Intermittent Fasting – The New Old Practice
It seems food trends come and go as quickly as fashion trends do these days!
Today I want to talk about a food ‘trend’ that’s all the rage – but actually, isn’t a trend at all. In fact, it’s a classic way of eating that’s been taken out of the closet, spruced up, and given a whole new look. It’s called Intermittent Fasting.
Fasting is an important part of cultural, spiritual and religious traditions around the world and has been for thousands of years. Intermittent fasting, the practice of giving your digestion a longer time to rest in a 24-hour cycle than you usually do, is actually the most natural possible rhythm for human digestion. Modern life in western countries allows us to eat from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed. Hearty breakfasts and midnight snacks are practically a tradition, even glorified on social media. Food is always on the ready to grab. Yet overeating is a major cause of disease and inflammation.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Your digestive systems wasn’t mean to be “on” all the time. We have a natural period when we are meant to rest and digest – allowing our parasympathetic nervous system to do its healing and our bodies to dump all of the metabolic waste we’ve accumulated throughout the day. When we let this happen, for about 12-14 hours each night, it’s been shown to reduce inflammation and we potentially experience numerous health benefits: increased insulin sensitivity, improved biomarkers for a host of chronic conditions (including diabetes, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease), weight loss, improved cognitive function, and prevention and even reduction of degenerative disease processes in the brain. It allows the body to draw energy from fat cells, experience the benefits of very mild ketosis (not anywhere near the magnitude of a ketogenic diet but with many of the same benefits) and promotes the conversion of unhealthy white fat (white adipose tissue or WAT) into brown fat, its much healthier version. It is one of the only eating patterns that consistently correlates with greater longevity in the scientific literature.
Intermittent fasting also isn’t about restricting specific foods though it’s based only on a diet that consists of healthy, whole foods. It’s about food timing – which done properly also naturally cuts calories by about 25% daily. Research has shown that by cutting calories this much for even just 5 days each month, we actually activate anti-aging/longevity promoting processes in our body!
The benefits of intermittent fasting come from the 12 or more hours when we don’t eat, but it can be more helpful to think about it from the positive perspective: it’s not a long stretch without food, it’s just a slightly shorter amount of time with food! You’re simply condensing your ‘eating hours’ into a slightly smaller window. So if you currently eat from 6:00 am until 8:00 pm, shrink the window a couple hours on either side. Try eating breakfast at 10:00 or 11:00 am and eating dinner no later than 6:30pm.
How to Practice Intermittent Fasting
An intermittent fast is a consecutive period of time without eating. Between the two meals you have each day, you can freely enjoy clear liquids such as water (warm or cold) and broth (bone or vegetable).
Research suggests that the beneficial metabolic changes associated with fasting start at around 12 hours, though the benefits compound the longer you go. Sixteen hours seems to be the ‘sweet spot’ for optimal benefits – but you can build up to that over time, or you can stay at 12 or 13 hours. Your body still benefits, and you will very likely notice big shifts in how you look and feel over time. As you’ve likely noticed, your fasting window includes sleep time, making the fast significantly easier!
How you time the hours is up to you. If you give yourself an 8-hour window for eating and you prefer to eat from 10:00am to 6:00pm, that’s great. If you prefer to eat from noon until 8:00pm, that’s great, too. But it’s important to not go to sleep within 3 hours of eating your last meal of the day.
Is Intermittent Fasting for Everyone?
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s not an option – you need the nutrients from more meals – and this is not a time to be cutting back. Pregnant and nursing Mommas need that more around the clock nutrition.
If you are currently or have recently struggled with an eating disorder, I don’t recommend intermittent fasting as it might be an unhealthy trigger for your mind and old patterns.
It’s also not always ideal – though not 100% contraindicated – for women who are healing from fatigue due to low adrenal or thyroid function. While it can be helpful at reducing inflammation and improving brain fog and aches and pains, for some women skipping meals activates a primitive 4-alarm fire warning telling your body to conserve energy in case there’s a famine coming. The body then responds by further slowing down thyroid function and storing calories as fat. If you don’t have an adrenal or thyroid problem, or your body is well supported for adrenal/thyroid health it’s not an issue, and if you do and stay well nourished when you do eat, you might tolerate intermittent fasting as well – but tread carefully and listen to your body. If it’s not working for you, don’t keep doing it.
What You Can Expect
While this is not for everyone, and it’s important to pay attention to your body to discover how you feel eating this way. If you give it a try for at 4-6 weeks, you might find that your metabolism wakes up from hibernation and you shed some extra weight you’ve been carrying, your mental clarity and focus seem sharper, your energy more vibrant, your sleep becomes deeper and more refreshing – and you feel lighter, brighter, and younger. If you feel great, you can continue daily, several days each week, or you can intermittent fast – well – intermittently, for a little metabolic, mood, and brain boost now and then!