In recent years, the term “intermittent fasting” has become quite the buzz on the health and wellness scene. This practice is not only gaining momentum in popular culture, but also in scientific research. Many new studies have been published which examine the possible benefits of intermittent fasting, often referred to as simply “IF”. Here’s the 411 on this practice so that you can be properly informed and decide if it might be right for you.
What is IF?
Just as it sounds, intermittent fasting is the practice of refraining from eating during a set period of time. There are many ways to practice IF, however the most common and attainable method is a 16-8 fast, wherein one fast for 16 hours of the day and restricts all eating to an 8-hour “feeding window”. Others restrict caloric intake drastically on one or two days per week.
Though many people practice intermittent fasting for weight loss purposes, there are many other health benefits thought to accompany the practice. The metabolic “stress” we are inflicting on our body by restricting our energy intake causes a process called enhances mitochondrial function, DNA repair and “autophagy”. Autophagy means “self-devouring” in Latin and refers to a process in which cells break down and recycle damaged organelles and cell machinery. The rate of autophagy peaks when liver glycogen is depleted, at about 12-16 hours into a fast.
One beneficial outcome of autophagy, is increased insulin sensitivity, which helps to prevent against type 2 diabetes. Some studies have also shown that IF alone may result in increased fat loss compared to an iso-caloric (same calorie intake) diet without elongated fasting periods.
Who Should Practice IF?
If you are a healthy individual, IF protocol may be a great tool to add to your wellness arsenal. However, it is important to note that intermittent fasting may be contraindicated in certain populations such as pregnant women and Type 1 diabetics. Studies on pregnant women fasting during Ramadan showed no adverse effects on the fetus, however fasting was accompanied by an increase in maternal cortisol and a decrease in placental reserves.
Intermittent fasting is much more complicated for those with Type I diabetes. This is not to say that IF is out of the question for this population. In fact, increased insulin sensitivity is a welcome side-effect of fasting and many Type I diabetics enjoy decreased basal insulin requirements after introducing IF. However, fasting has other rather unpredictable effects on required insulin dosages which make starting the practice difficult and even dangerous. If you are a Type I diabetic who would like to practice IF, it is very important to speak to your doctor first.
Tips for Starting IF
1. Start slowly!
For somebody who typically eats breakfast at a regular hour each day, waiting several hours to eat after waking may result in hunger and irritability. In other words—you might spend your whole morning hangry. Try simply pushing breakfast by another 15-30 minutes every few days to allow your body to adjust.
2. Drink calorie-free beverages during your fasting window.
Many intermittent fasters rely on black coffee to fuel them through the morning. Not only is coffee and appetite suppressant and a stimulant, but caffeine has also been shown to increase metabolism and increase fat mobilization. However, it is very easy to become dehydrated when fasting for two main reasons. For one, we are not receiving the water from food that we otherwise would be. Additionally, the lack of insulin in our bloodstream during fasting reduces kidney function such that we tend to “dry out”. Add some fun to your water intake by having sparkling water or stevia-sweetened beverages like Zevia—just be sure to check that they do not contain calories, as this will break your fast.
3. Eat a large meal the night before.
Studies show that the metabolic benefits of a fast will still occur if the fast follows a large meal. Thus, eating a larger meal before a fast may help you feel more fuelled during your fast without sabotaging your dedication!