What is intermittent fasting (IF) and why would you do it?
Intermittent fasting is an eating style, a pattern of eating and a lifestyle choice. With intermittent fasting you cycle your periods of eating and not eating. This means you eat all of your meals within a specific time frame. The remainder of the time you fast.
In other words IF doesn't change what you eat, it changes when you eat.
Intermittent fasting is not a diet or calorie restricted program. Rather, it’s a way of scheduling your meals so that you get the most nutritional benefits out of the foods you eat.
Research is showing definitively that when you opt for intermittent fasting as a lifestyle choice, you can reap incredible benefits. While intermittent fasting is not a diet, it is an effective way to lose weight.
One research study concluded that IF reduces oxidative stress, improves cognition and delays aging. Additionally, IF has anti-inflammatory effects, promotes autophagy (destruction of damaged or redundant cells), and benefits the gut microbiome. The study also concluded that IF is a promising weight loss method.
Another research study suggests that an intermittent fasting program in which all calories are consumed in an 8-hour window each day, in conjunction with resistance training, could improve some health-related biomarkers, decrease fat mass, and maintain muscle mass in resistance-trained males.
A 2018 study on IF showed that it induced long-lasting gut health and lifespan extension.
Benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- Boosts weight loss - Studies published at Colorado State showed intermittent fasting drove weight loss by lowering insulin levels
- Increases energy and boosts your performance
- Promotes cellular repair and autophagy
- Diabetes Prevention - A 2014 review examined evidence that intermittent fasting can lower blood glucose and insulin levels in people at risk of diabetes. Reduced insulin resistance protects against type 2 diabetes.
- Preserves gut health
- Supports immune function
- Protects against neurodegenerative diseases, i.e. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Prevention of common ailments like colds and flu
- Improves memory and boosts brain function
- Lowers bad cholesterol
- Makes cells more adaptive and resilient
- Increases longevity
Think about it! As hunter gatherers our ancestors were intermittent fasters. They endured periods of starvation and did not eat three meals, plus snacks every day. They went many days without eating because there was little or no food available due to seasonal changes in vegetation and lack of game for hunting.
Because we humans evolved in environments where food was relatively scarce much of the time, we developed adaptations that enabled us to function at a high level, both physically and cognitively, when food-deprived and in a fasting state.
Intermittent fasting is not a new concept. Since ancient days of recorded history people have temporarily restricted their food intake for religious reasons.
More recently, intermittent fasting — in which you abstain from eating for 14 – 24 hours (or more) — has gained popularity as an incredibly effective way to prevent, or even eliminate disease, reverse aging and prolong life.
Research shows that overconsumption of food with eating patterns of three meals a day, plus snacks often leads to metabolic disease states, i.e. insulin resistance, excess accumulation of adipose tissue/fat, etc.), especially when combined with a sedentary lifestyle.
A study investigating the relationship between fasting and genetic regulation showed that IF modulates circadian rhythm and gene expression.
There are different intermittent fasting methods you can try.
Examples of IF cycling methods:
- 5:2: When on this IF cycle of eating you eat at your usual times for five days a week. The other two days you primarily fast, only eating 500-600 calories in a specific window of time. The remainder of the time you are in a fasting state.
- 1:24 or 2:24: With this eating cycle, you fast for 24 hours, once or twice a week.
- 16/8 or 18/6: You eat all of your daily calories within a specific window of time — typically 6 to 8 hours — and fast for the remaining 16 to 18 hours. You can follow this cycle daily, or a few days a week.
Intermittent Fasting vs Ketogenic Diet
Intermittent fasting helps your body reach ketosis more quickly than being on a ketogenic (keto) diet. Blood samples show that people who fasted for 12 to 24 hours experienced a 60% increase in energy from fat burning, with the biggest change occurring after 18 hours. Intermittent fasting puts you in "ketosis." In fact, scientists have discovered that fasting increases your ketone levels more than a keto diet. While a keto diet increases ketones by four times as much, IF increases ketones up to twenty times.
Signs of Discomfort
While some signs of discomfort can occur when fasting, anything too extreme or excessive is not common and a sign you need to change your strategy.
Examples of excess/extreme symptoms:
Excessive low energy
Not losing excess fat
Common mistakes & what to do about them:
Going too fast, too quickly
You need to prepare yourself slowly for IF food cycling. For example, you may want to start with a simple water fast of 12 hours between your last and first meal of the day and only one day a week. Then, increase the duration of your fasting period over time and the number of days you fast during the week.
Also, remember how important hydration with pure, fresh water is for flushing toxins and staving off hunger.
Going slow with IF also helps you prepare your mindset and shift your focus to the health benefits that fasting is giving you. Rather than feeling deprived which can undermine your ability to follow through and get results.
Going slow also helps you wean yourself off of any emotional eating you may be engaged in. Eating food can be a way to repress uncomfortable emotions. When you fast you can trigger an emotional detox. Resting and relaxing in a warm bath of aromatherapy sea salts can help you flush any emotions that may surface for release.
You can use stimulating essential oils that can help suppress appetite signals and help stave off any sweet or food cravings.
Fasting and ketosis (when the body does not have enough glucose for energy, it shifts to ketosis and burns stored fat instead) have been essential for human adaptation and survival as a species. These adaptation mechanisms allowed our ancient ancestors to survive through lengthy periods of starvation. Today, the age old wisdom contained in our body and mind continue to help us adapt. Intermittent fasting is being recognized as an important key to keeping future generations disease-free.
CAUTION: Seek professional supervision when fasting for lengthy periods of more than 24-72 hour.