Intermittent fasting has become such a popular topic (and conversation starter!) in the health and wellness world. What exactly is intermittent fasting? What are the benefits? What should I do before starting this new way of eating? Read below for more answers!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is a specific eating pattern that consists of scheduling your meals to be eaten in certain time frames. For example, the most common eating pattern is 16/8. This means you fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8- hour time frame throughout your day. Let’s say you eat breakfast at 10:00 am, then you would have to stop eating by 6:00 pm and would fast for the next 16 hours which would lead you back to 10:00 am the next day. Some people take it up a notch and do 18/6 which means you only eat within a 6-hour time frame and fast for 18 hours.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Your body is in the fed state when it is digesting and absorbing food. The fed state starts when you begin eating and lasts a few hours as your body digests and absorbs the food you just ate. When you are in the fed state, it can be hard for your body to burn fat because your insulin levels are high. About 8-12 hours after that timespan is when you have entered the fasted state. It is much easier for our bodies to burn fat in the fasted state because insulin levels are low.
2. Blood sugar balance
In patients who have Type 2 diabetes, some studies suggested that intermittent fasting can play a positive role in helping with glucose intolerance. There have been both experimental and clinical studies that show intermittent fasting improves insulin sensitivity and glucose control along with decreases in body weight. The long-term effects of intermittent fasting on glucose control and diabetes complications are largely unknown.
3. Can help with weight loss
Short term fasting can increase your metabolic rate which will help you burn more calories. Plus, eating within a certain time frame helps you to plan your meals appropriately which leads to less snacking in between meals and late at night.
4. MAY help build testosterone for SOME men (but will not magically turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger, sorry guys).
There are studies that show no difference in luteinizing hormone levels in men whether they have fasted or not. Luteinizing hormone is what stimulates the male sex hormone testosterone in men and triggers ovulation for women. According to a study investigating how short-term fasting affects the pituitary- testicular axis in obese and non-obese men, it was found that testosterone production was far less in the obese group. The study was done under GnRH elicited LH response after an overnight fast, and a second IV after 56 hours of food deprivation. In the obese group, there was a 26% increase in LH, however no corresponding testosterone response. The non-obese group had shown a 67% increase in LH with a corresponding testosterone response of 180% (Röjdmark, S.). This was just ONE study and a lot others show no difference in testosterone levels. Fasting isn’t the only way to help with elevating testosterone. If you feel you need to elevate these levels, consult with your doctor or licensed nutritionist.
Potential downside to intermittent fasting
1.There’s no strong evidence that fasting adds health benefits beyond any other weight-loss strategy.
Just like any other weight loss strategy out there, you have to find what works best for YOU. If you are feeling sick while trying an intermittent fast, then maybe it isn’t best for you. Your body might benefit from other healthy lifestyle changes.
2. You can create or worsen a preexisting eating disorder
Intermittent fasting can be a possible trigger for certain people who previously had an eating disorder or are still recovering from one. This extreme regimen of eating is NOT for everyone and can lead these individuals to overeat, which can create guilt, shame, and other problems that only become worse over time.
3. Intense exercise may be a no-go especially on longer fasting days
Food is what fuels us. If that is taken away for longer periods of time, the body then uses other storage forms of energy (carbs then fat) in order to perform at its potential. So, going for a run or doing a HIIT exercise on an empty stomach can burn more fat than if you ate before that workout in some people, not all. However, when glycogen (storage form of glucose) is in short supply, your body then turns to breaking down protein (your muscles’ main energy source). So while intermittent fasting may help shed more fat, you may also lose muscle too. If you’ve ever tried to get through a rigorous workout with a growling stomach, you know that can be annoying and tough. If your glycogen or blood sugar levels are low, you will feel weak If you don’t have enough energy to really power through during workouts and your fat-burning and muscle-building results will start to decline.
In this case, if you were to exercise on an empty stomach, keep things light. Try some low-intensity cardio like going for a walk, using resistance bands for a few minutes, a slow jog, or gentle yoga. Save your high intensity workouts for after you have eaten.
Tips BEFORE starting this type of meal plan
1.Consult with a LICENSED health professional. Whether that is doctor, a Registered Dietician, or Licensed Nutritionist. This is a serious matter just like any other dietary plan and should be monitored (especially if you have any type of disease, diabetes, or hypoglycemia). Please, PLEASE don’t rely on a podcast, blogger, or uneducated information being spilled out at you. Do your research first.
2.Become aware of your diet as it is right now. Is it full of sugar, fast food, and zero vegetables? Start by fixing your food choices first and opt for healthy organic meats and fish, tons of vegetables, fruits, and LESS processed foods before diving into a specific meal plan.
3.If you are pregnant, nursing, or thinking of becoming pregnant, consult with your doctor FIRST. Fasting while pregnant or nursing is certainly NOT recommended.
4.Last but certainly not least, try intermittent fasting only if you want to! There is no RIGHT way to eat and no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to nutrition. So if you want to try a meal plan like this for specific reasons and have consulted with your doctor, then go ahead and try it! But if it makes you miserable and you feel sick from doing it, then STOP and go back to eating healthy food regularly throughout the day.
In a nutshell
Try your best to always listen to your body and see what it needs. Some people need to eat more regularly throughout the day and that is totally FINE. The benefits of intermittent fasting are great and have really changed some people’s lives. But it isn’t for everyone. Do what makes you happy and just eat REAL food.
Halie, M., Mraz, M. (2018). Intermittent fasting and prevention of diabetic retinopathy: where do we go from here? American Diabetes Association
Harvard health Publishing. (2017). Not so fast. Pros and cons of the newest diet trend.
Patterson, R., Sears, D. (2017). Metabolic effects of intermittent fasting. Annual Review of Nutrition. 37, 371-393.
Rod mark, S., Asplund, A., Rossner, S. (1989). Pituitary-testicular axis in obese men during short term fasting.
Shenfield, B., Aragon, A., Wellborn, C., Krieger, J., Somme, G. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise.