Intermittent fasting is becoming a regular term heard in every health circle these days. So what exactly is it? IF basically can be described as various different approaches that use short term fasting with the ultimate goal of increasing one's health. The key word here being "short" term, time restricted eating.
The benefits listed to this kind of eating are numerous, ranging from promoting cellular maintenance, protecting against aging, improving metabolic markers, helping with weight loss, decreasing risk of chronic disease, improving insulin resistance, detox benefits, all the way to boosting your brain power.
Digestion uses up a lot of energy.
When our body is in a constant state of being fed, all the energy goes towards that... instead of being allowed to use energy for repair and detox, that is so vital. When we give ourselves an extended time without food, the liver is allowed to get to work. Let it do its job! The body also needs time and energy to "clean" itself (a term known as autophagy). During this process, the body gets rid of any old or malfunctioning cells, and also gets rid of bacteria and viruses. Autophagy is not possible when we are busy digesting food, and it's ability peaks after a 16 hour window of fasting.
As mentioned above, there are many different approaches to this kind of eating. One of the most popular trends is eating all your food within an 8 hour window, and fasting for the other 16 hours. This can be on any schedule you prefer. Some tend to skip breakfast and start eating at noon, then making their last meal before 8 pm. Others may choose eating in a window from 7 am until 3 pm. Or maybe you want to consume your food between 10 am - 6 pm. Of course you may also decide to have a 10 hour eating window with a 14 hour fast. The beauty of this, is that you tailor it to your lifestyle and what works for you.
But haven't we always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?
Popular wisdom says that skipping breakfast is bad. But why is that? Studies that have been done in the past have shown that breakfast eaters tend to be leaner... but this may not necessarily be because they eat breakfast. Eating breakfast has long been popular health advice. So these people probably tend to exercise more, choose not to smoke, and eat a healthier diet in general.
When we eat food, our body takes the carbohydrates and breaks them down to use for fuel. Whatever does not get used up at that time, ends up getting stored as fat. When our body doesn't have food to break down for fuel, it then goes to those fat stores and uses those instead. Burning those fat stores (mainly triglycerides), is what helps us with weight loss and also can improve one's cardiovascular disease risk profile. On top of that, when we burn fat, ketones are released into the blood stream. Ketones have been shown to preserve brain function and help ward off memory loss. Another great bonus.
However, as good as this all sounds, IF may not be for everyone. Those who suffer from chronic fatigue, hormone imbalances, adrenal fatigue, hypoglycemia, extreme chronic stress at home or at work, those who are pregnant, breast feeding, or trying to maximize fertility, or anyone with any kind of eating disorder should not be doing intermittent fasting. It could actually make those conditions worse, so please always consult your physician before trying IF to make sure it is safe for you.
The beauty of this is you can tailor this to your lifestyle. Do what makes the most sense for you, and play around with it. You can make this as formal or as informal as you like. There is no calorie counting, or even restricting calories here. It is simply eating within a certain window of time. And this does not have to be every day. Like I said, do what works for you. Maybe you have an 8 hour eating window 2 days per week. Maybe you do it 5 days per week, and eat regular on the other 2 days. Maybe you do a 24 hour fast once or twice per month. Make it your own plan.
I like to do my intermittent fasting based on how I feel on any given day. If I slept poorly, or maybe I am stressed about something, then I will not choose to do IF that day. Food will probably do me better. But if I feel pretty good, got a good sleep, and I am up for it... then yes. Maybe my first meal will be at 1 pm, and I'm okay with that. It also gives you the benefit and convenience of not always being slave to making food! It's a time saver, and gets something off your to-do list! :-) Who doesn't need that?
Bottom line, this is all about balance. Don't let IF be a downfall to other ares of your life. Say you get invited to a great dinner party, and your contemplating not going because it will mess up your IF planned for that day. Go to the party! Don't let IF isolate you and ruin your social life. A healthy lifestyle is about BALANCE above all else. Don't put all your energy into one area of your health... you need to look at the big picture and put it all into perspective.
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.