Intermittent Fasting: What to know before trying
A popular nutrition topic over the past year has been whether or not intermittent fasting – eating within a restricted number of hours of the day – should have a place in our diets. There is a growing body of research that suggests intermittent fasting may be an effective approach for preventing diabetes, insulin resistance, prevent cancer and weight loss. When intermittent fasting is done under the proper guidance of a healthcare professional, it can lead to long-term health benefits.
A Big Difference between Fasting & Starving
What is the difference between intermittent fasting and starvation diets? Starvation deprives our body of essential nutrients, so it begins eating itself by burning muscle. Our bodies still need fuel to function so this isn’t the answer. Intermittent fasting differs from starvation because you are still eating – eating within a limited number of hours of the day (8-12 hours) alternating with periods of fasting (12-16hrs). For example, to start, you may choose to allow yourself to eat within a 12 hour window from 7am to 7pm. Or for a longer fast, you may choose to eat from 10am to 6pm. The reason intermittent fasting is effective is believe to be because it increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin.
The food we eat is broken down by our digestive tract and these molecules end up in our bloodstream. Our cells are usually fuelled by simple sugar molecules called glucose (usually from carbohydrates – think sugars, white flour, rice from our diets). To transport glucose from our blood stream into the cells of our liver, muscle and fat we produce insulin, which is made by our pancreas.
Through intermittent fasting, glucose in your bloodstream gradually becomes unavailable, which leads to a decrease in insulin production. Your body then starts burning stored energy (carbohydrates) and after 12 hours of fasting your body uses up this stored energy and switches to burning stored fat.
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 other dieting strategies which can sometimes cause the loss of both fat and lean tissue, impacting health negatively in the long run.
Intermittent fasting may help you to live longer too
New research from Harvard shows that intermittent fasting manipulates the mitochondrial networks inside our cells, which may increase lifespan.
But how does it work?
Simply put, inside our cells we have energy-producing 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.
Intermittent fasting may also help:
- Increase energy and mental clarity
- Boost the immune system
- Enhance physical performance
- Protect cognitive function
- Reduce inflammatory disorders
- Slow the progression of tumours
- 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.
- Create a fasting schedule and stick to it. If you’re a beginner, starting with an over night fast is an easy way to ease 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. Be sure to consult your healthcare professional to determine what might work best for you.
- Hydrate. Be sure to continue your consumption of calorie-free beverages. Drink water throughout the day or switch it up with herbal teas.
- Relax your body and your mind. During 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 binge-watching your favourite TV show or catching up on emails. Your next meal will come before you know it!
- Choose nutrient dense foods. Between fasting windows, enjoy nutrient-dense foods that provide protein, fibre, and healthy fats. Learn how to increase flavours 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 our Naturopathic Doctors at HealthSource Integrative Medical Centre so we can discuss which options might be best for you. Please feel free to book an appointment with us by calling (519) 954-7950 or emailing info@HealthSourceIMC.com and we can help you get back on track with better weight management and a healthier, longer, and happier life!
The team at HealthSource Integrative Medical Centre