Intermittent fasting has become a popular method for losing weight, boosting energy levels, improving cognitive function and perhaps even protecting against cancer. But before we get into the details, let’s have a closer look at what intermittent fasting actually is.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is going for a select period of time without consuming food. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, to be effective the length of your fast should be 16 hours – only eating within a specific 8 hour window. For example, this could mean eating only between the hours of 11am and 7pm. Essentially, this means you would skip breakfast and make lunch your first meal of the day instead.
However, you can adjust the ‘eating’ window to make it work for you:
- If you start eating at: 7AM, stop eating and start fasting at 3pm
- If you start eating at: 11AM, stop eating and start fasting at 7pm
- If you start eating at: 2PM, stop eating and start fasting at 10pm
- If you start eating at: 6PM, stop eating and start fasting at 2AM.
The practice of fasting for spiritual or health reasons is as old as time and was used for curing all kinds of illness, rejuvenation, clarity, cleansing and of course in religious prayer. Have you noticed that when you’re sick, your appetite naturally reduces? Similarly, when animals are sick, they lie down and often don’t eat or drink much, if at all. This is because fasting can help in cleansing and healing the body. Intermittent fasting was also a natural part of the modern hunter gatherers’ lifestyle due to seasonality, climate and fluctuations in food availability.
Fasting puts our body into a fat-burning state that we rarely achieve during a normal eating schedule because we don’t enter the ‘fasted state’ until 12 hours after our last meal. Although it’s rare that our bodies are in this fat-burning state, when we are in it, it’s much easier for our bodies to burn fat because insulin levels are lower. This is one of the reasons people who practise intermittent fasting can lose fat without changing what they eat, or how often they exercise. Fasting also gives your body a break from digesting foods and allows it to focus on other things like general healing, repair and detoxification.
What Are the Health Benefits of Fasting?
Here’s a list of some of the health benefits associated with fasting:
- Helps you lose weight without feeling hungry
- Decreases metabolic, heart disease and diabetes risks
- Reduces inflammation
- Lengthens lifespan
- Increases insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Increases your ability to become fat adapted
- Helps fight free radical damage
- Supports healthy gut bacteria
- Improves cognitive function
- Boosts athletic performance
- Increases energy levels
- Improves blood sugar balance.
Fasting is also thought to help with the following conditions:
- Brain fog
- Fatty liver disease
- Weight loss resistance
- Gut health issues
- Joint inflammation such as arthritis
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
With that being said, please note that practising intermittent fasting is no magic bullet. If you’re eating processed foods and hot chips daily, then it’s unlikely you’ll reap the health benefits noted above. It’s not going to cure your autoimmune disease, at least not by itself.
If you think you might need some more guidance regarding intermittent fasting, I would highly encourage you to book a consultation with your chosen healthcare professional because, first of all, it’s important that you’re consuming nourishing whole foods, sleeping well, managing your stress levels and making time to get out into nature and move your body. Intermittent fasting is more like the icing on the cake.
How Do You Fast?
There are many different ways you can fast:
- There’s the 5:2 diet where you eat normally for 5 days of the week and restrict your calories to 500-600 calories for 2 days of the week
- There’s the 16/8 method where you fast for 16 hours and eat only within an 8 hour window. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman reportedly practise this form of intermittent fasting
- There’s also the 24-hour fast – generally you fast from dinner one day to the next, however it can also be done from breakfast or lunch one day to the next as well
- There’s alternate day fasting where you fast every other day
- There’s the ‘Warrior Diet’ where you fast all day long and only eat one huge meal for dinner and/or a snack all within a 4 hour window
- There’s also the ‘Extended Fast’ where you can fast for a period of anywhere from 2 days to 7 days (however I would recommend medical supervision for extended fasting).
Can I Eat or Drink Anything While Fasting?
As you can see from the list above, there are many types of fasts and each one has its own rules and guidelines. However, water is essential for all fasts. You can also drink other liquids such as herbal teas, black coffee or a bulletproof coffee and some fasting protocols allow broths and fresh juices. It may seem counter-intuitive but some fasts also allow cooked foods such as pureed veggies, soups, fruit and even rice.
Can Anybody Fast?
Not everyone does well fasting. There are a few groups that should avoid fasting for various reasons including:
- Pregnant and/or lactating mothers – growing and feeding humans is a full-time job; you need all the nutrients you can get!
- If you have a known illness or Type 1 Diabetes – it would be wise to chat to your chosen health care practitioner for support and guidance, especially if you run the risk of hypoglycaemia.
- Teenagers and young children – their bodies are growing and hormones are constantly changing. They also need a continuous supply of food and nutrients.
- If you have had a past history of an eating disorder – fasting is not recommended as it could act as a trigger.
- If you have chronic stress, anxiety, sleep issues or severe gut issues – please consult your chosen health care practitioner as going without food can sometimes trigger your stress response, so it’s important to stay in tune with your body at all times.
How Should I Break My Fast?
While fasting is great, keep in mind that the way you break your fast is just as important. It’s completely counterproductive if you fast and then immediately binge on unhealthy foods. In other words, I don’t recommend that you break your fast by going through the drive-thru or eating a bunch of processed, packaged foods. Try a meal with plenty of protein, vegetables and healthy fats to break your fast. Your body will thank you and you’ll feel so much better for it!
I’d recommend going slowly at first and really allowing your body to find its own rhythm when it comes to intermittent fasting. I personally love intermittent fasting and choose to do it a few times a week as my body seems to do well on a 16-18hr fast.
I also love it because it simplifies my day. Rather than having to prepare breakfast each morning, I skip breakfast and have a bulletproof coffee which easily gets me through to lunchtime. By fasting this way I also have extra time in the morning to do other things I love and it allows me to have slow, stress-free mornings. It also requires less time (and potentially less money) as rather than having to prepare/cook three meals a day, I only have to do one – I make extra at dinner time and take the leftovers with me to work the following day for lunch.
At Changing Habits we highly recommend that if you have any health issues, you should contact your doctor or chosen health care professional for personalised advice on intermittent fasting.
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