The newest diet trend is NOT eating. That’s right. Intermittent Fasting. It certainly makes sense, given that our primal ancestors went through periods of not eating while searching for food, as well as periods of feasting when food was plentiful. Our bodies were made to adapt to that—not regularly timed, three meals a day, 7 days a week readily available food. So it makes biological sense to skip a meal or two occasionally.
Taking a break from eating has several proven dramatic health benefits including slowing down aging, increasing Human Growth Hormone for muscle growth, increasing insulin sensitivity, and overall fat burning.
In addition, IF has been shown to help fight cancer, disease, diabetes, and other serious diseases, according to this study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Additionally, according to other scientific studies, IF benefits extend to asthma, allergies, infectious diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, Tourette’s syndrome, cardiac arrhythmia’s, hot flashes from hormonal fluctuations, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s and more.
Intermittent fasting can also increase energy, help with focus and clear thinking, and improve mood as well. Practicing IF helps reduce symptoms of depression. This study published in the Journal of Nutritional Health and Aging found a significant reduction in anger, tension, confusion and low mood in a group of older men who were practicing IF.
Researchers have also found that intermittent fasting lowers the risk of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia and even helps improve recovery from strokes. It is thought the fasting protects the neurons against various kinds of damaging stress.
During a period of intermittent fasting, the body switches its energy source from glucose (unless you are fully ‘fat-adapted’, to burning fat for energy. When we fast for a longer period of time, we use up all glucose stores and convert body fat to fatty acids or ketones. It is a way of helping to flip your ‘metabolic switch’ and help your body become better at being ‘fat adapted’.
A scientific review, published in the journal Obesity, shows that it is likely that intermittent fasting may be more healthful than other dieting strategies, as ketones put less stress on cells than the byproducts of other diets. In addition, IF helps the body become better and more efficient at utilizing fat for energy, especially if IF is done on a regular basis. It also helps the body switch back to fat burning if you have gotten off-track and carb heavy with your diet. It is, in essence a way to get back on track.
The point of intermittent fasting is that the periods of food deprivation allow your body to rest, renew and regenerate. Plenty of scientific studies on both animals and humans show that periodic fasting not only helps you lose weight but also increases your longevity. Caloric restriction through fasting also helps to turn on genes that repair DNA and cells. This adaptation of IF may allow certain cells to actually live longer, preserving the body’s energy, according to a study published in the journal, Cell Metabolism. This may also be part of the reason that fasting helps to extend longevity as well.
Scientists think that the IF acts as a form of healthy stress that revs up the cellular defenses against molecular damage. Fasting mice have been found to have higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein that prevents stressed neurons from dying. Low levels of BDNF have been tied to depression, anxiety, and dementia.
Fasting also ramps up autophagy, a kind of garbage-disposal system in cells that gets rid of damaged molecules, including ones that have been connected to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to reduce cancers resulting from oxidative damage, and to help maximize the positive effects of chemotherapy, while minimizing the negative effects of cancer treatment.
The question is—should you try it? Intermittent fasting obviously can be a powerful tool to maximize health, but it’s important to carefully weigh its effects. Intermittent fasting can last for a period of hours or even days, but generally it entails a brief fasting period of 12-24 hours. Most of us may already be fasting from dinner time to breakfast, and if you skip breakfast, you are fasting—provided you only drink black coffee, tea or water during your fast.
There are a few primary types of intermittent fasting to follow, and you can switch them around as much as you want—the point is to create episodic eating/fasting/eating similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. So, you don’t really need to follow any particular fast–just surprise your body every once in a while with 24 hours of little or no food.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate IF into your routine is to just skip breakfast. Ignore the old saying of “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, and just drink black coffee, tea or water in the morning.
After a full night’s sleep, you wake up with the perfect hormonal terrain for burning fat. Low insulin and high glucagon levels make delaying your first meal an effective strategy for prolonging this fat-burning period.
Types of Intermittent Fasts
Skipping Meals–Every week or so, skip breakfast and don’t eat until lunchtime or dinner. Or just eat a late lunch and skip dinner and breakfast. Listening to your body and eating when your natural hunger occurs, instead of sticking to the meal clock and eating every morning, noon and night is a good way to readjust hunger.
Condensed Eating Window—One of the more popular and easier to follow IF routines is to condense your food intake into a set number of hours, usually about 8 hours. This generally means you eat an early dinner, and a late breakfast, much like the 16:8 plan. For sixteen hours you avoid eating, and eat only during a compressed time of 6-8 hours during the day.
24-hour Fast—Generally this works for most people by eating a normal dinner and then fasting until the following evening. Others can choose to extend the fast until the following morning. For many people, this can be a weekly or monthly routine.
Why Women Should Be More Cautious About Fasting
Fasting sounds like a terrific way to improve health and lose weight, right? Well it’s a little different for women and there’s a few things to consider, if you are a woman, before you jump headlong onto the fasting wagon. Some of the great health benefits do not extend to women.
We women have hormones that help to regulate our cycles and fertility. IF is a hormone stressor, so for men this creates an adaptive response that is positive for health. For women, IF can interfere with fertility and menstrual cycles. Because women’s bodies are meant to nourish and support a pregnancy, our bodies are extremely sensitive to calorie restriction.
Fasting affects the hypothalamus in the brain which can disrupt the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is responsible for releasing Luteinizing Hormone, and Follicle Stimulating Hormone, both important for menstrual regularity and fertility.
When these hormones cannot communicate with the ovaries, you run the risk of irregular periods, infertility, poor bone health and other health effects.
Even if you are not planning on having children, fasting creates nutritional stress, which decreases fertility, and even decreases ovarian size.
Where IF improves insulin sensitivity in males, females don’t often see the same positive results. In fact, one study showed exactly the opposite results—glucose tolerance worsened. One study compared caloric restriction to intermittent calorie restriction in overweight and obese women. Both groups lost a similar amount of weight, but unfortunately, the intermittent restriction group lost significantly more lean body mass. This is muscle, the kind of body mass you want to keep.
Another looked at healthy men and women doing moderate intensity morning cycling either fasted (overnight) or fed (breakfast). Although both men and women displayed greater increases in VO2 max and resting muscle glycogen concentration in response to fasted cycling training, only men showed greater skeletal muscle adaptations when fasted. Women had better muscle adaptations when fed.
So what does this mean for women? IF can be beneficial, just be cautious if you are trying to have a baby, nursing a baby or have menstrual irregularities. Instead of aiming for the longest fast you can tolerate, aim for the shortest fast that gives results.
Fasting for women is good if:
• You have significant amounts of fat to lose.
• Your oncologist giving you the go-ahead to try using it to improve the effects of chemotherapy.
• Your neurologist giving you the go-ahead to try using it to improve brain function in the face of cognitive decline or dementia.
Be aware–fasting in an extreme or unhealthy way can be a symptom of an eating disorder.
Fasting for both men and women can have some major health benefits, especially done in a controlled and safe manner. Just be careful you don’t take it too far. Prolonged fasting has also been associated with:
• increased cholesterol
• pancreas damage
• worsened insulin function (which increases the risk of diabetes)
• irregular heartbeat, headaches and fainting
• slight reductions in athletic performance, exercise ability and muscle mass
Note: Fasting is not recommended for those who need a regular supply of nutrients for their health, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, or people with certain medical conditions. Possible side effects related to fasting include malnutrition, dehydration, disordered eating and even death in some cases. But serious risks are rare and usually related to prolonged fasting, not IF.
Intermittent Fasting has been shown to help people lose upwards of 7 pounds in the first 5 days, and some have lost 4 pounds OVERNIGHT, as well as boosting sex hormones for both men and women, improving your energy, skin, & brain function, and so much more.