You may have heard of it before, and you may be wondering what it is. Intermittent fasting is not a diet, it’s a pattern of eating. The general idea is that you fast for 16 (or so) hours of the day while eating within an 8-hour window. Sounds crazy? Think again Vie Girl!
While fasting for long periods of time may seem absolutely crazy, it’s nothing new. During hunter-gatherer times, humans would go for long periods between meals due to scarcity or travel, while other individuals choose to fast due to religious and/or personal beliefs. Chances are, you yourself have actually practiced intermittent fasting unintentionally, and look, you’re still alive and kicking!
Initially, intermittent fasting may seem like you’re starving yourself, when in fact, it’s not. Intermittent fasting can simplify what you eat and when you eat it. You may not realize when you’re eating or what you’re eating, which leads to unintentional weight gain, stress, and a poor nutritional lifestyle. With intermittent fasting, you are able to become more strategic about what you eat and when you eat it. Some of the preliminary and psychological changes that most people end up experiencing range from less bloat to feeling better overall, to having more energy and feeling like they even look better.
What is the Benefit of Intermittent Fasting?
To back these claims up, from more of a clinical standpoint, Dr. John Berardi’s experiments have found the following in support of Intermittent Fasting:
- blood lipids (including decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol)
- blood pressure (perhaps through changes in sympathetic/parasympathetic activity)
- markers of inflammation (including CRP<, IL-6, TNF, BDNF, and more)
- oxidative stress (using markers of protein, lipid, and DNA damage)
- risk of cancer (through a host of proposed mechanisms; we’ll save them for another review)
- cellular turnover and repair (called autophagocytosis)
- fat burning (increase in fatty acid oxidation later in the fast)
- growth hormone release later in the fast (hormonally mediated)
- metabolic rate later in the fast (stimulated by epinephrine and norepinephrine release)
- appetite control (perhaps through changes in PPY and ghrelin)
- blood sugar control (by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity)
- cardiovascular function (by offering protection against ischemic injury to the heart)
- effectiveness of chemotherapy (by allowing for higher doses more frequently)
- neurogenesis and neuronal plasticity (by offering protection against neurotoxins)
How to Intermittent Fast
The 16-8 Rule
Intermittent fasting is usually recommended following a 16-8 rule of thumb. Meaning, you fast for 16 hours (including time you spend sleeping) and you eat during an 8-hour window (anytime of day). Maybe you’re sitting there thinking intermittent fasting is crazy still, or maybe you’re sitting there thinking “breakfast is the most important meal of the day – I can’t skip that!”. Well, good news, it’s actually not. It’s not breakfast that is the most important meal, it’s what happens after that.
Plan What to Eat
You’ve got to have a plan to intermittent fast to be successful at it. Without a plan, chances are you’ll end up mindlessly eating and even overeating throughout the day, which happens both consciously and unconsciously. If you have a good plan of what you’re going to eat during the day, then eating breakfast isn’t going to be an end-all to your success while intermittently fasting. With that being said, breakfast is only important when it’s factored into your eating decisions for the entire day, according to Dr. Berardi.
Plan When to Eat
We recommend finding a general time to intermittent fast (say 7 pm and 11 am) and set yourself a general rule of thumb with your foods that you’ll be eating during the 8-hour window. We recommend foods that are quality sources of nutrients, eating slowly, eating reasonable portions, eating when you’re hungry, and not eating when you’re not. It also helps to prepare food (ideally protein and complex carbohydrates (think veggies)) ahead of time.
Intermittent Fasting & Exercise Go Hand-In-Hand
You cannot outwork a poor diet and you can’t do it with diet alone. All three of the following go hand-in-hand: exercise, intermittent fasting, and a healthful diet. One decision influences the next, and so on. Exercise can be done both fasted and not fasted. So say you take up intermittent fasting, you wake up early, you’re ready to hit your Vie Workout for the day, and it occurs to you, “oh no! I haven’t eaten anything, I can’t go workout on an empty stomach!”, well, that’s exactly not true. The goal of intermittent fasting is to not only refine processes but to also improve overall health and wellness.
Additionally, most individuals are trying to have a caloric deficit throughout the day to maintain or accelerate towards their physical goals (i.e. weight loss or decreasing overall fat composition). Working out while you’re fasted (as long as you aren’t susceptible to pre-existing medical conditions) will actually advance the body’s ability to utilize fat as energy. Say what? All that means is this – introducing intermittent fasting into your regular nutritional lifestyle will not only improve the inside but the outside composition of your body, as well.
Conclusion: Intermittent Fasting
Don’t knock it until you try it.
It may be for you, it may not be for you, but the only way you’re going to find out is if you try it for yourself.
In all honesty, the first 10 days are hard. Your mind and body are pre-conditioned and literally trained to get hungry at certain times of the day. Don’t fret – all you have to do is rewire it to eat during a different window of the day. Think of intermittent fasting this way – it’s the practice of intentionally being hungry. The more you do it, the more you’ll learn the importance of the food that you put in your body as fuel and nutrients than just something to do when you are bored.
Lastly, Dr. John Berardi recommends matching self-experimentation to your lifestyle. If it’s not maintainable, then find a healthful lifestyle that matches you and your goals instead. “If you want to maximize your results, figure out how you respond to eating breakfast or skipping it”. Intermittent fasting may be right for you, or it may not, and the best thing to listen to about it is your very own body. Aspects of your life, “things like your schedule, your unique physiology, and you own self-discipline will play a big role here”, so do what is right for you!
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