The Amazing Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Would you consider yourself to be a morning person or a “night owl”? While many people will differ on which part of the day they feel most awake and productive, all life forms have always been able to make adaptations in relation to the light/dark cycle. This predictable rhythm includes changes in food availability. In human history, this meant acquiring food when accessible and storing additional food in anticipation of a period of rest and recovery, which allowed for optimal fitness and bodily repair .
Fasting has been a part of many cultures and people groups for much of the world’s history. In ancient Greece and Egypt, fasting was a part of prevention and treatment of disease, similar to the resurgence we see today.
Fasting has also had a long-standing history with spiritual and emotional benefits in several world religions. These aspects of fasting can be thought of as part of an act of intention, or something done with a mindful approach. This process is often described as an avenue to becoming more deeply in touch with yourself by experiencing a “need or challenge,” leading to greater self-awareness and sensation, all while training your mind and body.
WHY IS IT GAINING POPULARITY?
Two primary mechanisms for fasting as it relates to wellbeing include decreases in oxidative stress and enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stress (i.e “need” or “challenge”) at a cellular level. Additionally, research has found that the benefits of fasting for the brain and cardiovascular system may be similar to that of regular physical exercise, suggesting that the effects are similar .
Intermittent fasting has gained traction in the last few years in the realm of weight loss and fitness, and even optimizing brain function, but there are several other benefits to fasting and a variety of ways to go about it. It’s important to remember that while fasting, maintaining optimal nutrition is imperative. It’s also important to consult your provider prior to partaking in a fast, especially if you have hypoglycemia or diabetes.
TOP 5 WAYS TO FAST:
- Alternate-Day Fasting: This entails eating only every other day. On fasting days, some eat no food at all and others eat a very small amount, typically around 500 calories. On non-fasting calorie days, eat normally (but healthfully!)
- The Warrior Diet: This diet involves eating only fruits and vegetables during the day and then eating one large meal at night.
- 16/8 Fasting (a.k.a. Time-Restricted Feeding): For this method, you fast for 16 hours every day and limit your eating to eight hours. Most often, this simply involves not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast the next morning.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Pick one or two days out of the week and fast for 24 hours, eating nothing from dinner one day until dinner the next day. On the other days, you should have normal calorie days.
- 5:2 Diet: For five days of the week, you eat normally. For the remaining two fast days, you should restrict your caloric intake to between 500–600 calories every day.
KEY BENEFITS OF FASTING:
- Promotes weight loss.
- Supports blood sugar balance.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Supports gut healing and microbial diversity.
- Supports detoxification.
In a state of calorie restriction, the body doesn’t receive a regular surge of glucose, or sugar, which is the most readily absorbed form of energy. When glucose is broken down into glycogen, the body will use this for energy until its stores are depleted, at which point the body turns to fat cells to keep going. Similarly, the ketogenic diet is based on the deprivation of glucose, or carbohydrates, forcing the body to use stored fat. Additionally, fasting can promote the greater release of human growth hormone which has been shown to help increase muscle strength and combat obesity .
Studies have shown that fasting can help improve insulin sensitivity and maintain glucose homeostasis, which also promotes weight loss . When consuming higher amounts of carbohydrates and sugars, the body can become insulin resistant, which in many instances precipitates various chronic diseases, namely Type II Diabetes. The study published in the World Journal of Diabetes found that fasting can help reduce visceral fat mass, fasting insulin, and insulin resistance, improving body weight and glucose levels .
Nutritional habits, in general, can significantly prevent or contribute to inflammation, which is the cornerstone of health. Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, even after just two weeks, as well as elicited changes in energy metabolism, furthering the success of weight loss .
The gut is composed of over 100 trillion microbes, which together contain more than 100 times the number of genes in the human genome! Some of the functions of the microbiome include nutrient absorption and the breakdown of food, xenobiotic (foreign substance) metabolism, and promote gut barrier function which is integral to gut and brain health. Scientists now know that nearly 80% of our immune function starts in the gut, and this intricate network of bacteria are significant determinants of our overall health. Additionally, there’s increasing evidence connecting the health of the microbiome to the incidence of autoimmune disease, including Multiple Sclerosis, among others .
Studies are emerging that suggest the efficacy of dietary restriction or intermittent fasting as it relates to detoxification through the liver. Detoxification is tightly connected to metabolic function, and some of the best studies regarding optimal detoxification include healthy foods and nutrients, and now increased evidence supports intermittent fasting can contribute to optimal detoxification as well .
HOW TO START
As mentioned above, it’s important to be intentional about your fast, whether it’s for weight loss, health goals, or spiritual and emotional wellbeing, having your goals in mind will not only help you stick with it but can actually help improve the outcome!
Decide which style of fasting make work best for you and start gradually. Consider starting with a shorter duration, such as an additional hour or two before your first meal of the day, or slowly shorten your “eating window” during the day. This allows for you to adjust, as well as your body.
Remember to listen to your body. Our bodies learn our daily patterns and adapt when trying something new, but the rules aren’t to be rigid. For the best chance of success, if you feel it’s necessary to break your fast sooner, then that’s OK! If you aren’t quite hungry or circumstances don’t allow you to eat sooner, then it’s OK to wait a little longer for food. Just ensure you’re adequately hydrated and consume nutrient and mineral dense food while you are eating.
You can exercise during a fast, but experiment and find a time that works best for you, and feels the best within your fast.
Remember to stay well hydrated and up your electrolytes. While fasting, it’s important to ensure that any beverages are also low to zero calories and it’s recommended to avoid alcohol altogether. Water, herbal tea, and coffee (without the milk and sugar) are acceptable options.
Remember to consult with your provider prior to beginning a fast and throughout your fast for continued monitoring.
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3. Effects of Ramadan fasting on glucose homeostasis and adiponectin levels in healthy adult males
4. Emerging Concepts on the Gut Microbiome and Multiple Sclerosis
5. Low-dose growth hormone treatment with diet restriction accelerates body fat loss, exerts anabolic effect and improves growth hormone secretory dysfunction in obese adults
6. Effects of intermittent fasting on health markers in those with type 2 diabetes: A pilot study
7. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma
8. Enhanced Phase II Detoxification Contributes to Beneficial Effects of Dietary Restriction as Revealed by Multi-platform Metabolomics Studies