It seems these days that everyone I chat with has questions about intermittent fasting. As simple as “just not eating” sounds, there is an art and science behind it.
Abstaining from eating for specific lengths of time can be helpful for some people, not only for weight loss but for optimizing many other aspects of their health. As a species, we have fasted throughout history, be it from a long night’s sleep, food scarcity or religious reasons.
You typically metabolize food for about three to five hours after your last meal. When you’re in this state, hormones that support growth and storage such as insulin are upregulated.
When you are in a fasted state (about 12 hours after your last meal), your insulin levels are low and your body is able to burn fat as fuel more efficiently. Fasting is also a great way to practice managing hunger, a skill that can be important for many of us to shed fat and keep it off.
Intermittent fasting, as a pattern of eating, has many variations. Here are two common examples:
Daily 16/8 (16 hour fast/ 8 hour eating window): Start eating at 12 p.m. and finish eating by 8 p.m. and repeat daily.Weekly 24 hour: Finish dinner at 6 p.m. and do not eat again until 6 p.m. the next day. Repeat once or twice per week. Eat normally all other days of the week.It is also important to note that the majority of studies on intermittent fasting have been conducted on men or using animal models. If you are a woman and want to experience the benefits of fasting, experiment with it. Start small by trying a 12- or 14-hour fast once or twice a week and increase from there if you feel your body is tolerant. If you are sedentary, current research proposes 20 to 24 hour fasts are required to see benefits. If you are very active, or exercise in a fasted state, you may start to reap the benefits after 16 to 20 hours of fasting.
Proposed benefits of intermittent fasting include, but aren’t limited to:
Increased longevity, mental clarity, growth hormone secretion (encourages lean muscle mass maintenance and growth), cellular turnover and repair and weight management.Reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.Improved blood glucose regulation, insulin sensitivity and appetite regulation because of hormonal shifts.Fasting should feel good. If it doesn’t, ask for advice. Also, be sure to consult with your medical doctor if you have any current medical concerns before any fasting attempt.
My fasting tipsStart small. Begin with shorter and less frequent fasts. 16 hours is effective in getting you into the habit and may be all you need to see the benefits.Hunger! Try to fast on a busy weekday where your mind might be better distracted. Coffee, green tea, unsweetened carbonated water and full-sodium bone broth can also help. Remember that hunger typically passes as your body dips into its glycogen stores and your fat stores for needed calorie burn. Drink water or hot beverages above to help ride out any hunger.Fluids & Electrolytes. Drink 8 ounce of water when you wake up and keep drinking throughout the day. Adding Trace Mineral drops to your water can be helpful. Ultima electrolytes or a pinch of sea salt and small squeeze of lemon added to water is fine.Social situations: A lot of people don’t understand the benefits of fasting and can sometimes unintentionally sabotage your efforts. Fasting can be fun and gratifying when you start your fast with the right mindset and see it though without cheating.Practice: Just like with everything else, fasting takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first few fasts don’t go as predicted. Give yourself a few weeks to perfect the skill.Don’t overeat. When you eat your first meal after your fast, pretend your fast never happened. The last meal before your fast should be healthy, as should the meal that ends the fastAshley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.