Intermittent fasting is nothing new. Fasting has been a practice throughout human evolution. Ancient hunter-gatherers didn’t have supermarkets, refrigerators or food available year-round. Sometimes they couldn’t find anything to eat.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said “Let medicine be thy food and food be they medicine. But to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness”.
Humans have a natural fasting instinct. Think about when you get sick. The last thing you’re thinking about when you are sick is your Sunday family lunch.
In Christianity, fasting has been used amongst all nations and ages in times of mourning, sorrow and afflictions. The first example of fasting to be seen in the bible is when Moses fasted to receive the law from God.
Our bodies are naturally designed to store food in times of famine or release it in times of availability. In fact, you’ve been fasting last night while slept! Congratulations! You’ve been fasting ever since you were a toddler!
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting is the voluntary abstinence of food. For different reasons – can be spiritual, health, political protests. Intermittent fasting is not the same as starvation.
How does intermittant fasting work?
In order to understand intermittent fasting, it’s important to understand the difference between your body’s fed state and fasted state.
During any given time, your body is either in a fed state or a fasted state. There are a different set of reactions that happen during each state. It doesn’t matter which state of metabolism we’re in, our bodies main priority will be to maintain stable blood glucose concentration.
Your body is in a fed state when you have eaten something. This fed state lasts for about 5 hours while it digests and absorbs the food you just ate. During this state, your pancreas releases insulin to shuffle the glucose out of your blood stream. It’s very hard for your body to burn fat, when your insulin levels are high.
After your meal has been metabolized during the fed state, your insulin levels will return to normal and your body will go into a fasted state. This state lasts about 8-12 hours after your last meal. It’s much easier for your body to burn fat in the fasted state, because your insulin levels are low.
Your body will always either be in a fed state or in a fast state at any given period. So, it will store fat or burn fat. It cannot do both at the same time.
Every night, after dinner when you go to bed, you are in a fasted state. Unless you snack through the night till the next morning, you’ve been fasting your entire life. Exiting isn’t it?
But during the day, most of the population hardly ever go 8-12 hours without eating. Even if they snack just before bedtime, most folks hardly ever get more than 8 hours of sleep.
“Instead of using medicine, rather, fast a day.” – Hippocrates
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Fasting differs from starvation. In most cases, starvation is involuntary absence of food and can lead to death. It’s not controlled. Fasting on the other hand, is a controlled action of voluntary withholding food from our bodies for different reasons.
When your body goes without food for a certain period, you will experience changes in your body that affect your brain, your digestive system, your immune system and your hormones.
n short, your body’s repair system only works when you are in a fast/rest state and not when your body is in a digest mode.
Here are just some of the benefits you can expect to see when you fast for 16 hours or longer.
Your insulin levels will drop significantly which will help to burn fat. If your insulin levels are high, your body cannot burn fat. It’s for this reason, that intermittent fasting can help you lose belly fat. When your insulin levels are consistently high, the first area where it will deposit fat is around the belly area.
As a result of lower insulin levels, it can reduce your risk of Type II Diabetes.
The blood levels of your human growth hormone may increase as much as 5-fold. This is significant especially if you’re an athlete, since higher levels of this hormone facilitate muscle gain.
On cellular level, the body starts removing waste and toxins from cells. As we get older, our cells start to store junk and they run slower. When you fast for 16 hours or more, your body starts to clear out this junk that is stored in your cells.
You are going to increase your metabolic rate from anywhere between 3% to up to 15%.
There are beneficial changes in several genes that relate to longevity and protection against certain diseases.
Fasting can decrease inflammation in your body. Most of the chronic disease is caused by inflammation in your body. Even asthma patients have reported a reduction in inflammation.
You can also reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke if you fast for 16 hours or more a day.
Probably the biggest benefit is that it just makes your day simpler. If you find yourself at a place where only junk food is served, you don’t have to eat. It saves time and money.
How do you start intermittent fasting?
There is no specific right or wrong to fast. Fasting just means the absence of food so that your body can go into a fasted state. This happens about 4-5 hours after you’ve digested food.
The easiest way to ease into fasting, is to have your last meal about 2 hours before you go to bed and push breakfast to 9 am in the morning. E.g.
Last meal in the evening at 6 pm, with your first meal the next morning at 8 am. This will give you a fasting period of 14 hours. You can continue to tag on an hour before your dinner, or to your morning, until you eventually get to a 16-hour fasting period.
This model of a 16 hour fast and an 8 hour feeding period, was popularized by Martin Berkhan of Leangains.com, which is where the name originated.
Start with once a week or once a month.
The following changes in your diet can also help to make your intermittent fasting journey easier.
Eat a Low Carb Diet
Cut out all processed sugars and refined processed carbs. That will automatically lower your carbohydrates and will help you to be less hungry and you can go longer without snacks between your meals.
Add enough healthy fat in your diet
This will help you feel more satiated and you will be able to go longer in between meals without feeling hungry.
Add enough vegetables to your diet
You need vegetables for minerals and vitamins that help to heal insulin resistance and helps to lower insulin.
You want to ease into this in order to get comfortable with it. So, it does take time. There are different varieties of a fast and you should really let your body dictate how long you want to go without food. So, the time may vary until you are able to settle into a rhythm.
Unless you are under medical supervision, it’s best practice to keep your fasts under 72 hours.
What can you drink during an intermittent fast?
The goal of fasting is to keep your insulin levels and inflammation levels very low, but there are still fluids that you can drink which will not break your fast.
Of course, if you want to go hard core, you can only drink water and add some good quality salt into the water to curb your hunger.
You can also fast with real tea that are freshly brewed.
You can fast with black coffee. If you do struggle with hunger pains, you can add a teaspoon of MCT oil to your coffee. Blitz it up! You only want to add just enough fat so that you are not hungry.
You can also fast with pickle juice! This is basically saltwater. If it is sugar free, it will not break your fast.
Some people are fine using pouring cream. It do contain a small amount of protein and carbohydrates and can therefore have an impact on your insulin. Also, if your weight loss do stall, you probably want to skip the pouring cream all together.
You want to stay away from any sweet imitations of drinks or any drinks that contains artificial sweeteners.
How to break your fast
When you do fasts that last between 12 – 24 hours, you don’t have to worry too much about what you eat when you break your fast.
Avoid breaking your fast with a meal that is high in carbohydrates; stick to low-carb, high-fat meals. You do not want to consume meals that causes a surge in blood sugar, and subsequently insulin.
You might find that some foods are more tough on your stomach than others. According to diet doctor, the following foods can upset your digestive system when breaking a fast.
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds and seed butters
- Raw cruciferous vegetables (cooked are fine)
- Dairy products
- In very rare occasions, some people have difficulty digesting red
Remember, you are your own best researcher. Test out different intermittent fasting schedules. Be aware of how you feel during the fast, and after the fast once you’ve eaten. Don’t be scared to adjust things.
Learning how your body responds to nutrition, is far more valuable than any type of text-book diet.
Enjoy it, and let me know how it goes!