Intermittent Fasting: Fad Diet or Science-Based?
While not eating may not sound like a treatment, fasting is one of the oldest therapies in medicine. It has been well-researched for its ability to help heal and prevent disease. When done under the proper guidance of a naturopathic doctor, intermittent fasting can lead to effective weight loss and many long-term health benefits.
Fasting Versus Starving
So, you might be wondering, what’s the difference between intermittent fasting and starvation diets? Well, for starters, starving yourself is dangerous. Our bodies still need fuel to function. Being overly calorie-restricted can cause your metabolism to slow down to conserve fuel. This defeats your weight-loss efforts.
Starvation deprives our body of essential nutrients, so it begins eating itself by burning muscle for fuel. Fasting differs from starvation because it can be practiced for 12, 16, 24, 36 or even 48 hours without the body kicking into starvation mode. Fasting flips the metabolic switch safely and effectively by forcing your body into using one fuel source (ketones) instead of another (glucose).
When we are frequently eating, our bodies are fuelled by glucose, which is a simple sugar. However, through intermittent fasting, that energy source becomes unavailable for long periods of time. As a result, the body begins to break down stored fat into fatty acids that are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Fatty acids can be broken down into molecules called ketones. (This may ring a bell if you are familiar with the ketogenic diet.) Ketones can be used to produce energy. After 8 – 12 hours of fasting, our metabolism shifts to replace glucose with ketones as our new source of fuel.
In a world of fad diets and weight loss gimmicks, studies show that intermittent fasting may be better for you than other dieting strategies. This is because ketones put less stress on our cells compared to the by-products of other dieting methods.
Studies also show that intermittent fasting can produce benefits no matter how it’s accomplished!
In one study, participants were allowed to fast for any number of hours a day, and then eat whatever they desired during the remaining hours. In another study, dieters alternated fasting and feasting days. On their non-fasting days, dieters either restricted their diet or ate to their hearts’ content. In both cases, results showed significant weight loss, no matter the approach!
Furthermore, participants in both studies did not lose any significant amount of lean tissue (which includes bone, muscle and organ tissue). This is in contrast to starvation diets which can sometimes cause the loss of both fat and lean muscle tissue, impacting health negatively in the long run. Loss of muscle mass means a slower metabolism. Muscle burns calories even while you are sleeping.
When Should I Fast?
It’s easiest to spend most of your fasting hours asleep, so you’re not thinking about food.
How Should I Fast?
As shown above, studies have shown that the exact structure of a fast isn’t critical. However, here are a few proposed fasting plans:
- If you are a beginner faster, you may want to start out with an easier fasting plan, sometimes referred to as a 12:12. What that means is that you may eat within a 12-hour window each day, and then not eat throughout the remaining 12 hours. This is relatively easily done if you eat your last meal around 6 p.m. and then you don’t eat again until breakfast the next morning. It just entails curbing any evening snacking. This plan would produce more modest weight-loss than option #2 below.
- If the above option seems too easy, or you are already doing it and want to take it to the next level or you are wanting a greater weight-loss benefit, then you can do a 16:8 fast. That means that you only eat during an 8-hour window each day, the remaining 16 hours of the day are fasting hours. Again, you can set your feeding and fasting hours to whatever you like, but it may be that you’re not that big of a breakfast eater and mornings are hectic, so you may just skip eating until noon. Then noon to 8 p.m. is your feeding window.
What Should I Eat for Intermittent Fasting?
As mentioned, the research seems to suggest that it doesn’t really matter what you eat during your non-fasting hours. However, to prevent falling into bad habits and further enhance weight-loss efforts, we would always recommend eating a healthy, clean, whole foods diet.
Won’t I be Ravenous, Hangry, Tired, Weak, Shaky or Have a Headache?
Surprisingly, people who follow an intermittent fasting regimen, find that they are not starving between meals. In fact, they often report that they feel quite full and satisfied and do not crave food. If you find that you feel weak, shaky, irritable, tired or headachey if you don’t eat, your adrenal glands may need some supporting to allow you to fast without feeling this way. Our ND’s can provide advice about how to keep your adrenal glands healthy.
Did you know that intermittent fasting helps you to live longer too?
It’s true! New research from Harvard shows that intermittent fasting manipulates the mitochondrial networks inside our cells, which may increase lifespan!
Sure, that sounds great! But how does it work?
Simply put, inside our cells we have energy-producing organelles called mitochondria that dynamically change shape in relation to our body’s energy demand. Over time, their ability to produce energy gradually declines, eventually leading to age-related diseases. While fasting is often recommended as a way to promote healthy aging, the connection between metabolism and mitochondria has always been unclear… until now!
The Harvard study shows that low-energy conditions, such as periods of intermittent fasting, can help maintain the flexibility and youthfulness of mitochondrial networks. These youthful networks then communicate with other parts of the body (organelles called peroxisomes) that modulate fat metabolism, which as a result, helps to increase lifespan.
Fasting does not only help you live a longer life.
Fasting improves your overall health too! Further studies suggest that fasting can help:
- Boost your immune system
- Enhance your physical performance
- Expedite weight loss
- Protect your cognitive function
- Reduce inflammation
- Slow the progression of cancerous tumors
- Protect against cardiovascular disease
Steps for Effective Fasting
As mentioned, there are numerous different ways to fast that are equally effective. Below are a few fasting tips to help you on your way.
- Set a fasting schedule and stick to it. If you’re a beginner, meal skipping is an excellent way to introduce yourself to fasting. If you choose to do a 12 or 16 hour fast, arrange your fasting window during sleeping hours to help the time pass by more easily. Fasting for 24 hours once a week or alternating day fasting are other options to try. Be sure to consult your naturopathic doctor to determine what might work best for you.
- Stay hydrated. You might be limiting your intake of food, but you certainly shouldn’t limit your consumption of calorie-free beverages. Be sure to drink plenty of water or switch it up with unsweetened herbal teas.
- Relax your body and your mind. During 24-48 hour fasting days, don’t participate in strenuous activities or spend your time obsessing over the food you can’t eat. Go easy on yourself by finding things to keep your body and mind occupied in a productive, gentle way. Take a walk or do light exercise that won’t exhaust you, like yoga. Spend a few hours curled up with a great book. Your next meal will come before you know it!
- Make your calories count. Between fasting windows, enjoy nutrient-dense foods that provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Learn how to increase flavors without sacrificing calories by adding garlic, herbs, spices, and different types of vinegar to your dishes.
If you think you are thinking about fasting but have never tried it before, I invite you to please reach out to us so we can discuss which options might be best for you. Please feel free to book an appointment with us by calling 416-481-0222 or emailing Maria@ForcesofNature.ca and we can help you get back on track with better weight management and a healthier, longer, and happier life!
The Team at Forces of Nature Wellness Clinic
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