Whether you’re new to the world of health and fitness or a long time pro, you’ve undoubtedly heard mention of intermittent fasting, most likely in the realm of weight loss. Intermittent Fasting or IF for short, is a cyclical diet strategy which involves a period of eating and a period of fasting (not eating).
Intermittent fasting has been used for centuries across many cultures and religions. There are many types of Intermittent Fasting, but the duration of the non-fasting period is what varies. What stays the same is that you do not eat or consume calories during your fasting time.
According to Dr Axe, a leading expert in health, “intermittent fasting results in lowered levels of oxidative stress to cells throughout the body.” What could this mean for you and your health?
The goal of this 101 post is to introduce you to this amazing additional tool for health. I always recommend allowing at least 12 hours from your last meal until your first meal the next day to allow your body to perform it’s vital repair functions, but further benefits can occur when fasting for longer periods of time. Some of these benefits include:
- Increased energy
- Fat loss
- Boosted metabolism
- Supports the body to metabolize insulin better
- And more…
One of the most common questions people ask is, “If you’re not eating for that long, isn’t that like starving yourself?” No need to wonder… Fasting is not starvation. Starvation is when you are deprived of food or nutrition for an ongoing time period. With fasting, you are simply choosing WHEN to eat and when to not eat. Your body still gets the benefit of good nutrition and caloric intake but is allowed a greater time to rest and reset on a cellular level.
It might surprise you to know that intermittent fasting is not a new thing. Unlike fad diets and trends, IF has been around for millennia! Think about how our ancestors ate. Long ago, food wasn’t as abundant as it is now. To eat, people had to hunt and forage. If the hunt was unsuccessful or no food was found while foraging, they would go without eating. When food was scare, they would be hungry and when food was available, they would eat – this cyclical pattern is what we can tap into today with IF. The main difference is that then, fasting wasn’t necessarily a choice.
Fasting is also not a completely foreign modern concept either… Think about the word “breakfast” – breakfast means to break your fast! The time you spend between eating dinner and waking in the morning is a fast that you do on a daily basis. It’s really just a part of our everyday lives, but we have forgotten what a powerful and therapeutic tool fasting can be.
HOW INTERMITTENT FASTING WORKS
Intermittent fasting works by triggering your body to burn off excess body fat to fuel your energy needs. After you eat your body digests the foods you consume in a process that can take up to 5 hours! Your insulin levels are higher during this period, and fat burning is virtually impossible. When your body isn’t digesting food, your insulin levels are lower, and your body can burn more fat.
Your body can’t shift into a fasting state if insulin levels are high. It normally takes about 12 hours after your last meal for insulin levels to reach a point when fat burning kicks in naturally. If you don’t eat when your body is in that fat burning/fasting state, then your body begins to catabolize your stored fat or basically eat at the fat stores to get the energy it needs. It’s a balancing act!
When we ingest more food than can immediately be used for energy the body stores that food as fat. Biologically, this is a protective mechanism… early humans experienced food scarcity, so when they were able to eat larger quantities of food their bodies stored whatever wasn’t needed as fat. That fat could then be accessed during times of famine (when fasting occurred).
Remember that insulin is the key hormone in this process. Insulin is the hormone that tells your cells that they should accept glucose as fuel. When the body receives a signal that you have eaten, your pancreas produces insulin, and your cells get the signal to absorb glucose from your bloodstream.
If you have diabetes or dysregulated insulin levels, your cells don’t get the message and don’t allow glucose to be absorbed. In this case, glucose stays in the bloodstream. The body senses that blood sugar is high and tries to get back into balance by grabbing the excess glucose and storing it as fat to bring blood sugar levels back down.
When you eat a balanced diet and when insulin is working properly, your cells use glucose from your bloodstream and life goes on. The problem comes with excess — and unfortunately, our modern diet is full of that! Fast food, processed food, sugary drinks and added sugars are everywhere. The body gets bombarded with sugar and toxins and signals get messed up.
Insulin resistance is what happens when glucose is knocking on the doors of the cells, but no one answers. The pancreas pumps out insulin to signal that glucose is coming, but your cells don’t get the message and glucose stays in the bloodstream… and the pancreas keeps trying to get the message to the cells by pumping out more and more insulin… which puts stress on the pancreas and on the cells. The glucose is converted to fat or it recirculates and raises blood sugar levels, triggers chronic inflammation and causes a host of other problems including diabetes.
Basically, you eat, insulin levels rise and your body either burns sugar or stores sugar by converting it to fat. This fat is often stored in your liver but can also be deposited in other places. When you don’t eat, the process goes into reverse. Instead of insulin levels rising, they fall, and the body starts burning up stored energy from fat as no food is coming in.
Our bodies are constantly in two states, the fed state, and the fasted state – either storing food for energy or burning it. If each of us were to start eating food the minute we got out of bed in the morning, continuing to eat until we went to bed again at night, our bodies would spend all the time in that fed state. We would gain weight, not having allowed our bodies to burn any of that food into energy. To restore some balance and to lose weight, we need to spend time fasting to allow the body to use up stored energy. Our bodies were designed to work like that.
BENEFITS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
There are numerous benefits to intermittent fasting. The first and one you’ve probably heard most about is weight loss, but there are plenty of other reasons.
- Cleanses and detoxifies the body
- Gives your body a break from digesting
- Improves concentration and mental clarity
- Reduces blood sugar and balances insulin levels
- Increases energy
- Increases growth hormones
- Lowers cholesterol
- Reduces systemic inflammation
- Taps into the body’s innate healing processes
The organ that benefits most from intermittent fasting and extended fasting is the liver. Your liver is a workhorse that’s responsible for:
- Filtering your blood to remove toxins such as viruses, bacteria, and yeast (a healthy liver can filter out 99 percent of bacteria and other toxins in your blood before that cleansed blood goes back into circulation!)
- Storing vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates
- Processing fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
- Producing bile to break down fats for digestion (about a quart of bile is produced daily!)
- Breaking down and detoxifying the body of hormones, chemicals, toxins, and metabolic waste
In one minute, your liver filters about two quarts of the five quarts of blood your body contains. To appreciate how incredible that is, if we compare the liver to the filter on a swimming pool, that filter would need to clean half of the pool’s water every minute to keep up with what your liver can do.
Your liver may get overloaded by toxins from the environment, food and water… food allergies and parasites burden the liver too! Fasting can help give the liver a break and allow it to naturally reset so it can perform better and keep you healthier.
TYPES OF INTERMITTENT FASTING