Is intermittent fasting just a trend? Is it legitimate? Is it too extreme? Is it starvation? Does it even have health benefits?
It does. Intermittent fasting (IF) has huge and multiple health benefits. It’s great for weight loss (and weight maintenance), rejuvenating and boosting cells, improving mental capabilities, restoring metabolism, and ridding the body of insomnia, fatigue, and indigestion, among other things.
IF is also a concept that’s been around since the dawn of time. Of course, at that time it wasn’t a concept, but rather a way of life. Our earliest ancestors had limited food availability; they were naturally in a fasting state because they couldn’t access food readily.
Today, we have the science to prove that when the body runs out of sugar, that’s when the magic of cellular restoration happens. When you go into a fasting state, you start to deplete the levels of stored glucose in your body and use fat as your source of energy. This switch (from glucose to fat) is key. It’s what many now refer to as “metabolic switching.”
Once you get your body to this switching state, lots of natural and hugely beneficial adaptations start to occur: anti-aging pathways turn on, cholesterol levels improve, blood pressure goes down, insulin resistance decreases, and so many more vital health benefits.
For many of us today, though, food is available 24/7. We don’t take breaks from eating. In fact, we’re encouraged to eat often. So the thought of fasting (in the more traditional, daily fast) can seem daunting, even impossible. Is there another, easier, more sustainable way to do it?
You’ve heard of circadian rhythm: your own, natural 24-hour internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. If you apply your eating patterns to that same clock, you get circadian fasting -- short, logical breaks from consuming food at times that support your circadian rhythm.
This is just one type of intermittent fasting (there are many to choose from), and you may already be doing it without even knowing it.
Circadian fasting can be easily implemented into your life without much change to your daily routine. Ultimately, the goal is to limit your eating windows. Typically, Americans eat for 15 hours each day. Those 15 hours aren’t constant eating; that time frame includes the time our cells are working to metabolize the food in our system.
Our bodies shouldn’t be metabolizing all day and all night. That’s like constantly working on overdrive. Instead, we give our cells a break by fasting; we fast by cutting down our windows of eating opportunity.
You can start simply with a 12-hour fast. This is one of the most popular ways of fasting (and you may be doing it already): you begin your fast around 7pm and fast until 7am (or any 12-hour timeframe). You’ll be sleeping the majority of those 12 hours, and then you can break your fast with some nuts or eggs and avocado.
You then eat your normal meals until dinner and stop eating again at 7pm, then start over for another 12 hours of fasting. The key here is to ensure you don't eat after dinner (no more late-night snacking), which can be difficult. You can distract yourself at night with simple workarounds, like a post-dinner walk around the neighborhood or putting your kids down for bed.
Continue on with this 12-hour fast for about two or three weeks, at which point fasting for 12 hours will probably feel pretty natural.
Once you become accustomed to this shorter fast, you can increase your fasting period to the 16-hour fast. Using this approach, it’s common to fast beginning after dinner until lunch the next day. Once you hit this fasting window, you’ll begin to reap the benefits of metabolic switching and intermittent fasting.
It’s at this 16:8 mark (16 hours of fasting, 8 hours of eating/metabolizing) that you’ll start to see improvements in your overall health, including your blood sugars. If you’re on insulin, you may even start to need less basal and bolus insulin.
Goals for the Fast
The cells in our body need breaks from food metabolism. When your body senses a fasting state, it turns on the repair and renewal pathways. These rejuvenating pathways improve metabolism, which lowers blood sugar; lessen inflammation, which improves a range of health issues from arthritic pain to asthma; and even helps clear out toxins and damaged cells, which lowers risk for cancer and enhances brain function.
For those of us with diabetes, it's the metabolic improvement that can be so incredibly valuable to our overall wellbeing. Smaller eating windows coupled with lower carb consumption literally and logically translates to naturally lower blood sugar levels and less insulin dosing -- it's the law of small numbers.
But to ensure you're reaping all the fasting benefits, you must be vigilant about what you're putting into your body during your feeding window; eating junk food will only deter any progress you make. Eating clean, whole foods, cutting down (or even eliminating) carbs and sugar, and staying fully hydrated are all essential.
Last but not least, there are no hard rules except that you need to listen to your body. If you can’t go the full 12 or 16 hours, don’t worry -- there’s always tomorrow! You can slowly ramp up your fasting window each day. Try adding on 15 or 30 minutes each day; slowly and surely you will reach your fasting goal!