Intermittent fasting is getting a lot of publicity at the moment even though it is the ‘normal’ way to eat. I say normal because it is the way that early humans ate, and the same way that animals in the wild still eat to date. If you don’t practice intermittent fasting, I strongly suggest you do because it has pretty amazing health benefits!
What is Intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that requires you to cycle between periods of eating a normal amount, and eating little to nothing. You don’t necessarily need to change what you eat, although it is best to eat whole foods mainly to get the best out of it.
Whenever you eat, your body goes through three stages.
- Fed state: This is the stage when you eat your food, and your body begins the process of digesting it. This stage lasts for three to five hours.
- Absorption state: This is when your body starts to absorb all the nutrients from the food you’ve eaten. It then distributes the nutrients to all your cells, tissues and organs. This stage can take up to 12 hours after your last meal.
- Fasting state: You enter this stage once the absorption state is over. It usually starts around 12 hours after you eat your last meal.
During the fasting state, your insulin (the hormone that regulates glucose) levels fall very low, allowing your body to access fat stores and burn it for energy. It goes without saying that if you able to enter this fasting state regularly and stay in it for a good period of time you will lose weight very easily.
However, weight loss is just one of the many benefits of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that requires you to cycle between periods of eating a normal amount, and eating very little or nothing at all.
Health benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Improves prognosis in patients with cancer: Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) is a protein that is known to promote cancer. Patients with certain types of cancer have high levels of this hormone. Certain studies have shown that fasting reduces the level of this protein. In patients undergoing chemotherapy, fasting protects normal cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy, but amplifies the destructive effect it has on cancer cells.
- Reduces inflammation: Many of the conditions people suffer with nowadays including heart disease, obesity, arthritis, and cancers involve chronic inflammation. Intermittent fasting, reduces the levels of proteins that promote inflammation in people with these conditions. By reducing inflammation, intermittent fasting reduces symptoms in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. It also reduces the levels of compounds that promote coronary heart disease in patients with lupus.
- Remove damaged cells and tissues: It is important for our bodies to continuously remove damaged cells and tissues, and to make new ones so that we remain healthy. The process in which our bodies do this is known as “autophagy”. If you eat constantly throughout the day, you reduce your body’s ability to seek damaged cells to either repair or eliminate them. In the fasting state, your body is able to stimulate autophagy in many cells including the liver, kidney, and skeletal muscle.
- Promotes fat loss: Fat is not an inactive tissue. It actually produces molecules (adipokines) that regulate many important biological functions. Eating excessive amounts sugar does not only lead to weight gain (through excessive release of insulin), it increases fat deposition in your organs including liver, kidney, heart and pancreas. It also negatively alters the way some of your immune cells function. Your immune cells start to produce molecules that put your body in an inflamed state, which then promotes heart disease, cancer, dementia and ageing. Fasting reduces insulin levels and promotes fat burning, especially in overweight and obese patients, and in those with type II diabetes.
- Promotes longevity (anti-ageing): Being obese/overweight and expressing high levels of certain proteins reduce longevity. Studies show that low levels of fat, insulin and IGF-1promote longevity in all species from yeast to mammals. Reducing the amount of food you eat through diet restriction or intermittent fasting can help to lower these markers and thus increase longevity.
How to practice intermittent fasting
Contrary to popular belief, fasting when done correctly does not slow your metabolism. Fasting for short periods (using any of the methods I describe below) actually increases your metabolism.
All that talk of going into starvation mode and not losing weight is also false. That is because studies show that fasting reduces your insulin levels and promotes fat loss.
You should also try to reduce the amount of protein you get from animal sources. Studies show that substituting animal proteins for plant proteins prevents the growth of breast and prostate cancer cells.
Whatever your reasons for fasting, there are many ways to do it.
The 8 hour method
This method is a great way to start intermittent fasting if you haven’t done it before. It involves eating all your meals within an eight hour period and then fasting for the remaining 16 hours. The fasting period also includes the time you sleep.
For example, you may choose to eat all your meals between 12pm and 8pm everyday. You will then fast daily between 8pm that day until 12pm the following, giving you a 16 hour fasting period. A lot of people eat like this without realising it, so it is very easy.
To get the weight loss benefits (if this is what you’re after), it is important that you don’t overeat during your eating window. You can keep your portions in control by either using a calorie controlled plate/bowl or counting the calories in your food. Endeavour to eat wholesome, nutritious foods.
The Warrior method
This method involves eating during a big meal during a 4 hour window at night time, and fasting for the remaining 20 hours. You are allowed to eat very small meals consisting of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins before your big night time meal.
Alternate day fasting
With this method, you eat normally one day and then very little the next day. On the days you eat very little, eat only 1/5th of the amount you would eat normally.
You don’t need to eat your food within a specific time frame. So, this method is probably the easiest and most straight forward way to fast. However, you may find it difficult to eat very small amounts of food on your fasting day. You could also end up binging on your day of normal eating.
Eat Stop Eat
This method involves going 24 hours without eating. In essence you eat only one meal per day, and you only need to do this twice a week. The meal you choose to eat should be nutritious. Ideally, you should choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and lean meats/fish.
While you shouldn’t overeat to compensate for the period you haven’t eaten, you should eat until you’re satisfied. Dr Fung, a nephrologist in the United States, recently wrote a book called the ‘Obesity Code‘. The book describes this method of fasting in detail for fat loss.
24 hours is a very long time to go without food, so you may find this very difficult to do. If you choose to do this, you can expect to feel tired, get headaches, or feel cranky. You may also binge eat after breaking your fast, which isn’t ideal.
This type of fasting is not for everyone, so I suggest building up to doing it (if you really want to do it) or starting with something easier.
Things you should do while Intermittent Fasting
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated
- Try not to overeat during the periods following your fast
- Eat nutritious, whole foods mainly
- Don’t think of fasting as a period of deprivation, think of it as taking a break from food to repair damaged cells and promote longevity
- Enjoy it
To conclude, I believe that everyone should practice a form of intermittent fasting on a regular basis. If not for weight loss, then for its other health benefits.
I practice intermittent fasting mainly for its anti-aging benefits. I mean, who wants to age any faster than is necessary?