Intermittent fasting: second word horrible, first word okay. This is one of the more controversial, and perhaps for some, one of the more frightening topics in the nutrition world. For anyone who is very much content with their 3 meals [and maybe 2+ snacks] per day, the very thought of any type of fast can seem daunting, crazy and a touch masochistic. That said, it’s a very real [and growing] practice, there is interesting science behind it and many claim to see significant health improvements. So today friends, we are digging in to the world of intermittent fasting. Hold on to your butts.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is simply a way of eating that follows cycles between “feeding hours” and “fasting hours.” The thing that separates intermittent fasting apart from typical diets, is that it is not about what you eat but when you eat – so really more of a pattern than a diet. The most common IF fasting styles involve fasting for ~ 16 hours [meaning you eat during any ~ 8 hour period in the day, let’s say 11am – 7pm, and don’t eat the rest. This is also called the Leangains protocol. Others practice 24 hour fasts one or two times per week. There are other variations that people create custom to what works best for them.
Crazy? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m an anthropology nerd and am very interested in the topic of IF because I always like to look at nutrition from an evolutionary standpoint [and no I don’t eat a caveman diet]. But the reality is humans did not have food at their fingertips throughout evolution. We hunted, gathered and foraged our food. There were feasts and there were famines. There were no refrigerators or cupboards. Sometimes, people were hungry – a feeling many of us don’t frequently have or remember. So from a safety point can people handle these types of fasts? Theoretically yes, of course. Note: plenty of water IS included and recommended during the fast cycles.
Well from a weight loss / calories in and calories out stand point, you are more likely to consume less calories when you shorten your eating window. That even goes for people who are eating whatever they please, be it burgers or pizza [not something we recommend]. People don’t seem to overcompensate because they still get full at the same rate within their shortened window, or sometimes even quicker. More importantly, however, fasting affects your body on a cellular and metabolic level. When fasting, human growth hormones rise, which benefits for fat loss and muscle gain. Insulin sensitivity improves and in turn makes stored body fat more accessible to burn. More research needs to be done, but preliminary studies show fasting can play a role in Type II diabetes prevention. That’s powerful stuff! Finally, historically people have claimed that fasting improves longevity, and the science agrees – intermittent or occasional fasting alters your gene expression and improves longevity and protects against disease.
Will you lose weight? It’s possible. According to this awesome Intermittent Fasting breakdown by Authority Nutrition, people can see 3-8% weight loss results – specifically belly weight which is the visceral fat that we should be most concerned with [saddlebags and a robust tushy do not equate to concerning health conditions the same way excess belly weight does].
The Purported Health Benefits?
- Weight Loss
- Improved longevity
- Protection against/reversal of insulin resistance
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Cancer prevention
But what IF about real life? Will you feel hungry? Maybe, maybe not. Any major changes in diets have adjustment periods, but plenty of people seem to adjust fine. The most popular positive feedback of the diet from a logistics standpoint is that it’s actually just streamlining life. If you get one full day, or one meal a day to not think about – it’s simply one less thing to do. It’s very popular with people who like to avoid cooking, prepping and cleaning – and are looking for one less thing to do in an already hectic life.
Simply cutting back on calories or the hours in which you eat a day should not give you a hall pass on eating food that doesn’t REALLY feed you. First and foremost in any dietary practice should always be about quality. What you eat, no matter when you eat it, matters – and it matters immensely. If you do want to try an IF practice make sure you bring a whole foods eating approach to it. And you won’t know unless you try!
Is it for everyone? Certainly not. First of all the jury is still out on the difference in positive effects from IF in men versus women. This is a really interesting article that shows the very real differences between male and female rats in response to IF. Okay okay we’re not rats – but the science here matters. Women’s hormones seem to respond very differently to male hormones in IF, specifically in the cases where there is significant caloric restriction. Female hormones do NOT like to be starved! From a personal standpoint, both Megan and Anna of the PN team tend to do a modified IF practice – very light if any breakfast and try to have dinner before 8pm [not everyday but most]. That doesn’t resonate for the other half of our team – and they feel much better with 3 solid meals or more of an ongoing snacking schedule. It’s a proof that absolutely everyone is different! Listen to that hot bod of yours.
Additionally, we focus a lot on adrenal health and stress response in our programs. If you are someone who is concerned about cortisol balance or worried you have adrenal fatigue we don’t recommend plunging into this head first. This could be anyone who wakes up extremely hungry, gets the jitters for too long without food or is in a healing period post traumatic physical or emotional trauma.
Who should avoid Intermittent Fasting or consult with a doctor before implementing?
- Anyone with a history of under eating or disordered eating
- People with Type I or Type II diabetes
- Low blood sugar issues
- Adrenal fatigue issues
- Folk with hypoglycemia or blood sugar regulation issues
- Prenatal/post natal/breastfeeding
- Women trying to conceive
So – what do you think? Does this sound like something you’re interested in? Hit us up in the comments, we’d love to hear what you feel on the subject.