Intermittent fasting seems to be causing a lot of buzz amongst health professionals these days. Some claim it to be the “breakthrough” to fat loss and others claim it is just another fad diet. But what does the evidence say? And who can really benefit from it?
Intermittent fasting relies on the notion that the timing of food intake is crucial to how your body will use it. It claims that restricting your eating window to six to eight hours and extending your ‘fasting’ window will yield tremendous benefits for fat loss, hormone balance, energy, and stabilizing insulin. From an evolutionary standpoint, researchers say that our ancestors went through periods of feast and famine, where food was abundant at certain periods and less available at other times. This conditioned the human body to burn stored fat as its primary source of energy when food was not always there. Also, many ancient religions considered fasting as a means of cleansing and creating mental alertness.
It is important to note that this is not a calorie-restriction diet, nor does it count macronutrients or portion sizes, but rather just limiting the window in which we consume food during the day. WARNING – this way of eating is NOT for everyone, if you have blood sugar issues as you should first work on balancing your blood sugar (not suggested for people who are diabetic).
There are several ways to go about intermittent fasting depending on lifestyle factors and personal preference. The most common method used is the 16:8 method which consists of 16 hours of fasting and an 8 hour window for eating. Although sixteen hours of fasting may seem a bit much, keep in mind that sleep will take up between 7-9 hours already. An example of this would be breaking your fast at 11:00 am and eating your last meal at 7:00 pm.
Another approach would be the Warrior Diet which consists of 20 hours of fasting and 4 hours of eating. The author of the Warrior Diet Book, Ori Hofmekler, suggest: “That there is a dual relationship between your feeding and innate clock. And as much as your innate clock affects your feeding, your feeding can affect your innate clock. Routinely eating at the wrong time will disrupt your innate clock and devastate vital body functions; and you’ll certainly feel the side effects as your whole metabolic system gets unsynchronized.” This method is not for everyone and would need to be built up to, as 20 hours of fasting could be quite difficult for some. An example of this would be breaking your fast at 2:00 pm and having your last meal at 6:00 pm. This would allow 20 hours of fasting in between.
The last approach is the alternate day method, which most of the original research on intermittent fasting was done on. This approach consists of fasting for two days out of the week and eating normally for the remaining five days. It is important to note that liquids such as water, tea, and coffee may be consumed during the fasting hours to prevent dehydration. Coffee also acts as an appetite suppressant which may help to get to that first late meal of the day. Each method is effective in its own way, and whichever may be used in convenience to one’s schedule and lifestyle.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
As previously mentioned intermittent fasting holds many benefits that traditional dieting would not have. Some of these benefits include:
1.Increased ability to become fat adaptive and result in greater fat loss: as your body fluctuates between periods of fasting and eating, it will start burning fat as fuel as opposed to carbohydrates
2.Stabilize insulin and leptin resistance
3.Increase in ghrelin: feeling less hungry
4.Decrease in triglycerides, inflammation and free radicals
5.Help metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, high LDL cholesterol, oxidative stress)
6.Boosts the human growth hormone (HGH) that is usually produced during sleep and exercise.
Factors to Consider Before Fasting
1.Which strategy works best for you? Which is most convenient for your daily schedule? It is also important to note that you can create your own intermittent fasting schedule; for example, you may begin with a twelve hour eating window and twelve hour fasting window and work your way down to a smaller eating window as your body slowly adapts to the change.
2.You MUST already have good eating habit. Intermittent fasting will not have its benefits if the food being consumed is processed and high in refined sugars and carbohydrates, you MUST be consuming whole foods rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds organic meats, and healthy fats. Intermittent fasting on a “junk food diet” is NOT the way to do it!
3.Gender. Due to hormonal activity, men are able to continue an intermittent fasting schedule longer than women. If you are female, consider trying it for a maximum of 3 months before going back to regular eating for a while before restarting.
4.Sleep is crucial. – If you don’t sleep well, intermittent fasting may not be the best option for you as you most likely have disruptions in your circadian cycle which is important to intermittent fasting.
5.Hypoglycemia or sugar imbalances. If you are hypoglycemic or have an unbalance in your blood sugar levels, you may want to avoid fasting for long periods of time as it can cause drops in blood sugar and induce feelings of lethargy.
Intermittent fasting is not a one-size-fits-all approach and may not be for everyone; many people who are trying to lose larger amounts of weight or trying to stabilize insulin levels may find it to be beneficial. People who have inflammatory disease like: arthritis, artherosclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, etc…may also find great relief from following an intermittent diet approach. It is also important to note that it may requires practice, but for those to choose to do it, it may hold great results. As I always say, try this way of eating or any other and see how you are feeling? Notice your energy? Are you tired or do you feel energized? Are you able to stabilize your blood sugar better? Are you able to keep a healthy weight? Are you sleeping better? Are you less sore? Let’s not forget that food is fuel and you have to figure out what works for you and for your health!