13 Jan Intermittent Fasting: The Hot New Health Trend
Intermittent Fasting: The Hot New Health Trend
Unless you’ve been living on a desert island this past year, chances are you’ve heard about Intermittent Fasting. If you aren’t doing it yourself, you probably know someone who is. (Or you know someone – who knows someone – who is.) It’s the hottest new trend in all of the health magazines, emails and podcasts. And for someone like me, who subscribes to almost every online medical journal and health newsletter, my inbox is filled every morning with sub-ject lines that read: “Intermittent Fasting.”
So let’s get to the bottom of Intermittent Fasting (IF), shall we? What is it and how does it effect metabolism, disease, and longevity?
Intermittent fasting is not really about what you eat so much as it is about when you eat. There are two main types of IF: the 5:2 plan and the 16:8 plan. The 5:2 plan consists of 5 days per week of eating normally, and 2 non-consecutive days of restricted caloric intake (500-800 calories per day). Although I have clients who have been successful with this model, most find the 5:2 plan much more difficult, due to the need to diligently count calories for the two “restricted” days of the week. The 16:8 plan, on the other hand, is focused on the “eating window” and not about counting and/or restricting calories. This more popular plan consists of 16 hours of fasting, which leaves an 8 hour window for eating. I usually put my clients on the 16:8 plan, with an “eating window” of 12 noon to 8pm, which means they are fasting for the other 16 hours. Does going 16 hours without food seem brutal? It’s really not as difficult as you think, considering that you are (hopefully) sleeping for half that period of time.
Still, just the thought of being deprived of food sends some people into a blind panic. According to my cousin Kathy, “There is no way I could do that! I would pass out!” Which brings me to the next point. Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. There are people who should steer clear of this entirely. If you are elderly, if you are required to take certain medications early in the morning with food, if you suffer from certain ailments or diseases, or if you now or have ever suffered from an eating disorder, this is not for you. And like any new “diet” or lifestyle change, be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning.
However, for most relatively healthy individuals, the transition is quite painless. After all, from an anthropological point of view, we are hunter/gatherers, so fasting makes perfect sense. Our bodies can go for long periods of time without eating. We were not designed as human beings to have food at our beck and call. (I don’t know when was the last time you hunted or gathered your food, but for me? Never. Unless you count gathering food out of my refrigerator.)
So can we make it without eating breakfast? Of course we can! Yet, I hear the skeptics al-ready – “but they say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Well, folks, that’s one of the biggest scams of our generation. We’ve bought into this (both mentally and with our pocketbooks) for the past 50 years. The big corporations have spoon-fed us with this fallacy, as they fill entire aisles of the supermarket with processed breakfast foods. It’s a lot of marketing bullsh*t!
So what’s the point of Intermittent Fasting? What is it supposed to accomplish? The theory behind IF is based on the fact that the body, when denied food, is forced to reach into its fat reserves for energy. Excessive calories, stored in our bodies as fat, are easily accessed when needed for fuel. However, if your bloodstream is already full of glucose after eating breakfast, your body will use that for fuel instead of reaching into your fat cells. IF allows your body to be in a state of ketosis (that is, the state of being a fat-burner). Many of the trendy nutrition fads, which rely on selling us powders and bullet-proof coffees with added fats, are missing the mark. You don’t need to eat fat to burn fat. You simply need to restrict the calories you intake so that when your body needs energy, it has no choice but to reach into its storage (fat cells).
Fasting not only helps many people to lose weight (and lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides in the process), it helps with a whole host of other things as well. Environmental pollutants and other toxins are stored in our fat cells; fasting helps flush those toxins out of our bodies. It also improves our gut health, allowing the microbiome a chance to refresh during the fasting period. In addition, IF helps lower the body’s inflammation, which is associated with numerous chronic diseases – everything from cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
The bottom line is, Intermittent Fasting helps you avoid many different diseases, which may help you live a longer, healthier life – and, yes, you just might lose a little weight in the process. And that great news calls for a celebratory feast! (After 12 noon tomorrow… when I’m allowed to eat again).