Intermittent Fasting

A health fad? Or a protocol that can be extremely beneficial for your health?  Intermittent fasting seems to be all over social media these days and the amount of information can be overwhelming.  Based on personal experience and plenty of research on the topic, I recommend intermittent fasting for many individuals.  Let’s break it down!!

What is Intermittent Fasting

Most people understand that fasting means avoiding food for select amount of time.  A more specific definition states that intermittent fasting is a specific eating pattern cycling between eating and not eating.  The most important concept to understand is that TIME is the most important factor involved with intermittent fasting.  Intermittent fasting is not a one size fits all approach.  There are numerous different types of fasting protocols including time restrictions, caloric restrictions, and dietary restrictions.  Caloric restriction means reducing the number of calories you consume of specific days.  Dietary restrictive fast involves significantly reducing s specific type of food usually carbohydrates. 

More and more common in health-conscious groups of people, intermittent fasting is actually more of an eating pattern than a diet since it offers no rules or guidelines on what to eat, but rather focuses on the times of eating. Generally, there are three main patterns that have emerged within the approach of intermittent fasting. The most popular way to achieve a daily routine with intermittent fasting is by following the so-called 16 to 8 method, which is also called the Leangains protocol due to its founder. It involves either skipping breakfast or dinner and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1–9 p.m. or 8 a.m.-16 p.m. Then the 16 hours in between are meant for fasting. Another common approach to intermittent fasting is the so-called Eat-Stop-Eat method. According to this pattern, you fast for at least 24 hours once or twice a week, for example by not eating from sunset to the sunset of the next day once or twice a week. Another, less common method which involves restricting your food intake and studying your calorie intake is the 5:2 diet. Following this method, you consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week but eat normally for the other 5 days of the week.

One of the main reasons for the growing popularity of intermittent fasting is that it has proven to help people lose weight, achieve better health, and improve their general lifestyle. The idea behind fasting is to let the digestive system rest and while allowing the body to focus on repairing itself at the cellular level. When practiced properly, intermittent fasting can potentially improve overall health and improvement of specific biomarkers.  These include blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and inflammatory markers.  Of course, you absolutely need to discuss this with your doctor before attempting any change in diet.

Types of Fasting

8 HOUR PROTOCOL

Let’s start with the easiest option, the 8 hour method.  Also known as time restricted eating.  This method allows for eating 8 hours of the day and to avoid eating for the other 16 hours.  It’s essentially a 16 hour fast every day.  The most recommended method is to skip breakfast.  For example, your first meal of the day starts at 11am and your last meal must end by 7pm.  There is absolutely no eating outside 11-7 hours.  This would be done everyday of the week.  

5:2 METHOD

Another popular method is the 5:2 protocol.  Eat a normal diet 5 days a week.  It’s recommended to eat 1/3 of your recommended caloric intake the other 2 days of the week.  This usually equals about 600 calories.  The 600-calorie diet is not to be completed on consecutive days.  I would also highly recommend that the normal diet consist of mostly an anti-inflammatory diet. 

ALTERNATE DAYS

A similar protocol to the 5:2 method is the alternate day fast.  It’s a little more challenging but with the same concept.  You would alternate normal diet days and fasting days.  Eating your typical 2000 calorie diet on the first day and then consuming 600 calories the following day.  Repeat this pattern till the completion of your fast.

24 HOURS

Avoid eating for a 24 hour period.  The most common method starts after dinner.  For example, if you finish dinner at 7pm, your next meal would be 7pm the following evening.  This method is to be done once a week.  

Health Benefits

With the growing interest in health practices such as intermittent fasting, the effects on the body of this eating practice have increasingly been studied within the scientific realm. It has been found that due to intermittent fasting, the body initiates important cellular repair processes and changes hormone levels which also make stored body fat more accessible. Fasting also makes insulin levels drop, makes the levels of human growth hormones in the blood increase, and activates some beneficial genes that relate to longevity and protection against cancer.

One of the most important aspects for many that try to get into intermittent fasting is the benefit of weight loss. It has been shown in studies that apart from the reduced intake of calories and other nutrients, short-term fasting also increases the metabolic body rate by 3.6-14%, which makes the body burn more of its excess calories in storage. Overall, intermittent fasting can cause a weight loss of 3-8% over a period of 3-24 weeks. Those who practiced intermittent fasting for these periods of time also lost 4-7% of their waist circumference, which means they lost lots of belly fat, which is an especially harmful fat in the abdominal cavity that causes disease. On the other hand, muscle loss was less high than in other fasting practices involving extended periods of time without or with low calorie intake. This makes intermittent fasting a healthier alternative to other fasting practices.

Other benefits of this practice are the reduction of oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. This means that free radicals that cause cell death, cancer, and chronic disease get eradicated as the body starts cell repair when fasting. A positive side effect besides cancer prevention is better heart health as well as increased brain function due to better growth of new nerve cells. With lower chances of diabetes and other diseases, intermittent fasting has shown to actually extend the lifespan in studies with mice, comprehensive studies on humans are needed to prove the anecdotal evidence that supports the many health claims of people enjoying a better life by following intermittent fasting practices.

Challenges of Intermittent Fasting

There are several challenges to consider when on your path to intermittent fasting. A common struggle that people experience are food cravings and even a feeling of debilitation due to the lower intake of calories in the periods of fasting. While the body quickly gets used to the new conditions in most cases and the energy levels pick up again, the social aspect of sharing meals can be a challenge too. Especially when your family or friends do not follow a similar eating pattern (and this will probably be the case), sharing time with them while they eat and you don’t can be hard at first. This may be in big parts why even though the intermittent fasting approach does not prescribe any specific hours for eating and not eating apart from the 16:8 proportion, many choose to fast in the mornings since breakfast can be in many contexts a less social meal than dinner, which you can then still share normally with friends and family.

In some cases, due to special medical conditions such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or for people who have previously struggled with eating disorders, intermittent fasting can be counter-productive. Those suffering from diabetes, kidney disease, or heart failure, should talk with their doctor before trying out intermittent fasting for themselves. Generally, intermittent fasting is considered a healthy practice that can also free more time in your life and energy that would have otherwise been used for digestion. Nonetheless, principles of healthy food and a complete diet with a variety of food sources should go hand in hand with intermittent fasting.

Sample 8 hour day

The 8 hour intermittent fast is what I usually recommend.  It’s simple and doesn’t require any major changes.  It does require commitment and consistency.  Start with a 7 day challenge.  Pick an 8 hour window and only eat within those hours each day.  Foods should be healthy choices. Make sure to drink 8 cups water each day. You can drink water or herbal teas outside the time restricted zones. 

11am

Breakfast smoothie.  Combine fruit and vegetables with nutritional meal supplement.

3pm

Kale salad with cranberries and pumpkin seeds.  Organic dressing.

6pm

Chicken and roasted vegetables mixed with an Balsamic glaze. Done eating by 7pm.

Resources

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