Wellness Wednesdays: Let's Talk Fasting...
Hello Beautiful People!
"You have what it takes to become the best version of you"-Unknown
For the last number of years, there has been a lot of talk about intermittent fasting (IF); being that this is wellness Wednesday, why not discuss this?
Before delving into this, let me make something clear-I am not a medical professional; I have consulted with a number of individuals from the medical and science field to further inform me on intermittent fasting so that I may share with you. As with anything concerning health and wellness, seek the guidance/supervision of a medical professional.
Now that I have that out of the way...
I have been practicing IF for a number of months now; I am down 28 pounds, sleep better, have so much energy and for the first time in years, I have no arthritic pain. Again, this worked for me and was through the advice of my medical doctor who suggested IF as a way to manage my weight. There are those who either do not know what IF is or consider it a "diet fad".
“Conventional wisdom” isn’t that smart.
We’re going to take two widely accepted healthy eating “rules” and turn them on their head:
RULE #1: You HAVE to eat first thing in the morning: Make sure you start off with a healthy breakfast, so you can get that metabolism firing first thing in the morning!
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
There are even studies that show those that eat earlier in the day lose more weight than those who ate later in the day or skipped a meal.
RULE #2: Eat lots of small meals for weight loss. Make sure you eat six small meals throughout the day so your metabolism stays operating at maximum capacity all day long.”
In other words, “eat breakfast and lots of small meals to lose weight and obtain optimal health.”
But what if there are science and research that shows SKIPPING BREAKFAST (the horror! blasphemy!) can help with optimum human performance, mental and physical health improvement, maximum muscle retention, and body fat loss?
That’s where an Intermittent Fasting Plan comes in.
Intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather a dieting pattern.
In simpler terms: it’s making a conscious decision to skip certain meals on purpose.
By fasting and then feasting deliberately, intermittent fasting generally means that you consume your calories during a specific window of the day, and choose not to eat food for a larger window of time.
INTERMITTENT FASTING 16/8 PLAN
What it is: Fasting for 16 hours and then only eating within a specific 8-hour window. For example, only eating from noon-8 PM, essentially skipping breakfast.
Some people only eat in a 6-hour window or even a 4-hour window. This is “feasting” and “fasting” parts of your days and the most common form of Intermittent Fasting. It’s also my preferred method.
There are varied ways to practice IF:
If you start eating at 7 AM, stop eating and start fasting at 3 pm.
If you start eating at 11 AM, stop eating and start fasting at 7 pm.
If you start eating at 2 PM, stop eating and start fasting at 10 pm.
If you start eating at 6 PM, stop eating and start fasting at 2 AM.
INTERMITTENT FASTING 24 HOUR PLAN
Skip two meals one day, where you take 24 hours off from eating. For example, eat on a normal schedule (finishing dinner at 8 PM) and then you don’t eat again until 8 PM the following day.
With this plan, you eat your normal 3 meals per day, and then occasionally pick a day to skip breakfast and lunch the next day.
If you can only do an 18 hour fast, or a 20 hour fast, or a 22 hour fast – that's okay! Adjust with different time frames and see how your body responds.
Those are the two most popular intermittent fasting plans, and the two we’ll be focusing on, though there are many variations of both that you can modify for yourself:
Some people eat in a 4-hour window, others do 6 or 8.
Some people do 20-hour fasts or 24-hour fasts.
Another strategy is to eat only one meal a day (OMAD).
You’ll need to experiment, adjust to your lifestyle and goals, and see how your body responds.
Let’s first get into the benefits behind Intermittent Fasting and why you should consider it!
Take a good look at human history and you will find that fasting is deeply rooted in our biology. Back in the day, access to food was limited, which led to natural periods of fasting and changes in human evolution. The human body, including the brain, became accustomed to regular food scarcity.
Fasting is the most time-honored healing tradition in the world. It’s a part of every culture and religion on Earth. People from civilizations like Egypt or Ancient Greece would introduce periods of voluntary fasting into their personal lives. They observed that fasting had many health benefits, which is why they engaged in the practice even when the periods of involuntary starvation had ended. They called it “cleansing,” “purification,” and “detoxification.” If you think about it now, these civilizations were much more advanced than we credit them for.
However, in recent years, everything has changed. Today, we have access to unlimited amounts of food and our bodies find it difficult to handle the load. That’s where the need for Intermittent Fasting comes from. It’s only when we are not eating or drinking anything with calories in it that our bodies can begin the process of repair and create space for new cells to grow. Intermittent Fasting doesn’t prohibit people from eating but encourages them to eat only the food we need when we need it, so we don’t eat more than our bodies are capable of processing.
1. Intermittent Fasting Changes The Function of Cells, Genes, and Hormones
When you don't eat for a while, several things happen in your body.
For example, your body initiates important cellular repair processes and changes hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible.
Here are some of the changes that occur in your body during fasting:
Insulin levels: Blood levels of insulin drop significantly, which facilitates fat burning
Human growth hormone: The blood levels of growth hormone may increase as much as 5-fold. Higher levels of this hormone facilitate fat burning and muscle gain and have numerous other benefits.
Cellular repair: The body induces important cellular repair processes, such as removing waste material from cells.
Gene expression: There are beneficial changes in several genes and molecules related to longevity and protection against disease.
Many of the benefits of intermittent fasting are related to these changes in hormones, gene expression, and function of cells.
BOTTOM LINE: When you fast, insulin levels drop, and human growth hormone increases. Your cells also initiate important cellular repair processes and change which genes they express.
2. Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight and Belly Fat Many of those who try intermittent fasting are doing it in order to lose weight. Generally speaking, intermittent fasting will make you eat fewer meals. Unless if you compensate by eating much more during the other meals, you will end up taking in fewer calories. Additionally, intermittent fasting enhances hormone function to facilitate weight loss. Lower insulin levels, higher growth hormone levels, and increased amounts of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) all increase the breakdown of body fat and facilitate its use for energy. For this reason, short-term fasting actually increases your metabolic rate by 3.6-14%, helping you burn even more calories.
In other words, intermittent fasting works on both sides of the calorie equation. It boosts your metabolic rate (increases calories out) and reduces the amount of food you eat (reduces calories in). According to a 2014 review of the scientific literature, intermittent fasting can cause weight loss of 3-8% over 3-24 weeks. This is a huge amount. The people also lost 4-7% of their waist circumference, which indicates that they lost lots of belly fat, the harmful fat in the abdominal cavity that causes disease. One review study also showed that intermittent fasting caused less muscle loss than continuous calorie restriction. All things considered, intermittent fasting can be an incredibly powerful weight loss tool.
BOTTOM LINE: Intermittent fasting helps you eat fewer calories while boosting metabolism slightly. It is a very effective tool to lose weight and belly fat. 3. Intermittent Fasting Can Reduce Insulin Resistance, Lowering Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Type 2 diabetes has become incredibly common in recent decades. Its main feature is high blood sugar levels in the context of insulin resistance. Anything that reduces insulin resistance should help lower blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance and lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels. In human studies on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3-6%, while fasting insulin has been reduced by 20-31%. One study in diabetic rats also showed that intermittent fasting protected against kidney damage, one of the most severe complications of diabetes. What this implies, is that intermittent fasting may be highly protective for people who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, there may be some differences between genders. One study in women showed that blood sugar control actually worsened after a 22-day long intermittent fasting protocol.
BOTTOM LINE: Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels, at least in men. 4. Intermittent Fasting Can Reduce Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in The Body Oxidative stress is one of the steps towards aging and many chronic diseases. It involves unstable molecules called free radicals, which react with other important molecules (like protein and DNA) and damage them. Several studies show that intermittent fasting may enhance the body's resistance to oxidative stress. Additionally, studies show that intermittent fasting can help fight inflammation, another key driver of all sorts of common diseases.
BOTTOM LINE: Studies show that intermittent fasting can reduce oxidative damage and inflammation in the body. This should have benefits against aging and the development of numerous diseases. 5. Intermittent Fasting May be Beneficial For Heart Health Heart disease is currently the world's biggest killer. It is known that various health markers (so-called "risk factors") are associated with either an increased or decreased risk of heart disease. Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve numerous different risk factors, including blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, and blood sugar levels. However, a lot of this is based on animal studies. The effects on heart health need to be studied a lot further in humans before recommendations can be made.
BOTTOM LINE: Studies show that intermittent fasting can improve numerous risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and inflammatory markers.
6. Intermittent Fasting Induces Various Cellular Repair Processes When we fast, the cells in the body initiate a cellular "waste removal" process called autophagy. This involves the cells breaking down and metabolizing broken and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells over time. Increased autophagy may provide protection against several diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
BOTTOM LINE: Fasting triggers a metabolic pathway called autophagy, which removes waste material from cells. 7. Intermittent Fasting May Help Prevent Cancer Cancer is a terrible disease, characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells. Fasting has been shown to have several beneficial effects on metabolism that may lead to a reduced risk of cancer. Although human studies are needed, promising evidence from animal studies indicates that intermittent fasting may help prevent cancer. There is also some evidence on human cancer patients, showing that fasting reduced various side effects of chemotherapy.
BOTTOM LINE: Intermittent fasting has been shown to help prevent cancer in animal studies. One paper in humans showed that it can reduce side effects caused by chemotherapy. 8. Intermittent Fasting is Good For Your Brain What is good for the body is often good for the brain as well. Intermittent fasting improves various metabolic features known to be important for brain health. This includes reduced oxidative stress, reduced inflammation, and a reduction in blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.
Several studies in rats have shown that intermittent fasting may increase the growth of new nerve cells, which should have benefits for brain function. It also increases levels of a brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a deficiency of which has been implicated in depression and various other brain problems. Animal studies have also shown that intermittent fasting protects against brain damage due to strokes.
BOTTOM LINE: Intermittent fasting may have important benefits for brain health. It may increase the growth of new neurons and protect the brain from damage.
9. Intermittent Fasting May Help Prevent Alzheimer's Disease Alzheimer's disease is the world's most common neurodegenerative disease. There is no cure available for Alzheimer's, so preventing it from showing up in the first place is critical. A study in rats shows that intermittent fasting may delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease or reduce its severity. In a series of case reports, a lifestyle intervention that included daily short-term fasts was able to significantly improve Alzheimer's symptoms in 9 out of 10 patients. Animal studies also suggest that fasting may protect against other neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. However, more research in humans is needed.
BOTTOM LINE: Studies in animals suggest that intermittent fasting may be protective against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease.
10. Intermittent Fasting May Extend Your Lifespan, Helping You Live Longer One of the most exciting applications of intermittent fasting may be its ability to extend lifespan. Studies in rats have shown that intermittent fasting extends lifespan in a similar way as continuous calorie restriction. In some of these studies, the effects were quite dramatic. In one of them, rats that fasted every other day lived 83% longer than rats who weren't fasted. Although this is far from being proven in humans, intermittent fasting has become very popular among the anti-aging crowd. Given the known benefits for metabolism and all sorts of health markers, it makes sense that intermittent fasting could help you live a longer and healthier life.
Effects of intermittent fasting on health, aging, and disease. de Cabo R, Mattonson MP. New England Journal of Medicine, December 2019.
Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2005.
The Obesity Code, by Jason Fung, MD (Greystone Books, 2016).
Intermittent fasting interventions for the treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, February 2018.
Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting. Annual Review of Nutrition, August 2017.