Intermittent Fasting: What You Need To Know
I’m sure by now you’ve heard the terms “intermittent fasting” or “time restricted eating”. It certainly has become a popular thing over the last several years. I’m here to give you the basics of fasting; its history, the types of fasting and why you may want to or not want to do it based on the benefits and downfalls. I’ll wrap it up by giving you some must know tips from somebody who’s been intermittent fasting for many years.
Throughout human history, fasting has been a part of our existence. Of course, it wasn’t something early man did on purpose; it was for a lack of food. And, dying from starvation was not an infrequent occurrence. With this said, our ancestors adapted to be able to go long periods of time without food. We wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. So, we’re genetically designed to be able to go without food for long periods. If this wasn’t true, we wouldn’t be able to reap the rewards it provides.
Fast forward to 2023. Our current health epidemics: cancer, obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Obviously, NOT from a lack of food. It’s quite the opposite: we’re eating foods that were never designed for human consumption. Yet we expect our bodies to be healthy and nourished on chemicals, preservatives and refined foods that our ancestral genes have no idea how to handle.
Scientists have known for many years that humans live longer and healthier by eating less. I hope, by now, you see where diets fall short of “eating less”. Diets are restrictive in calories and/or consumption. This fact goes against our “ancestral pre-programmed appetite” to eat 3-5 pounds of food per day. Our gut and brain don’t know calories; they only know volume. So, when we eat dense, calorie-laden foods like cheese, meats, processed foods (donuts, ice cream, chips etc), that 3-5 pounds adds up quickly along with the calories.
What researchers have discovered is that we can use our evolutionary programming and restrict food in order to become healthier. That’s where intermittent fasting comes in.
TYPES OF INTERMITTENT FASTING:
One commonality with fasting is you get to use your hours of sleep as “fasting hours”.
12/12: This means you fast for 12 hours and have an eating window of 12 hours. For example, if you were to do the 12/12 method, you would stop eating at 7pm. and resume eating at 7am. This one’s not much of a stretch for most of us but it might be a starting point if you’re a late-night snacker.
16/8: This means you fast for 16 hours and have an eating window of 8 hours. The 16/8 fast looks a little different: you would stop eating at 6pm and eat your next meal at 10am the next day. Of course, you can make your own schedule as long as you keep it consistent.
Both the 12/12 and 16/8 are meant to be done daily.
24 hour: This involves not eating for a full 24 hours. Drinking tea and/or water are essential though. Most people do this 1-2 times per week.
Anything longer than 40 hours should really be conducted under the care of a physician or a facility. For example, True North is a facility in Northern California that uses multi-day fasting to reestablish health in people. They have a full medical staff on site. It’s designed for people with a variety of medical conditions including but not limited to: obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, gut issues and autoimmune disease. The patients there are under the care of physicians and are continually monitored. Some of their water-only fasts go on for over 1 month. During their stay, they’re taught lifestyle modifications including how to cook and prepare the foods that will help them keep their weight off.
BENEFITS OF FASTING:
- Stimulates fat burning
- Improves energy levels by producing more mitochondria
- Oxidative stress and inflammation decrease
- Decreases stress on the gut
- Stimulates cellular autophagy where your body breaks down older cells, takes the raw materials and uses those to form new, healthier cells
- Improves genetic re-mechanisms. Genes are stimulated to help with repairing within the gene. Mitochondria that are damaged, heal. Same with DNA and other tissues and organs
- Stimulates stem cells to help with building and repair
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Improves our relationship to food
- Enhances mental health
- Fine-tunes intuition
- Decreases chronic inflammation
- If you fast regularly, our cells are always replenishing and we become healthier overall
- When fasting, human growth hormone is stimulated to preserve muscle
- Reduces LDL cholesterol (the bad one)
- Reduces triglycerides
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces cancer risk
- Improves body composition
If you’re diabetic, fasting has some superpowers that will help to lower your blood sugar, such as 1) allowing your body to lower its insulin levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and 2) producing more insulin receptors so more insulin can be found in the body. A word of caution though: talk to your doctor if you’re on ANY type of diabetes medication as fasting could cause you to become hypoglycemic.
Another benefit: when you fast for a prolonged period, you learn what hunger is. This can help make us more aware of a “true hunger feeling” versus the feeling we get when we’re experiencing “emotional hunger” as a result of stress, boredom, depression etc.
You shouldn’t fast if you’re underweight.
If you have blood sugar issues, monitor your blood glucose carefully and make sure it isn’t going too low.
If you have any eating disorders or anxiety about being without food for a prolonged period, you shouldn’t fast
If you’re on medications, especially for diabetes, check with your doctor to see which ones you should take/not take during a fast.
- Drinking water is essential while fasting. It’ll keep you hydrated, keep your energy up and fill your stomach
- Drinking green tea has been shown to help curb feelings of hunger
- Stay out of the kitchen and away from food for the day
- Have your “post fast” meal ready to go so you don’t have to be in the kitchen prepping while fasting
- Always have a meal that includes beans or lentils before going into your fast
- Make sure your post fast meal is healthy
- Only healthy foods should be in your house. When you fast, some people might binge the next day or the day before in anticipation of their fast. Binging on vegetables won’t add inches to your waist.
- Progress yourself: start with the 12/12 version and move to 16/8 or somewhere in between. When you’re comfortable with that, move up to a 24 hour fast.
Of course, I advocate for eating a whole food plant based diet in addition to fasting. This way, you’re enhancing the effects of both healthy tools.
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