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Intermittent Fasting: Everything you Need to Know About the Basics

intermittent-fastingYou may have seen my last post on intermittent fasting, and you’ve likely heard about it online or from friends.

If you haven’t heard of intermittent fasting, it’s a process in which you would avoid eating for a period of time, and eat freely outside of that time.

Fasting has been shown to be incredibly effective at promoting weight loss, reducing cholesterol, and improving blood sugar.

This makes sense if you break it down.

We get energy from our food in the form of calories from carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Ideally, the protein is broken down to amino acids to be used to repair and create new protein structures in the body, which leaves carbs and fats for energy.

We’re able to utilize the carbs for our short-term energy needs, while the remaining sugars (carbs) that we don’t use immediately, are stored in our cells as glycogen and fat. That is, when we have adequate insulin levels and sensitivity.

This is why if you have diabetes, you have to monitor your blood sugar – when you don’t have properly functioning receptors or enough insulin, the sugar cannot enter your cells, and remains in your blood – leading to chronic health challenges and inflammation.

Being able to store excess glucose (from carbs) as fat is a pretty amazing feature of our physiology, because it allows us to access energy when we aren’t in a “fed” state.

This is also the key to fasting. When you stay out of a “fed” state, you allow the insulin levels in your body to reduce down enough that the process of lipolysis begins.

Lipolysis is the breakdown of our fat cells to be used for energy. This cannot happen if we have glucose, therefore insulin, in our system.

So – avoiding a “fed” state for an extended period of time, or fasting, allows our biology to create a situation where we use our own fat for energy. Again, this is ideal because it:

  • Promotes weight loss
  • Boosts fat burning
  • Reduces blood lipids (LDL cholesterol and triglycerides)
  • Improves insulin sensitivity and helps regulate blood sugar
  • Reduces inflammation (BDNF, IL-6, HS-CRP)
  • Improves cell clean up and repair
  • Reduces risk of cancer
  • Increases growth hormone
  • Improves metabolism
  • Improves neuroplasticity and increases neurogenesis (nuts, right?!)
  • Improves appetite control

The problem is that fasting can be difficult for many people to implement, and what good is a strategy if we aren’t going to use it?

Intermittent fasting is the solution to this problem. It allows us to eat food daily, and still gain the benefits of fasting.

The recommendations for timing vary, based on the source you ask, and the goal you’re trying to achieve.

A safe place to start is a 12 hour fast, and a 12 hour eating window. This means, for example – you eat your last meal by 8pm, sleep through the night, and eat again after 8am.

My preferred ratio is 16:8, where I fast for 16 hours a day and eat for 8. I typically finish eating by 8pm, because I work late and this fits my schedule, and don’t eat again until between noon and 1pm the next day.

There are even shorter eating windows in this model, and some schools of thought recommend fasting for a day or two at a time, with normal (non-fasting) days between.

You have to find what works for you.

Another thing to consider is in regards to women fasting.

Ladies, if you’ve tried intermittent fasting for days, weeks, or months and felt WORSE, there is a legitimate reason why.

Our hormones cycle throughout the month, and these hormonal swings have a huge impact on our metabolic needs.

Additionally, IF can have a dramatic effect on the hormonal balance in our systems.

IF can be hugely beneficial and also very unhealthy for women, for this very reason. Fasting, especially if done incorrectly, can interfere with the balance of sex hormones, cortisol, and thyroid hormones.

Keep an eye on how you feel, monitor your hormones, and don’t try to IF and “diet” at the same time.

Caloric restriction and starving the body is not the goal, and can actually trigger a stress response that increases cortisol, inflammation, and hormonal imbalance.

Focus on eating an abundance of high quality foods during your eating window, and eat plenty of good fats.

Also, if you’re just starting out with IF, give your body time to adapt and don’t jump into intense exercise that you’re not used to. Just like caloric deprivation, this can stress out the body and turn IF against us.

Always start slow, talk to your healthcare provider for specific support, and reevaluate if you notice any adverse effects.

What have you enjoyed most during fasting or IF? I personally love my altered relationship with food and reduced cravings – I feel less like a slave to the sugar if you know what I mean!

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