What's the Deal With Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a buzzword that I’m sure you’ve heard in the past few years - either through social media, through friends and family, or from unsolicited advice from someone at a party. Maybe you’ve already tried it or have considered trying it but you have no idea where to start. There are a lot of diets and fads out there that it can be very confusing and hard to decipher what is actually good for you. We wanted to clear up any confusion you might have about intermittent fasting and how you can do it in a healthy way.
What exactly is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating strategy whereby you alternate between a period of time when you are eating with a period of time when you are abstaining from eating any food. There are a few different types of intermittent fasting, ranging from moderate to very restrictive. While some intermittent fasting methods are calorie-restricting (when you decrease the amount of calories you normally eat in a day), the most common intermittent fasting methods are time-restricting. This means that you eat the same amount of calories that you normally would but in a shorter time period. Most moderate intermittent fasting methods involve eating within 8-12 hours of the day, instead of within the 16 hours that most of us are awake). This means that instead of having breakfast as soon as you wake up, having a few meals in the middle of the day, and then a large dinner right before bed, you’re decreasing the window of time that you eat. This can be done either by skipping breakfast, skipping dinner, or having three complete meals, but just in a shorter period of time.
There is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that intermittent fasting can help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, prevent the development of atherosclerosis, improve blood pressure, and increase autophagy (the process of detecting and recycling broken-down cells). It is believed that this is at least partly because intermittent fasting decreases inflammation in the body. In a previous newsletter, we discussed the prevalence of inflammation in various chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and depression. We also discussed that certain lifestyle factors, such as aerobic exercise, can decrease inflammation and therefore decrease the risk or help treat these conditions. Intermittent fasting works in the same way. Here’s how:
For optimal health and performance, you need to alternate between periods of stress and rest. For example, in order to take advantage of a hard workout, you need to give your body time to rest and rebuild afterwards. We’ve also discussed the importance of sleep in helping your body rebuild and repair itself. We even discussed the importance of rest in terms of your work. In order to optimize focus and productivity, it’s best to alternate between periods of laser focused work and healthy breaks throughout the day. Intermittent fasting is no different. We need to give our digestive systems time to rest, regenerate, and recover. By decreasing the amount of time we’re eating throughout the day, we are able to shift from the sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system and give our body a reset.
Another benefit of intermittent fasting is that when the body is in a fasted state, it makes a metabolic switch to rely less on glycogen and more on fat stores for energy. This switch from glucose to ketone bodies (byproduct of breaking down fat) improves your lipid profile, decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood.
Finally, fasting has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates the growth of new neurons in the brain. Increased BDNF improves mental capacity and is associated with the treatment of depression and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone, but if you’ve never tried it before this is the perfect time to start, as many of you are working from home and therefore able to be more flexible with your eating schedule. Just try it for a couple of days and see how you feel!
Simply try just decreasing the period of time that you are eating during the day. Instead of eating throughout the 16-hour period that you’re awake, cut that down to 12. This means if you have breakfast at 7am, make sure you’re not eating anything past 7pm at night. Or maybe you prefer to skip breakfast and have your first meal at 10am. You will probably need to experiment and find a way to do it that works for you. Just explore ways to extend the period of time when you are not eating while still getting the nutrition you need to optimize your health and performance.
While intermittent fasting has been shown to improve physical and mental wellbeing, without major adverse effects, we don’t recommend trying anything extreme before talking to a health professional. It’s also not for anyone with underlying medical issues, including anyone with hormonal imbalances, pregnant and breastfeeding women, diabetics, and people with eating disorders. If you have an underlying condition it’s best to talk to a medical professional before implementing this type of diet. Also no one under the age of 21 should be practicing fasting unless they are doing so for medical reasons under the supervision of a physician.
Finally, regardless of if you are trying out intermittent fasting, you should continue to stick with the principles of healthy eating that we’ve discussed already! This means limiting any food that is processed or high in sugar, and prioritizing fruits and vegetables, and healthy carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Have fun experimenting! Let us know how it goes.
What are we finding in the research?
A 2019 study looked at people who fasted for Ramadan (a Muslim tradition in which you do not eat anything from dawn until sunset for a month). The researchers found that people who fasted for the month of Ramadan had decreased markers of oxidative stress and increased antioxidant capacity compared to people who were not fasting!