The What & The Why of Intermittent Fasting

The What & The Why of Intermittent Fasting

Have you heard about Intermittent Fasting?  Why do people do it?  Is it for you?  

I have been practicing this off and on for a while now and if I am writing a blog post about it, you know I support it!  My intention is not to lose weight, but to absorb the health benefits that come along with this eating pattern.  I recognize it may not be for everyone but I’m happy to report it is a method that works very well for me.

WHAT is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.  It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat, but when you should eat.  It’s not a diet in the conventional sense, but more accurately described as an eating pattern.

There are are a few ways you can practice intermittent fasting, all of which involve splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods. During the fasting periods, you eat either very little or nothing at all. What constitutes fasting is debatable. Some people recommend limiting to black coffee/water, others say under 30 calories is ok, while still other say that a fat bomb will keep you in ketosis but interrupt autophagy (see below).

These are the most popular methods:

•The 16/8 method: Also called the Leangain’s protocol. It involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1–9 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.

•Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.

•The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.

Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest and most sustainable form. This is the method I follow.  When I am really struggling, I aim to fast 12-13 hours. This prevents late night snacking.

The WHY:

When you fast, several things happen in your body at a cellular and molecular level.

For example, your body adjusts hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible.

Here are some changes that occur in your body when you fast:

  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing as much as 5-fold. This has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain. Growth hormone also supports tissue growth and repair.
  • Insulin:  Insulin sensitivity improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels make stored body fat more accessible and reduces your risk of diabetes.
  • Cellular repair: When fasted, your cells initiate cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells. This results in a higher population of healthy cells left to divide.
  • Gene expression: There are positive changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease.
  • Taking a break from eating often just helps to reset the digestive tract. Often our stomach liver and gall bladder just need a break. People who graze throughout the day, snack at night, eat on the go or overeat at times may just appreciate the digestive break.
  • These changes in hormone levels, cell function and gene expression are responsible for the health benefits of intermittent fasting.

HOW I feel:

Typically, I feel fine when following IF. I do get hungry but am easily distracted when I am with patients. The hardest days are weekends, where my routine is affected by my kids. Seriously, it’s amazing how often they think of food!!

I took this picture on a day where Intermittent Fasting was particularly hard (for just a short time) because I was making my kids a really yummy pizza for school and it smelled sooooo good!

The thing I love about intermittent fasting, is that when my body shifts into using fats over carbohydrates as it’s fuel, I have a clear mind, good energy and while hungry, I never get hangry!

The other benefit for me is that when I’m hungry and postponing eating, I drink a lot! This means I get a double benefit, fasting and increase hydration.

Safety and Side Effects:

Hunger is the main side effect of intermittent fasting.  You may also feel weak and your brain may not perform as well as you’re used to.  This may only be temporary, as it can take some time for your body to adapt to the new meal schedule.

If you have a medical condition, you should consult with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting. This is particularly important if you:

•Have diabetes.

•Have problems with blood sugar regulation.

•Have low blood pressure.

•Take medications.

•Are underweight.

•Have a history of eating disorders.

•Are a woman who is trying to conceive.

•Are a woman with a history of amenorrhea.

•Are pregnant or breastfeeding.

All that being said, intermittent fasting has an outstanding safety profile. There is nothing dangerous about not eating for a while if you’re healthy and well-nourished overall.

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