In your Heart In Motion Articles, we spend a lot of time talking about balance and healthy eating. We are not in favor of fad diets, but instead focus on healthy balanced eating and living based on a sound nutritional perspective. That said, we occasionally teach on “tips and tricks” for better health or to jump start the metabolism. Today, I wanted to talk through a strategy called intermittent fasting. We have talked before about the metabolic dangers of under eating and the importance of staying on top of your hunger. This is not under-eating at all, rather a different strategy for timing your eating to achieve metabolic and health benefits. Side note: If you are struggling with emotional eating, have an eating disorder, or are triggered by hunger, this is not the strategy for you.
So what is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating where you cycle between periods of eating and periods of fasting allowing your body time between eating cycles to go into a fasted state. There are many different patterns of intermittent fasting, and we will outline a few at the end of this article so that you can choose the one that works best for you. Many studies have shown benefits for body and brain that reach far beyond the potential fat loss benefits, but fat loss is definitely a benefit!
Improved hormone levels – Lower insulin levels, higher growth hormone levels, and increased amounts of norepinephrine create an optimal environment for fat loss when the body is in an intermittent fasted state.
- Insulin: When we eat, insulin levels rise. When we fast, insulin decreases significantly). Lower insulin levels facilitate fat burning.
- Human growth hormone (HGH): During a fast, levels of human growth hormone increase as much as 5x normal. Growth hormone is a hormone that can aid fat loss and muscle gain.
- Norepinephrine (noradrenaline): Norepinephrine comes from our nervous system and is sent to our fat cells to make the body break them down into free fatty acids that are then burned for energy.
- Reduce oxidative stress and inflammation – Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and and antioxidant activity in your body. Oxidative stress contributes to the aging process as well as increases inflammation (more about this in an article coming soon). Several studies have shown that intermittent fasting increases the body’s resistance to oxidative stress as well as fights inflammation.
- Decrease heart disease risk factors – Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve cardiac risk profile including:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
- Decreased inflammatory markers
- Regulated blood sugar levels
- May help prevent cancer – More research is needed in this area before drawing conclusions, but promising research has been done on animals that has shown that the metabolic processes that cause cancer cells to grow were beneficially changed with the use of intermittent fasting.
- Assists in cellular repair – Toxins in our food, pollutants in our air, along with many other factors we really can’t control contribute to waste building up in our cells. Intermittent fasting actually assists in a process called autophagy which is a waste removal process in our cells during which our cells break down and metabolize dysfunctional proteins.
- Improves brain function – Reduced oxidative stress and decreased inflammation are not only good for the heart, but for the brain as well. Fasting also increases levels of a brain hormone called BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) that has been shown to be deficient in those who struggle with depression.
- Improves functional gene expression – The characteristics that we show, from the way we look to our disease profile are not just controlled by our genes but rather by the way our genes express, a field of study called epigenetics. (article coming soon) Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve the expression of genes related to longevity and lower disease risk. What we eat or when we choose to eat can actually change the rate at which our bodies age from the inside out.
There are many different patterns of intermittent fasting:
- Daily fasting – This pattern of fasting involves eating within an 8 hour window of time. It does not matter when you start, but be careful not to start too late as you don’t want to eat late in the evening. One pattern that I have found works well for people who do this is to eat between 10am and 4pm. That allows for breakfast at 10, a snack at 12 or 1, and dinner at 4.
- Weekly or monthly fasting – For those who need to maintain a more regular eating schedule whether for family, work, or because a daily fast is too big of a leap for current hunger levels, this pattern works well. A weekly fast involves a 24 hour fast once per week, and benefits have even been shown for those who engage in this pattern once per month.
- Alternate Day Fasting – This is one that is one of the easiest fasting patterns to follow. It involves a 16 hour fast like daily fasting, but it is not every day. This pattern involves basically eliminating a later dinner several nights per week, up to every other night and having a late breakfast the next morning.
There are lots of potential patterns of intermittent fasting, but I wanted to keep the info basic on this one. Remember that if you are going to engage in this eating strategy, it is important to listen to your body. Here are a few strategies for getting started.
- Start slow. Instead of jumping into a 16 hour fast, start by moving dinner to an earlier time and having a regular timed breakfast.
- Be aware of your hunger patterns. If fasting makes you more likely to run to impulse food choices, back off and start slower. Your body will adjust if you allow it time.
- Be aware of “deprivation mentality.” This is not at all a starvation strategy, but a different timing pattern of eating designed for not only fat loss, but health benefits. Make sure to keep that your perspective as you experiment with this or any new altered eating pattern.
STEP(S) FOR THIS WEEK:
- Read through the article above and take some time to think about it. This is not a strategy for everyone, but it certainly has benefits. If you decide to integrate this into your life, give some thought to planning and how it will fit into your schedule as well as your family's schedule. As always, I am available for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.