Intermittent Fasting - Helpful or Hype?May 05, 2023
Have you heard of intermittent fasting (IF)? There has been quite a lot of buzz about fasting the last couple years. It seems to have become the solution for almost every health problem in existence. Need to lose weight? Try intermittent fasting! Dealing with chronic low energy? Try intermittent fasting! Struggling to sleep well? Try intermittent fasting!
Oh my goodness if I hear more chatter around IF being a cure all I might resign lol. That being said, depending on your unique needs and goals, IF has in fact been shown to be a catalyst for several health benefits. Many of my clients are curious about IF and I’m sure you might be as well. Let's jump right in and talk about what fasting is, how it works, potential benefits, and how to decide if it's a good fit for you.
What is Fasting?
Fasting in the most basic sense is avoidance of food for a certain amount of time. It generally refers to avoiding anything that contains calories. A fast can be anywhere from 12 hours to multiple days. Generally speaking, intermittent fasting is alternating between periods of eating and periods of not eating.
People have been fasting for thousands of years for various reasons including health, religion, culture, and ethical reasons. This article focuses on health related reasons associated with fasting.
Types of Fasts
There are a plethora of different ways to fast. These include water only fasts, juice fasts, intermittent fasting, alternate day fasting, circadian fasting, one meal a day (OMAD), time restricted feeding, as well as fasting mimicking diets. The name of the type of fast is fairly self explanatory in describing how it is practiced.
Intermittent fasting is performed by observing periods of time eating no food, most commonly 12-18 hours, followed by eating food during the other hours in the day. That means your eating window is condensed to roughly 6-12 hours. During the fasting period you only drink or consume things that have zero calories such as water, plain coffee, or herbal tea. For most people, reducing their eating window means they’ll eat one less meal and/or less snacks during the day - this is especially true when the eating window is closer to 8 or less hours. IF can be an easier way for people to achieve the health benefits associated with fasting without doing full day or multiple day fasts, which prove to be very difficult for most people.
When IF first became popular several years ago, most people chose to skip breakfast and push their first meal of the day closer to what typically would be considered lunch time. As IF has become more popular and more studies have been conducted, a more science backed approach to IF has emerged called Circadian Fasting. In the most simple sense Circadian Fasting is eating during daylight hours and fasting during darkness. Circadian fasting aligns more closely with the physiology of your body and how many systems in your body work on a circadian cycle. Your circadian rhythms align with light and darkness and are very powerful in regulating functions within your body, including many hormones.
A hormone called insulin has a big impact on how your body processes food. Insulin’s primary job is to regulate the body’s energy supply - it does this by transporting glucose from the blood into cells, tissues, and organs. When you eat, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, also known as blood sugar. The role of insulin is extremely important as glucose is the body’s primary source of energy. Circadian fasting takes advantage of the fact that insulin sensitivity is highest earlier in the day (it peaks around 1:00pm). This means your body does a better job at processing glucose earlier in the day, resulting in less blood sugar spikes, and the negative impacts of those spikes.
Health Benefits of Fasting
Fasting has been shown to result in many health benefits including weight loss. The results you get depend on your current health status, current weight, and the goals you’re working toward. Many people interested in IF are curious about it because they want to lose weight. It absolutely can be a great strategy for losing weight because for many people narrowing their eating window to an 8-12 hour window is a relatively easy way to reduce calorie consumption.
Improved Blood Sugar Control
IF can improve blood sugar control by reducing your body’s insulin resistance. This means that your body is more responsive to sugar in your blood and does a better job of shuttling this sugar into your cells where it is used for energy. Insulin plays a huge role in your metabolic health which means that improving your insulin sensitivity is an enormous step in improving your overall health.
Fasting has also been shown to support increased autophagy - a natural process within your body that recycles damaged components within your cells. Autophagy has been associated with increased energy levels as well as improved brain health.
Some studies have shown that fasting can support lower inflammation levels in your body. Chronic inflammation is responsible for many diseases and dysfunction - reducing inflammation leads to significant improvements in health. One review of 18 studies found that intermittent fasting could significantly reduce levels of C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation.
There are many other potential benefits of fasting in addition to the ones listed above. In an effort to not turn this blog post into a full fledged research paper, I’ll list some other possible benefits of fasting for your consideration and deeper reading. Additional possible benefits of fasting include: improved blood pressure, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels (these all reduce one’s risk of heart disease); improved brain health and cognitive function; increased growth hormone; extended lifespan; and a positive impact on cancer development and treatment.
Conclusion: Things to Consider
As you can see there are many potential health benefits of fasting and intermittent fasting. Each person has a unique lifestyle, health history, tolerance for change, desire to change, and ability to create consistency with habits. Not eating for 14 hours might sound like the worst thing ever for some people and other people might welcome it with open arms. Some people may need to create more stability with their blood sugar before trying to avoid food for long periods of time. As with most nutrition and health habits, if you’re considering IF it's a good idea to start slow to see how your body reacts and how you feel. Starting with one day a week with an eating window of 12 hours is a good place to start. Fasting is one of many tools that can be used to achieve the health benefits described in this article. There are other nutrition and lifestyle habits that can be used as well. The key to long term change and success is implementing habits that you enjoy and that you’re able to do consistently over time.
If you would like support with fasting or other nutrition and health goals please send me a message!
Cheers to Finding Your Glow!
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