“How to decide whether it is appropriate for you and how to go about adopting it as part of a holistic lifestyle approach.”
In the world of nutrition there tends to be a lot of focus on what and how much to eat while the question of when to eat often takes a backseat. While healthy food choices are critical for supporting health and wellbeing, it is becoming clear through recent research studies that the timing of food intake may play an equally important role in optimising health.
Evidence is pointing at the benefits of not eating for certain periods of time, a concept also known as Intermittent Fasting or Time Restricted Feeding. (1) Intermittent Fasting has been gaining popularity recently and while I am not one to jump onto any trends in a hurry, I have to admit that there are some compelling reasons to consider this time based approach to eating.
Having said that, all decisions in the area of nutrition should be considered from a bio-individual perspective and not accepted “blindly” and without first questioning whether it is appropriate for your unique circumstances.
Keeping that in mind, let’s have a look at the logic behind Intermittent Fasting, the benefits of this approach, how to decide whether it is appropriate for you and how to go about adopting it as part of a holistic lifestyle approach.
The Science of Fasting
Fasting is something most of us do daily: we fast every night when we sleep. Our first meal of the day is therefore appropriately called “breakfast” as we break our nighttime fast with food. Technically it takes an average of 12 hours for our bodies to fully digest and absorb the food we eat and after those 12 hours we enter a fasted state. In that fasted state, our bodies mobilise stored fat for energy instead of glucose and this is what triggers fat burning along with a whole other host of benefits. For thousands of years, fasting was a natural part of life.
Our hunter/gatherer ancestors did not always have food at their fingertips and often had to go for long periods of time without food. In fact, eating 3 meals a day was a random concept introduced during the start of agriculture, roughly 10,000 years ago. (2) Nowadays most people hardly ever go for more than a few hours without food.
As we are feeding our bodies a steady supply of glucose with frequent meals we leave very little opportunity for our bodies to start burning fat for energy. This has resulted in many people being dependent on glucose and resulting metabolic issues that include high blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, weight gain, inflammation, and fat accumulation.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting restricts the window of eating to a certain period of time in the day, the most common being 8 hours between lunch and dinner, during which you consume your regular calories. The remaining 16 hours are spent in a fasted state. During that fasting period you can consume calorie free beverages such as tea or coffee and off course plenty of water.
What are the benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Some of the benefits of Intermittent Fasting include improved blood sugar, lipid markers, weight loss, immune health and reduced inflammation, digestive health, and metabolic flexibility (the ability of the body to efficiently shift from burning glucose to fat). These benefits directly affect other areas such as cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, detoxification, brain health and longevity.
The good news is that it is not necessary to adopt this approach all the time to achieve its benefits. On the other hand, one of the caveats is that the success of Intermittent Fasting does depend on the quality of food that is consumed during the “feeding window.” You want to be eating complete and balanced meals that are nutrient dense and contain fresh, wholesome foods that are right for you. It should never be an excuse to eat just anything.
How to decide if Intermittent
Fasting is right for you?
When deciding to experiment with Intermittent Fasting it is important to first evaluate whether your body is ready to go without food for longer periods of time. You want to avoid doing this if you are dealing with:
• Diabetes or blood sugar dysregulation
• Chronic infection
• Hormonal imbalances
• HPA Axis dysfunction (a.k.a. adrenal dysfunction), which typically shows up as still feeling tired when waking, experiencing energy crashes in the afternoon, poor sleep, a poor tolerance to stress, poor recovery from exercise, etc.
• Stomach pain when fasting (this means you want to look into underlying gut issues first)
• Trying to get pregnant In general it is always important to be in tune with your body and learn to “read” its signals. There will be times that it makes sense to have breakfast, which could be for example if you haven’t slept well, during times of stress, or if have a baby and are breastfeeding.
On the other hand, when you wake up feeling well rested and strong, it may make sense to skip your morning meal. Similarly, if you have spent the previous night indulging in a larger meal than usual, or you ate later than usual it may feel natural to skip breakfast. This is what I consider to be the best way to approach Intermittent Fasting, basing it on your lifestyle and a sense of awareness of your body andwhat it needs.
How to incorporate Intermittent FastingFor some Intermittent Fasting happens naturally: not everyone has a big appetite in the morning. For others, especially if you are used to frequent snacking, skipping a meal may seem far-fetched. A good way to start, if frequent snacking is a habit, is to shift to eating 3 meals a day without snacking in between. As I mentioned earlier, this will work only if your meals are satisfying and provide sustained and long lasting energy. This means making
sure that you include sources of healthy fat, protein and foods that are high in fibre with each meal.
Once you are comfortable eating 3 meals a day, the next step would beto ensure that there is a 12 hour gap between dinner and your breakfast the next day. Gradually shift the time of breakfast to a later time until you can comfortably skip breakfast all together and eat your meals in an 8 hour window.
Being able to do Intermittent Fasting can feel quite empowering. Knowing that you can comfortably skip a meal makes you feel less dependent on food and that can be a big revelation for many people. I hope this helped shed some light on a somewhat trendy topic. If you would like any more help figuring out if Intermittent Fasting could work for you, feel free to schedule a Free Nutrition Breakthrough Session with me here.