Intermittent fasting (IF) has become very popular in the last few years, and rightfully so, the benefits of restricting your “eating window” seem to be endless. Intermittent fasting, for those who are new to the concept or would like to learn more about it, is a technique of constricting your eating hours. Typical fasting periods include:
The 16:8 method: where you eat within an eight-hour period each day and fast for the remaining 16 hours. Imagine you eat your last meal at 7 pm, skip breakfast and have your first meal at 11 am. It doesn’t matter when you choose to fast. Depending on your daily schedule, you might find it easier to skip breakfast, or alternately to have your last meal around 6 pm and fast until 10 am.
18:6 method: A bit more challenging than the previous, eating for only 6 hours throughout the day.
Alternatively, you could opt for a once-per-week 24 hour intermittent fast. I encourage you to start off with a 16 hour fast, see how your body feels, and then work your way up to 18 hours or even a more prolonged fast.
How does it work? For the first 12 hours after eating your body will burn glycogen that has been stored from your last meal. Once you hit that 12 hour mark (typically) your body starts burning energy from fat stores. If you’re wanting to try out IF to manage your weight, this is the “golden window” that you’re aiming to be in. During this time your liver and muscles are burning stored glucose and fatty acids, providing your body with the opportunity to enter into a period of “negative calorie balance”.
Typically people eat a late dinner, storing calories in the form of glycogen in your muscle tissue and liver, sleep, and then eat first thing when they wake up. BUT you may not have burnt up your glycogen from the night before. On top of that, the standard American breakfast is typically a high fat meal, ie. eggs, bacon and a glass of milk. These fat calories get stored away since you still have glycogen to burn, leading to weight gain over time.
Weight management is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to IF. Research shows that during these times of intermittent fasting your body goes through some pretty incredible healing processes.
Here are some of the benefits of intermittent fasting:
- IF slows the speed of aging. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can potentially increase telomere length. Not only that but intermittent fasting can be an effective tactic to prevent obesity, and chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- Fasting gives your body a chance to detoxify. Most of the toxins that we are exposed to, whether it be from the air we breathe, pesticides in our food, toxins in our water, or PCBs from plastics, these toxins bind to fat cells in our body. Once you start burning this fat, those toxins are then released. Fasting also gives your body a break from digestion and that energy can then be redirected towards healing. Periods of fasting stimulates a process known as autophagy, where cells eat themselves. This gives your body a chance to recycle cells that are no longer functioning, which can boost your immune system, and slow the progression of disease in the body.
- Intermittent fasting is great for increasing insulin sensitivity. Someone with diabetes could greatly benefit from IF, reducing the burden that excess fat places on your muscles and liver, and increasing their ability to communicate with insulin properly. (Less inter-cellular fat in your body = better insulin sensitivity)
- IF can be used as a way to manage your weight or as a weight loss tool. Rev up this process by doing an early morning workout before your first meal and you’ll increase your fat metabolism. That allows the body to burn up those glycogen and fat stores from dinner the night before. Intermittent fasting has been proven to help you lose fat while at same time preserve muscle. According to this study, IF is more effective at preserving muscle mass during weight loss than calorie restriction. When compared to a low-fat keto diet, eating a whole foods plant-based diet with IT is much more effective at losing weight in the long term while at the same time, preserving muscle mass.
- Intermittent fasting is also a great way to break our unhealthy eating patterns. It provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness and control over hunger signals and observe your overall relationship with food. Oftentimes food can be used as a way to cope with uncomfortable emotions, or as a way to escape boredom or sadness, leading towards unhealthy addictions. Fasting can encourage mindfulness around the signals our guts are actually sending us, slowly disentangling the conditioning we may have around eating.
- It can also boost your mood and enhance your memory. According to this study, fasting can help improve neural connections in the hippocampus part of the brain, the area associated with memory, mood and motivation.
Fasting has been around for centuries. It has been used for both religious, spiritual, and medicinal purposes by shamans, spiritual seekers and philosophers for thousands of years. Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, was known to prescribe fasting to those that were ill. With the potential to prevent chronic diseases, detoxify your system, and boost your energy levels— intermittent fasting is certainly something to look into.
“Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.” – Hippocrates
I personally do a 5-7 day fast each year, for the past four years now, to renew my digestive system and reset my body. My first 5 day fast was in Thailand, at a detox retreat that specialized in fasting called Orion. (If you’re interested in doing a longer fast, I recommend seeking proper guidance when doing so.) When I’m feeling particularly low on energy, emotionally heavy or like my digestion has slowed down, I’ll implement small one to three day fasts to reset my system.
Fasting can be an incredible tool if used wisely and with good intentions. It’s not a magic pill however, what you’re fueling your body with during your eating window is arguably more impactful than those hours of fasting. Together, intermittent fasting and a whole food plant-based diet can be a game changer that will surely bring more vitality to your life.