Intermittent Fasting 101
What if your clock is actually doing a better job at helping you with your weight loss goals than your scale?
Intermittent fasting or time restricted eating, which focuses on eating patterns, has been growing in popularity in recent years as more research suggests that modifying your meal timing can be an easier way to improve your overall health and achieve your weight loss goals. In fact, research shows that people may have a higher adherence to daily fasting regimens because it offers a more sustainable lifestyle strategy rather than calorie-controlled diets.
There are a variety of approaches to intermittent fasting but essentially it involves consuming all your food in a designated window in the course of a day in order to widen the period of time that your body’s visceral organs are put into a state of rest and recovery.
The basis of intermittent fasting is that when your mealtimes better align with the body’s hormonal and circadian rhythms you can more naturally regulate your appetite, satiety, digestion and fat storage.
There is ample research that shows that erratic mealtimes and modern day habits like late night snacking and eating on the go has contributed to the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Establishing a consistent daily cycle of eating and fasting allows the body adequate downtime to repair and regain its rhythm.
Intermittent fasting also helps restore and maintain the balance of your beneficial gut flora that protects against Leaky Gut and metabolic syndrome.
In addition to inducing weight loss, medical research points to a significant reduction in inflammatory markers thus offering a wide range of health benefits including:
- Lowered Risk for Heart Disease
- Improved Brain Function, Memory, Cognition
- Protection Against Neurodegenerative Diseases Like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Healthy Blood Sugar Management
- Enhanced Detoxification and Decreased Oxidative Stress
- Slowed Aging and Improved Longevity
The results of a recent initial clinical study exploring the benefits of intermittent fasting over a period of 12 weeks for people with metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) are highly encouraging, showing: reduction in weight and abdominal fat, lower calorie intake, improved cholesterol balance, reduction in fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1C. These changes occurred with no increase in people’s physical activity.
There are a variety of approaches that work for different people’s schedules and lifestyles.
Here are the most popular:
- 16:8 Method – Fasting for 16 hours a day leaving an eating window of 8 hours. This usually means skipping breakfast, for example having your first meal by 12pm and finishing your evening meal by 8pm.
- Modified 16:8 – This approach involves fasting 12-16 hours for 2-3 non consecutives days (e.g. Tues, Thurs, Sat) and can be a more gentle approach to help your body more easily adapt and create a more sustainable experience. After 2 weeks, you can consider adding one more day of fasting.
- 5:2 Method – Standard amounts of food for 5 days and reduced calorie intake for (600-800 calories) 2 days. There should be at least 1 non-fasting day between fasting days.
- Alternate Day Fasting – Either completely avoid solid food on fasting days or limit to 500 calories and then eat standard meals on non-fasting days.
- Warrior Diet – This method involves only eating vegetables and fruit within a 4-hour window during the day and eating one large meal at night and is inspired by our ancestral eating patterns.
Regardless of approach, it is essential that on your non fasting days you consume whole plant centered foods with plenty of healthy fat, fiber and protein such as beans, greens, nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs and fish. Also, you need to ensure that you drink a lot of water. Herbal teas and coffee are fine on fasting days as long as there is no added milk or sweetener.
You might also consider modifying your exercise schedule depending on which fasting approach you undertake.
Finally, don’t neglect your self care when it comes to stress reduction. Conscious breathing, mindfulness, meditation, yoga or any contemplative practice is a key component of preparing your body’s physiology to get the maximum effect of your fasting regimen.
To get started, I recommend trying different fasting schedules starting with 12:12; fasting, a 12-hour window where you can eat, followed by a 12-hour fasting period. If you are comfortable with this, you can increase to 10:14 and then eventually try the 16:8 method. It’s very important to evaluate a schedule that suits your specific needs. Fasting in general will yield a variety of health benefits but can be less effective if you jump in too quickly or when the body is unprepared.
Intermittent fasting is not recommended for people with:
- History of Disordered Eating (Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating)
- Thyroid Dysfunction
- Pregnant or Nursing Women
Finally, people with Type 2 diabetes should also proceed with caution and consult with a health care professional before attempting any form of fasting.