What is Intermittent Fasting?
Put simply, intermittent fasting (IF) is time restricted eating. It’s switching between periods of fasting and eating in a shortened window of time. What’s different about this concept—than what you normally hear—is that it’s about WHEN you eat vs. WHAT you eat.
It works by giving the body an extended rest from digestion and allows the body to burn through calories from your last meal, which then triggers fat burning into the fasting period. This actually dates back to prehistoric times, when humans were hunter gatherers. We experienced periods of time without eating because we needed to hunt and forage for our food.
In today’s world, we don’t have to track, gather and hunt for our food. We just visit our pantry or take a trip to the grocery store. Welcome to modern convenience! Our physiology hasn’t quite adapted to this 24/7 access to food, so IF is really just a method to take us back to our original way of life.
Research is showing several long term benefits:
- A sharper mind and mental clarity
- Boost in memory
- Insulin level regulation
- Improved blood pressure / heart health
- Fat loss
How do I do it?
There are many different versions of intermittent fasting out there. Here are three popular methods:
16:8 Method: This is probably the most popular method. You eat all your meals within an 8-hour time window, and then you refrain from eating for the remaining 16 hours of the day. For example, a person may eat all of their calories between 11 am and 7 pm.
Eat Stop Eat Method: You refrain from eating for an entire 24-hour period once or twice a week. Think dinner to dinner.
5:2 Method: For 5 days of the week, you eat normally and don’t think about restricting when or how much you eat. Then, for the remaining 2 days, you reduce your calorie intake to about a quarter of what you’d normally consume. Probably averaging between 500-600 calories.
Which Method Works Best?
At KanodiaMD, we think about health as a personal journey. Each person may find that a different method works best for their unique lifestyle and health goals. It also depends what you aim to achieve—weight loss, blood sugar control, longevity, etc. Generally, the majority of people can benefit from at least a 12-hour fasting period (which would be a modified version of the 16:8 that looks more like 12:12).
Start by eating your last meal no more than 2-3 hours before going to bed to optimize overnight rest and repair. If 12 hours doesn’t seem like enough, slowly work your way up to the level that is right for you. Find your sweet spot! Flexibility is key. It doesn’t need to be the same every day or all the time.
When you are selecting your fasting method, it's very important to take a look at your personal needs. Be sure to consider these factors before beginning any type of fasting plan:
- Gender: Fasting for men and women can mean very different things because of metabolic and hormonal differences. They also have different nutritional needs. It’s really important for women to be cautious, to listen to their body, go slowly and only continue if it feels natural. For women, consistent fasting can become a chronic stressor, so a 14-16 hour fast may be beneficial 1 or 2 times a week, instead of every day. Clues that your fasting method is not working for you include insomnia, weight gain, loss of a menstrual cycle and/or excessive hunger.
- Existing Conditions: Caution should be taken for those who have a history of disordered eating, as well as those who are underweight, have diabetes or are pregnant. We always recommend that you consult a healthcare physician before embarking on a fasting protocol.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern more than a diet. It is something that can be incorporated as a way of life, but this may change depending on what your body needs during different times of your life. Below are some helpful tips for easing into IF.
How do I get started?
- Eat an early dinner: Aim to cut off food intake 3 hours before bed. This way your body is not actively digesting when you're trying to get to restorative sleep.
- Enhance your fast with a good night’s sleep: It sounds very basic, but when you sleep, you don’t eat. During sleep, our body goes through cellular processes which includes repair and detox. Sleep hygiene becomes really important in reaping the true benefits of IF, like blood sugar regulation and having a clear mind.
- Skip eating right when you wake up: This is where you can slowly ease into expanding your fasting window. Start with eating your first meal 1- 3 hours after waking, and then increase that window to what feels right for you (this could even be up to 6 hours).
Ultimately, the most important takeaway is that IF is a personal journey. It’s an eating approach that should be used to help you experience truly wonderful results—not cause your body additional harm. If you're not sure if IF is right for you or are seeking nutritional advice, our team at KanodiaMD utilizes a functional medicine approach paired with the most current advances in nutrition. We would be happy to help you take back your life!
Christina, KanodaMD Dietitian, preps food in The Nourishing Plate teaching kitchen.
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