Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a
huge diet trend right now.
Here’s what it is, whether it’s for you and how to make it work.
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
The idea of IF is to go at least 12 hours between meals, for example finish dinner at 8pm and eat breakfast at 8am. Some people fast for 24 hours once a week. Others aim for 16 or 18 hours. The idea of calorie restriction has been around for a long time and it’s how we used to live before modern agriculture came around. We would eat when food was plenty and fast during the winter months when food supply was scarce.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? THE BENEFITS ARE PLENTY!
It balances blood sugar and can in turn reduce Ha1C (a measure of how close to diabetes you are), it allows your digestion to rest and repair and offers some neuroprotection (prevents aging and inflammation effects on the brain), boosts your sensitivity to insulin, boosts your mental focus, boosts growth hormone (youth hormone), helps your body recycle its cells better. Blood test results show reductions in cholesterol. Animal studies show that the growth of cancer cells is restricted and there is even some research showing that cancer patients respond better to chemotherapy when they fasted before and during treatment. Also, the cells are better able to recycle their waste products and repair themselves, a process called ‘autophagy’. People who train in a fasted state can expect better muscle growth and burn more fat for energy.
HOW DO I GIVE IT A GO?
In order to make intermittent fasting possible and sustainable, you want to get into a fat adapted state. This is achieved when the body relies on its fat stores for energy, rather than carbohydrates from food. Carbohydrate intake should be consistently lowered so that your body learns to burn fat for energy. Start by replacing high carb foods, such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and anything processed with plenty of veggies. Paired with lean proteins, this will allow you to stay energized, full and it balances your blood sugar.
I encourage you to eat every 3-4 hours to balance the blood sugar. Once that's done, skipping meals here and there is a good starting point before you jump into longer stretches. Fasting should feel easy. If you respond with a raging appetite, low energy, a cranky mood or sugar cravings, you’re not yet fat adapted and your carb intake is still too high or too inconsistent .
You can pick a fasting window overnight. It really doesn't matter whether it's 10 or 15 hours - just as long as you find it works for you. For example, if you've eaten a big dinner, then you may want to extend your fast until early afternoon the next day if you want to work off the excess.
If you're planning a big workout/activity day, then I would advise against IF that day to ensure you have enough energy. Try out different fasting windows and times and assess how it makes you feel. I can assure you that finishing the day with a light dinner or just a protein shake and having a late breakfast is one of the most effective ways to lose body fat, while also maintaining muscle (thanks to growth hormone production during IF).
ISSUES THAT MAKE IT CHALLENGING
Your carb intake is high and you’re not yet fat adapted:
In order to make IF effective, you want to be in a fat-burning state. This state is achieved when the body relies on its fat stores for energy, rather than carbohydrates from food. This state is achieved when carbohydrate intake is consistently lowered and your body has learned to burn fat for energy.
What does that mean? As long as you eat a plentiful supply of carbs (for most women that's more than about 130-150 grams a day), your body will burn only carbs and not your own body fat.
That means that as soon as your blood sugar drops 3-4 hours after a meal, you get hungry again and want more carbs. If you then continue to eat plenty of carbs at every meal, you never give your body the chance to dip into your fat stores for energy use. Once you keep your carb intake to around 100-130g of carbs on average per day, your body will not only use the carbs, but also your own body fat as energy.
That's when you are in fat-burning mode or become fat-adapted. In that state, intermittent fasting is easy because when you don't eat for a few hours, you may get hungry for a few minutes, but if you don't eat, then your body will simply burn body fat for energy.
When you're doing intermittent fasting (IF) while in a fat-adapted state, you can go without eating for hours without feeling hungry, low on energy or have cravings kick in.
STRESS | If your metabolism is stressed from emotional stress, stress from too much working out or too many intense workouts, adding intermittent fasting can make the body more stressed as it can perceive prolonged periods without food as starvation. I advise against IF in clients with metabolic stress or slow-down until the damage is repaired.
SLEEP | If your sleep is sub-par, you sleep little or your sleep quality is poor, it can make you hungrier and kick up sugar cravings and that makes dieting very hard.
WORKOUTS | If your workouts are very intense, very frequent, you have little recovery time or focus mostly on cardio endurance training, then fasting can be perceived as added stress by your metabolism and can actually diminish your performance and fat burning. If you work out intensely, you also need to eat accordingly to prevent performance loss, muscle loss and metabolic stress.
WOMEN | The female body perceives it as additional stress more readily than the male body. It can backfire and make you much hungrier later on.
MENOPAUSE | Menopausal women are more stress-sensitive and too much IF can trigger a stress response, which can result in fat storage, especially around the belly area.
BREASTFEEDING MOMS | are in a stress-sensitive state and cutting down on food intake too much can affect milk supply. Regular meals are helpful in balancing blood sugar, energy, mood and milk supply.
HOW DO I GIVE IT A GO?
I personally am a fan of random IF. I don’t force myself into it or plan on it but rather use it as one of my many tools to balance out an indulgence. I use IF only on days I don’t work out or else I get very hungry. I also don’t do it after poor nights of sleep or when I feel I have a full plate on certain days as those make me hungrier. I also do it more on days 7-21 of my cycle as during that time the body is less stress sensitive and blood sugar balance is better.
Try IF for the following situations and see where you end up:
Do it the morning after a big dinner.
Do it ideally during the times of the month when you're not that stress-sensitive (days 7-21 of your cycle).
Do it on weekends when you are naturally following IF with a late brunch and dinner.
HOW DO I KNOW IT'S WORKING?
If your appetite, cravings and energy (ACE) stay balanced, you can be sure that your blood sugar is balanced and you can continue with IF. If you see fat loss and improvements in performance, mental focus and health, keep at it!
Be patient about moving into fat-burning mode as that can take a good week. Once that’s achieved, then IF will be enjoyable and come with lots of pay-offs.