When I tell people I follow intermittent fasting I’m often met with a few objections such as “I have to eat first thing in the morning”, “I love to eat and don’t want to limit myself”, “I just eat in a balanced way”, “I have to eat every few hours”, or “how do you eat enough food/nutrients?”. But many people will say these things without first learning what intermittent fasting is, or the many amazing benefits for both health and lifestyle. Today I am going to talk about what exactly intermittent fasting is as well as its benefits.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting is defined as the “controlled voluntary absence of food“. It is not starving yourself. Since the beginning of the Earth humans have practised fasting for several reasons including for health benefits and spiritual beliefs.
Benjamin Franklin who is known to be one of the smartest men who ever lived said that “The best of all medicines are resting and fasting”. Mahatma Gandhi said that “A genuine fast cleanses the body, mind and soul”. Fasting was also a common practice in bible times.
Fasting for periods of time is something that is natural to us. Our bodies are designed to store food in times of availability (as fat), and then to release this stored energy in times of food scarcity. In fact all animals have this same ability.
Intermittent fasting (or IF) is an eating protocol in which you cycle between controlled periods of eating and fasting. It can also be referred to as “time restricted eating” in which the individual has both an eating and fasting window. The eating window would begin at the time the person had their first meal of the day, and it would last until their final meal of the day ends. The fasting window would be from the time the last meal is finished until the first meal the next day.
There are several common types of intermittent fasting out there which are based on the eating/fasting windows. The most common IF timing is 16:8 (16 hrs fasting window:8 hrs eating window). This is great for those just getting started as it is very easy to adopt. The warrior diet is also popular (20 hr fasting window:4 hr eating window), as well as OMAD (one meal a day). I will talk about each of these in more detail in a future post.
Balances Fat Burning & Hunger Hormones
Insulin – When insulin is present in the body it blocks fat loss, meaning you cannot burn fat when it is released. In fact insulin actually protects body fat. Insulin is released every time you eat, so if you are eating every 2 – 3 hours you will be spiking your insulin many times during the day, limiting the time when your body can actually burn fat. When you are fasting however you are decreasing your insulin levels and the amount of times it spikes during the day, thus increasing your ability to burn fat. Fasting also improves your insulin sensitivity, meaning how quickly your insulin levels decrease after a meal, promoting fat usage (ie fat-loss).
Leptin – This is the appetite suppressing hormone signalling to your brain. If you have a lot of leptin resistance, your brain won’t trigger quick enough that you are full which can lead to overeating. IF helps to decrease leptin resistance so that your brain is able to tell you that you are full much faster, which results in you consuming much less food in a meal. This can lead to a calorie deficit which is needed for weight loss. If you are eating several frequent small meals in a day your body may become leptin resistant meaning you are less full and satisfied with meals. With IF however you are consuming larger less frequent meals, decreasing leptin resistance and helping you feel full and satisfied after your meal.
Ghrelin – Ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It functions on a rhythm cycle and is released based on when you typically eat. For example if you are used to eating breakfast at 7 am or snacking at 8 pm at night your body will release Ghrelin at these times because of your habits, promoting hunger. Intermittent fasting regulates Ghrelin since you are reducing the amount of times you are eating making you less hungry in between meals. Your body will then get used to your new eating rhythm and Ghrelin will be released at the times you normally break your fast. For this reason IF is very easy to get used to once your new rhythm is established. Since you will be getting hungry less often you will inadvertently decrease the amount of times you eat in a day, thus decreasing your total calories consumed.
Neuropeptide Y – This hormone also stimulates appetite and hunger. Since meal frequency is reduced with IF Neuropeptide Y it is also regulated by fasting.
The combination of all of these hormones being increased and/or controlled through intermittent fasting promotes fat loss.
Autophagy is the natural process of cell self-eating. This is when your cells seek out and eat weak or damaged cells and produces new cells. Intermittent fasting promotes autophagy which has many health benefits including killing cancer cells, promoting healthy hair, skin and nails, and protecting the heart, liver, pancreas, and other organs. Autophagy does this by killing the damaged cells and producing new healthy cells.
Intermittent fasting improves the function of the hippocampus in the brain which is important for learning, memory and spacial awareness. Fasting improves memory, slows aging of the brain, improves emotional state, promotes new nerve cell growth, and helps with learning and mental function.
Muscle Growth, Performance & Preservation
There are several hormones that are increased with intermittent fasting that can help build, repair, and preserve muscle as outlined below.
Norepinephrine – This hormone triggers the release of glucose from muscles which helps to protect muscle cells. IF increases the production of norepinephrine thus decreasing muscle loss.
Epinephrine – This is the fight or flight hormone which among other situations is produced through intermittent fasting. When epinephrine is released it increases energy and strength. This is why many people find working out while fasted is the most beneficial for performance and progress.
Human Growth Hormone – This hormone is also increased during IF which protects muscle loss, increases energy, and promotes fat burning.
There are many other non-health related lifestyle perks I have noticed from intermittent fasting including saving money by eating less meals, spending less time cooking, and developing a new healthy relationship with food.
Intermittent Fasting has so many amazing benefits it is no wonder it is all the rage lately. Thankfully Dr’s are now prescribing it to their patients, as well as natural health practitioners.
Now despite all of the information available there is definitely a right and wrong way to do IF, and many mistakes can be made to hinder your progress. Stay tuned for my next post in which I will give tips on how to do intermittent fasting the right way.
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