting with a medical professional before giving it a try. I am not a doctor. In fact, I don’t honestly know anything about intermittent fasting other than basic researching on Google.
The point of this post is simply to inform you about a trend going on in the health/fitness/nutrition space- do your own research, talk to your doctor and always be cautious before altering your diet/eating patterns.