I’m definitely one of those people who gets “hangry” when I go too long without food. I get edgy and nervous and sometimes I feel like I’m on the verge of a complete meltdown. Trust me, it’s not pretty! So you can imagine my reaction when I first heard about intermittent fasting. Me….fast……are you crazy???? But the more I learned about it, the more intrigued I became. I was curious as to why this was becoming one of the biggest diet trends of 2018.
As the name implies, intermittent fasting (IF) occurs when you go without food for a certain amount of time. The idea of intermittent fasting, which began as an approach to weight loss, has been around since 2012. However, over this past year it has gained quite a bit of attention not only as a way to lose weight but also as a way to lower inflammation. Did you know that giving your body a break from digesting food can have a profound effect on lowering inflammation? It’s true. And when we are able to do this on a continuous basis, we can experience some pretty amazing health benefits. So, is IF right for you?
First, let’s take a look at what happens when we eat and then we will dive into the fasting part. When we take that initial bite of food, we activate our digestive enzymes and they begin to break down the food. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars which are used for energy. If we do not use all of the sugars, they are stored in our fat cells. Insulin is your fat storing hormone. When insulin is high, it signals your body to store fat instead of burning it. In order to burn fat, you need to keep your insulin levels low for as long as possible. If we are consuming healthy carbs and avoiding snacking between meals, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can release the sugar for energy. When we allow our insulin levels to go low enough and for longer periods of time, our body will then begin to burn fat for fuel.
Although weight loss is the main reason people may be drawn to any kind of fasting, the benefits of intermittent fasting seem to go far beyond weight loss. For example, studies have shown a reduced risk of breast cancer, enhanced heart health, improved immune function, lower insulin resistance, increased metabolism, reduced cravings, and increased brain function. Research has also shown that fasting can activate autophagy which is a process that cleans out old, damaged and dead cells. Kind of like spring cleaning for your body!
Now if the idea of intermittent fasting is totally overwhelming (it was for me), I am here to tell you that it is easier than you think. There are a few different ways you can fast and I am going to list them from beginner to advanced.
1. The 8-6 window: For this plan you will be eating from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and fasting for 14 hours. This is a great way to test the waters because you can eat 3 meals/day and the bulk of your fasting is done while you are sleeping. This is the method that I use and I have found it to be pretty painless.
2. The 12-6 window: For this plan you will be eating from 12 noon to 6 p.m. so you are extending your fast an extra four hours for a total of 18 hours of fasting. I try to do this on Sunday mornings. Even though I am skipping breakfast, I want to make sure I stay hydrated, so I usually have herbal tea and a green juice prior to my first meal at noon. The catechins in tea can help to decrease ghrelin which is our “hunger hormone.”
3. The modified 2 day plan: For this plan you will be eating healthy food (no restrictions) for 5 days and on 2 days you will restrict your calories to no more than 700 per day. Calorie restriction has shown similar benefits to fasting. Even though there are no restrictions on the 5 days, it is not a green light to eat crap! It’s important to consume healthy fats, clean protein and lots of vegetables.
4. Every other day fasting: This is a pretty advanced plan and definitely not for the faint of heart. Basically, every other day you eat nothing but you are able to consume water, herbal tea, and moderate amounts of coffee or tea. As I mentioned this is pretty intense and definitely not recommended if you are new to fasting.
Fasting on the 8-6 plan is well tolerated by most people. I do want to point out that women need to be cautious with intermediate or advanced types of fasting as it can disrupt your hormones. If you are menstruating or having challenges with menopause, I always recommend that you consult with a health professional just to make sure fasting is right for you. Caution is also advised if you have any type of adrenal fatigue or an eating disorder.
I have been doing the 8-6 fasting plan for a while now and I have noticed that my cravings have decreased, my insulin levels feel more stable (no “hangry” meltdowns) and I no longer feel the need to have a snack every couple hours. But my biggest take away has been the realization that my “cravings” are actually a result of my anxious mind. My need to constantly be snacking was one way of distracting myself from my thoughts. I started to notice that when I wanted to reach for a cracker or a piece of chocolate, it wasn’t because I was hungry, it was because I was feeling anxious. When I resisted the urge to grab a snack, I became more mindful of my thoughts and the craving disappeared. This was a huge “aha” moment for me!
I am pretty sure I am not alone in this phenomenon. Obviously, it is so much easier to grab a handful of crackers instead of looking at the emotion causing the craving. However, when we remove the food, we have no choice but to pay attention to our thoughts. Perhaps this is why intermittent fasting has become such a popular trend. It is forcing us to stop or at least slow down and be in the present moment. I believe it is within that moment of mindfulness that we can discover what we are truly hungry for.
So, what are YOU hungry for? Hit reply and let’s chat!