Intermittent fasting: What is it and why you might like to try it.
I was searching around on the web and stumbled onto intermittent fasting. Authority Nutrition defines it as an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. You know how that is, you set off on one path and end up on a whole other planet. Anyway, I thought this was pretty interesting and it makes sense. So I did more research and here is the scoop on intermittent fasting.
Let me start by saying, I do not believe in fasting and it does not work with my body.
My blood sugar levels drop and I get all irritated and shaky. My training is based on eating within 1 hour of rising and eat 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. So this is a very different concept and yet, it makes a lot of sense to me. Especially for women over 40 who seem to hold onto fat no matter how well they eat or how much they exercise.
I have seen other advice that suggests stopping snacking and just eat 3 meals a day so you burn fat rather than sugar. That made sense to me and about a year ago I began to eat that way. It took more effort to sit down and eat until I was full. I had the habit of just grazing most of the day and eating small to medium sized meals 2 times a day.
As I age, I find it more and more challenging to stay at a consistent weight. I’ve logged my food. I’ve tried “The Plan” where you eat non-inflammatory foods because weight gain corresponds with inflammation. But nothing really helped or gave me insights. One day I would gain 3 or 4 pounds overnight, hold onto that weight for a few days, and then drop it only to repeat the cycle the following week. Let me tell you, this is not like me. For most of my life, outside of pregnancy, I was the same weight day in and day out. Really. I know. Super lucky that way.
So here’s the theory.
Eating 5-6 times a day keeps your body putting out insulin to balance the blood sugar levels. Most people eat a breakfast that consists of cereal or some form of carbs that instantly convert to sugar. Even “whole wheat” bread will turn to sugar instantly in your body. This is just crazy thinking. The key to energy is healthy fats and clean proteins.
Long term fasting (over 24 hours) has a lot of research behind it. When you do this you are stressing the body and becoming nutrient deficient. It may help you lose weight in the short-term, but it’s not the answer. In comes intermittent fasting. It’s the short-term fasting that helps retrain your body to become more insulin sensitive. This can heal your gut by putting less stress on the digestive system. And then downregulate inflammation that is the basis for degenerative disease. It helps increase growth hormone, which is something you want more of because of it’s anti-aging properties and your body makes less of it as you age. Some people even inject Human Growth Hormones, but that’s a whole other story.
What are the side-effects?
The thing that I found most interesting about the research is how it makes your body more receptive to hormones. Often, it’s not that you don’t have enough hormones, it’s that you have a receptor problem. It’s like when you’re driving a car and someone is in the backseat giving directions but you’re listening to music with your ear buds in so you can’t hear them. The passenger is like your hormones. You’re like the receptor who can’t hear the hormones. If the receptors are not working, the hormone signals won’t be getting through. So it’s just useless for your body.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting:
- Intermittent fasting also signals your brain cells to regenerate. It helps with autoimmune issues such as Asthma. Autoimmune issues get turned on when you experience some sort of stressor. This is also the case with epigenetics. That means that just because you have some “bad” genes passed down from your parents, it doesn’t mean that you will have the same experience. Epigenetics now shows us that you can either turn on those “bad” genes or not be depending on your lifestyle. So certain stressor lifestyles will turn on those unhealthy genes that you would rather not experience.
- Intermittent fasting turns you into a fat burner. When you are constantly eating throughout the entire day, your body is busy pumping out insulin to deal with the breakdown of the food into sugars. This means you’re constantly burning sugar. When you fast, your body starts to use fat for energy. Then when you eat in your 6 to 8 hour period, your body knows that it’s safe to use that food for energy rather than storing it as fat. Remember when you cut calorie intake your body begins to store fat because it thinks a famine is coming.
- Intermittent fasting will help to heal your gut because it’s not constantly dealing with digestion. You can also see 90% of inflammation markers, like C-Reactive Protein, decrease. Now that’s a good thing because inflammation is the basis of degenerative diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
- Intermittent fasting promotes stronger insulin sensitivity. And that’s something we could all use as that and increase growth hormone are keys to weight loss and muscle gain. This is a great double whammy for weight loss. Woohoo!
- Intermittent fasting can also help your brain function better in such areas as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. There is a really great TEDx talk by Mark Mattson who is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. This is worth checking out as there is serious research being done on this topic.
- Intermittent fasting simplifies your day. You don’t have to think about 5-6 small meals per day but rather plan just 3 healthy full meals per day. I’ve been having a hardboiled egg with a USANA protein shake in the morning, then a big healthy salad with protein for lunch and then a protein and veg for dinner. It’s been great and really simple for me to plan.
So, how do you start with intermittent fasting?
Well, make it easy on yourself.
Then key it to stop early enough at night so when you get up and start to get hungry, you’ve already gone at least 12-13 hours. This means you are eating for 6-8 hours per day. Those hours should contain your 3 main meals and then 1 snack if you need it. Start your day with warm lemon water and then caffeine, if you need it. I’ve been doing this and it’s been working really well. I haven’t been hugely hungry and starting the day with warm lemon water helps get your bowels moving.
Ok, so what should you eat during your eating time? Well, just eat healthy foods like you normally would. And eat your normal 2000 calorie per day diet, if that’s what you normally take in. This is not about dieting. It’s about reducing the time per day that you take food in. Your 3 meals per day may be a bit bigger than you normally eat. That’s ok. You want to assure your body that you are safe and there is no famine coming so it’s safe to burn fat rather than store it around the midsection.
What foods not to eat?
First off, don’t eat junk like refined carbs and sugars. Those are just empty calories no matter what eating plan you are on. Do your best to limit grains and I always suggest eliminating wheat as it doesn’t work well with most people’s digestive systems. So start with eating from 10 am to 7 pm and fill it with 3 nutrient dense meals that are low in processed carbs and good sources of protein as well as all the veggies you can eat.
Many people who do intermittent fasting also fast for 24 hours 1 to 2 times per week. This is not something I can do because I get that low blood sugar thing and really crash. It’s just an awful feeling. But it may work for you as it works for others. The theory is that as you look at your caloric intake for the whole week, fasting will reduce that and therefore will lead to weight loss or just healthy weight maintenance. This is something you’ll need to test for yourself.
Yikes! What will you do if you’re not eating all the time? Yes, it will be a challenge at first as many people unconsciously eat through their day, but I know you can do this. It will be a great experience for you to be more conscious about what and when you consume food. My advice is to take several days just to work up to the 12-hour thing. Stop the late night eating and binging. There are so many studies that show with just 48 hours of fasting, cognitive function improved, sleep was better, and the mood was lifted. If you’ve trained your body to expect food every 3 hours, it’s going to get grumpy if food is not there every 3 hours. So take it slowly at first. If you’re hungry, drink water first as often it is your body’s request for hydration.
Stick to the routine:
Remember, fasting is not going to solve everything. If you go 12 hours without food and then gorge on 4000 calories, this will not work for you. We have caveman’s brains. That means that your body is designed to survive in feast or famine. Finding food use to be a ton of effort, now we can just walk down the hall to the vending machine or the nearest corner to the Starbucks. That is not how the human body was designed to eat. It takes about 84 hours before your body is adversely affected by fasting so going 12-16 hours daily will be just fine.
If you have any issues such as hypoglycemia, diabetes, etc. then you may have more issues with fasting and you’ll need to speak with your health care practitioner about this.
In short, intermittent fasting is shown to help you lose or maintain weight, increase growth hormone and regulate blood sugar levels. I’ve been experimenting with this for about 2 weeks now and I’m finding it easy and effort free. I always say that you can’t eat like you did in your 2-‘s and 30’s so maybe this is a style of eating that might work for you. The great thing is, it’s not a diet of any sort, it’s just reducing the hours in which you consume food. If this sounds like it might help you, give it a try. I would love to hear your feedback. Please share it with me at Donna@DonnaAcupuncture.com.