Are Humans Built to Be Intermittently Fasting?by Carissa Andrews - July 11th, 2016
Carissa Andrews is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.
Only until very recently, the past hundred or so years, have most humans gotten used to consistently eating three plus meals a day. Before then, meals were far sparser, and certainly more lean when set on a plate. Because of this feast or famine history with eating, there’s a theory circulating that we should be trying to restrict not only the calories we consume, but also restrict how often we eat. This in turn, would help more people maintain and manage a healthy weight, among many other added health benefits currently being explored.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term intermittent fasting (IF), it’s basically the notion of adding fasting into your daily life by “intermittently" not eating for set periods of time. There are a number of ways intermittent fasting can be achieved, and we’ll discuss those variations in just a moment.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Ideal WeightAccording to recent studies, intermittent fasting can shift your body from primarily burning sugar/carbs to burning stored fat as its primary source of energy. This helps in all manner of ways for people who are struggling to balance their body chemistries and find their personal homeostasis. In our modern dietary culture, most people are very out of whack when it comes to eating right and getting the proper nutrition needed.
Proper nutrition becomes crucial when you’re fasting—so if you haven’t yet managed the quality of calories you consume, it’s best to start there before diving into any IF lifestyle. Eliminating processed foods is your first crucial step. Intermittent fasting isn’t a fad diet, or a lose weight fast scheme, it’s a dietary lifestyle that when incorporated properly, will carry you through your entire life in a healthy, energetic manner.
Next, when beginning IF, you’ll want to not only cut calories—but the right calories; namely carbs. In particular, on your fasting days (should you chose to do daily or the 5:2 method), you should be eliminating mostly carbohydrates from sugars and grains, not vegetable carbs. This is so your body begins to train itself to consume your fat reserves, and not rely on fast-burning carbs and sugars as energy during your fasting.
Some of the additional weight-loss benefits you’ll notice as you consistently follow your IF method of choice revolve around:
GhrelinBy intermittently fasting, ghrelin levels (known as the hunger hormone) drop to normal levels. This in turn curbs mindless eating, and can even shut off sugar cravings. This is in part, due to the fact that you’ve trained your body to rely on fat as a primary fuel source, and not sugars.
HGHHGH is a fat-burning hormone, and the higher the level, the more efficient a person is at burning fat. Fasting has been known to raise HGH as much as 1,300% in women, and 2,000% in men. HGH also plays an important role in overall fitness, as well as slowing down the aging process. Dubbed the “fitness hormone," HGH promotes the production of muscles. In fact, when HGH levels are higher, muscle integrity is maintained, even while actively losing weight. This is because when the hormone is active in higher levels, your body seeks out other sources of energy before cannibalizing muscle. This is one reason why IF can be a great part of a serious athlete’s fitness regimen.
Add in HIITWhen intermittent fasting is combined with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), you become an efficient, fat-burning, muscle building machine. In addition to burning more calories in less time, it also impacts your sympathetic nervous system, which forces the body to utilize fat and glycogen for energy.
InsulinThrough the use of intermittent fasting, insulin sensitivity is increased, along with mitochondrial energy efficiency. This in turn slows down aging and disease. Cancer treatment and prevention are also being added as a benefit, given the fact cancer cells require sugar to thrive, and by utilizing IF, insulin hormone levels are regulated.
Enhances Brain HealthAccording to the National Institute on Aging, fasting every other day can protect the brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This is in part, due to the fact that fasting has been known to boost the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) anywhere from 50 to 400%. BDNF is a protein that boosts the brain by activating brain stem cells to convert into new neurons and triggers numerous other chemicals that encourage overall neural health.
Variations of IF
There are a number of different ways to incorporate intermittent fasting into your life. The basic concept of restricting calories can be anything from a daily habit of skipping a meal, to choosing days throughout your week where you don’t eat at all.
Here are a few of the most common variations to see if one of them may make sense with your lifestyle choices:
1. 1-2x per week:Choose one to two days a week where you have no food at all. This may be the most extreme version of IF, and certainly is harder to maintain than others. However, there are plenty of people who utilize a full fasting day and find it fits best into their lifestyle.
2. 5:2 Diet:This diet has been predominantly suggested in the book The Fast Diet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting, by Dr. Mosely. In his book, he suggests to plan for two days a week where you reduce your caloric intake down to ¼ (500 calories for women or 600 calories for men). The optimal schedule would be to eat normally for two days, fast, eat normal for one day, fast again, and eat normally again for the last two days of the week (blending into four, if you continue the pattern each week).
3. Daily:Also called the 16/8 Method, the daily method offers the most reasonable way to incorporate fasting for most people these days. In order to implement the daily method, you would fast for 16 to 18 hours daily (mostly when you sleep), then eat only within a 6-8 hour window. Generally, it works best to stop eating approximately three hours before going to bed, skip breakfast when you wake up, and begin your caloric consumption with lunch as your first meal.
Who should avoid IF?
While intermittent fasting works well for most people, there are a few exceptions.
If you have or are any of the following, you should avoid intermittent fasting:
• Chronic stress
Until you have either managed your cortisol dysregulation, and/or adrenal fatigue, and/or give birth and wean your infant, you should be focusing on improving your nutrition before beginning any other changes. Plenty of raw, organic fruits and vegetables, along with healthy fats (such as olive and coconut oil), and high-quality, organic meats (when possible), will give you a good start towards optimizing your body’s natural ability to fight dysregulation.
IMPORTANT: Before you begin a new dietary lifestyle, such as intermittent fasting, it’s important to discuss the choice with your doctor to find out if it’s the right decision for you. As with any major changes a person can take that affects their health, there may be issues in your health history that can complicate the results. It’s best to begin an IF program under the supervision of a doctor until it becomes a second nature and part of your everyday lifestyle.