By now, you may have heard about Intermittent Fasting (IF), but have thought to yourself that it would be impossible fast, so you brushed it aside as something you would never do. I’d like to review some good reasons why you should re-think your decision and review the types of Intermittent Fasting that you can follow to enjoy its many health benefits.
What are some of the benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
- Weight control
- Loss of body fat & changes in body composition
- Increased fat burning
- Reduction of hunger hormones resulting in hunger control
- Improved concentration & mental clarity
- Lower fasting insulin levels
- Blood sugar control
- Improved control of Type 2 Diabetes
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Increased energy
- Improved hormone balance
- Naturally increase Growth Hormone
- Reduction of systemic inflammation
- Potentially prolonged life expectancy
- Potentially reduces risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Activation of autophagy (a process that clears the body of debris and dying cells that allows the body to repair itself more readily)
- Save money and time on meals and meal preparation
How does Intermittent fasting work?
While there are many ways to fast, one of the most popular fasting schedules is 16:8, where you eat for 8 hours during a 24-hour period and fast for 16 hours. Before you convince yourself, you cannot do this, recall a time when you woke up late, missed breakfast and didn’t eat until lunchtime. I would bet you fasted for at least 16 hours and you survived to tell the tale. Could you skip breakfast and eat from 11 am until 7 pm or noon to 8 pm? Or, would you rather eat breakfast and finish eating earlier in the day? Perhaps, you would eat from 8 am until 4 pm or 7 am until 3 pm? As you can see, there is flexibility when choosing your eating window. As a result, almost anyone can fit IF into his or her lifestyle. So, yes, you can make Intermittent Fasting work for YOU.
Keeping in mind this is supposed to work for you, not the other way around, if you planned a fast and you aren’t feeling well, be flexible. Intermittent Fasting does not appear to be an all-or-none endeavor. In reality, switching up your schedule can sometimes help you avoid a weight loss plateau or break one. So, if you don’t feel like fasting on a particular day, don’t. If you’re tired or hungry or feel emotional, it may not be a good day to fast. Give yourself permission to be flexible without judgement. Again, listen to your body and its signals.
Many people enjoy a longer fast, eating One Meal a Day (OMAD). OMAD followers ensure they are eating the appropriate number of calories during their eating window, typically opening their window for 2 to 4 hours. They will break a fast with a favorite snack, like nuts, then perhaps eat a salad, then a main course, followed by a light dessert. Some people even choose to drink a low calorie, low sugar adult beverage and still lose weight. I do not recommend attempting to eat only one meal a day immediately. Most people adapt to this lifestyle after following a 16:8 schedule for some time. As hunger hormones decrease, some people naturally start to decrease their eating window and become OMAD followers without forethought or planning. Studies suggest this is a perfectly healthy lifestyle that does not reduce your metabolism, as long as you’re eating the appropriate number of daily calories for your weight and activity level.
There are some people who choose to follow IF 2 to 3 days a week, leaving room for flexibility the rest of the week. This is most common with 24-hour fasts. A 24-hour fast may start after breakfast on Monday morning at 8 am and end at 8 am on Tuesday morning. Alternatively, it may start after dinner on Sunday night and end just in time for dinner Monday night. This can be repeated on Wednesday or Thursday for a 2-day per week fasting schedule or on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a 3-day per week schedule, leaving you with flexibility over the weekend. This type of IF is most effective to maintain your weight and has shown to have many of the benefits of a daily 16 to 20-hour fast.
Prolonged fasts of up to 72 hours are practiced, but should be discussed with your physician to ensure you do not experience electrolyte imbalances. Studies indicate that anything longer than a 72-hour fast can be very dangerous if not monitored closely by a physician. Electrolyte imbalances and detrimental effects to your metabolism may occur. Prolonged fasts have demonstrated benefits to those who are struggling with some forms of chronic illnesses, but have little benefit for the general public, particularly for weight loss. You should always be supervised by a physician if you are interested in a prolonged fast (longer than 72 hours).
What can I drink during my fasting window?
There is much debate over what is allowed during your fasting window. The science is complicated because as much as we are the same, we are all equally different. At this time, it appears that black coffee, plain tea and of course, water will not break your fast. Anything else is debatable, including bone broth, heavy whipping cream and artificial sweeteners that are found in diet drinks and flavor drops. Personally, to reap all of the benefits of fasting, I am a purist and avoid anything but black coffee, tea and water, but I will admit the science is not perfect. I recommend my patients start by decreasing their dependence on additions to their coffee and tea, eventually excluding them altogether.
What if I have trouble fasting?
Many people follow Intermittent Fasting in conjunction with a low carbohydrate diet (i.e., Keto or Atkins). The health benefits cannot be overstated, as any nutritional plan that reduces processed foods and refined sugar intake is a significant step toward improving your overall health and improving your overall health and reducing your risk of numerous illnesses. Additionally, a very useful side effect of a low carbohydrate, moderate fat diet is a natural reduction in hunger hormones, which significantly improves your chances of success. As you can imagine, these two lifestyles work extremely well together and have been life-changing for many individuals seeking a way to reduce their weight, control diabetes and lower blood pressure. Low carbohydrate diets are not a new concept, first becoming popular in the early 20th century to control severe seizure disorders in children. This medically indicated ketogenic diet is quite low in carbohydrates and protein and very high in healthy fats. This approach should not be confused with a ketogenic lifestyle that is followed for weight loss and maintenance. I recommend only using legitimate sources as references if you are going to consider a low carbohydrate, moderate fat diet.
Fasting Schedule Examples: