There is an old saying, that you are what you eat. Given all the vast choices in food that we have today, this saying is truer now than ever. But dietary and nutritional research has taught us that it's more than just what you eat that determines good health, it is also when you eat and of course, how much you eat. The latter most of us are familiar with. But the timing of when and how often we eat has been found to be just as important as the volume of food and the type of food we eat.
No factory can run 24 hours a day without some down-time for maintenance. Our bodies are the same way. It is so important not only to listen to expert advice, but to listen to your own body as well!
Listen to your body as you would a symphony to help you determine what brings harmony to your body. There are some foods that are probably universally bad for everybody. But there are many foods that agree with some and not others, just as there are those who can eat larger portions of food and seemingly not gain weight.
Is intermittent fasting natural to us as human beings? The simple answer is yes. As primitive human beings we did not have easy access to a consistent food supply. We foraged for food and in some cases hunted or fished for our food. In short, some days we had food and some days we did not, so while not intentional, intermittent fasting was a way of life for our ancestors and therefore still part of humankind’s DNA. Moreover, intermittent fasting has its roots in many of our religious beliefs. Whether it be abstention from certain foods during the Catholic Lenten period, fasting during Ramadan in the Muslim faith, or fasting on Yom Kippur in the Jewish faith, going without food for a period of time has a long history.
Everyone wants to be healthy but it requires a certain amount of self-discipline to aid in that effort. Whether it’s eating less often or consuming fewer calories, there is much scientific evidence that suggests that this is a very important and sustainable step to a healthier life.
What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
The principal behind intermittent fasting is quite simple. Let say you are consuming 2000 calories per day. For this life style, your total low caloric food (e.g. 1500 calories) consumption for the day is spread-out over a six (6) hour period and then you fast for the next 18 hours. During that time your body can focus on healing and re-energizing instead of all the different bodily activities associated with eating and digestion. This is called the 6/18 method. You will reap many healthy rewards if you can keep on repeating this pattern on a regular basis. You can practice this twice a week to four times a week, depending on your goals of fitness. The good thing about this lifestyle is that you can still enjoy all sorts of foods as it is not a just a “weight-loss diet,” although that is one of its many benefits as you’ll learn below.
Methods of Intermittent Fasting:
- 8/16 method: You eat in an 8-hour window and then fast for 16 hours. Most people prefer this method.
- 10/14 method: Eat in a ten-hour window and then fast for 14 hours.
- 1-0-1 method: Basically a 24-hour fast. Eat normally for several days and then fast for 24 hours. For some this may be feasible to do twice per week but for others even once per week would be beneficial.
- 2/5 method: Eat only 600 calories in a 24-hour period, twice a week. Then eat regularly, 1800-2300 calories the rest of the days of the week. Pick two days such as Monday and Thursday for consistency.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting:
Healing and cell regeneration: When our body is not engaged in the highly involved processes of digestion it is using that energy for cell regeneration and overall healing, especially when we are at rest or sleeping. (Astrid Hjelholt 1, Growth Hormone and Obesity, 2013 Nov)
Lower Body Mass Index: You most likely will lose weight. Intermittent fasting is basically burning calories and fat on “auto-pilot.” (Johnstone, 2015 May)
Higher insulin sensitivity: In this case, an empty stomach does the trick because it means blood glucose levels are lower. If our blood glucose level is low then there is no need for insulin secretion in blood. Insulin’s job is to push sugar into our cells or convert extra sugars into fat molecules. So, you can avoid insulin spikes, and potential weight gain around the belly, simply by eating fewer calories and fasting intermittently. (A.Varadyb, Volume 164, Issue 4, October 2014)
Reduces inflammation: Research shows that we have lower inflammatory markers while in a fasting state. (Mattson, 2014 Feb 4)
Fasting reduces LDL: LDL is the so-called “bad cholesterol.” Combine this with lower insulin levels and it greatly reduces the chances of plaque/fat accumulating in the coronary arteries - which of course greatly reduces one’s chances of having a heart attack or stroke. (Varady KA, 01, (2011))
May kill cancer cells: One of our cellular repair systems, Autophagy- is a catabolic process by which cellular components are consumed and recycled while it is not, per se, a mechanism for cell death it may be able to rid the body of damaged or “sick” cells. (; Mizushima N) This may potentially help to prevent cancer cells from multiplying or even surviving.
Improved cognition and memory: Fasting may increase BDNF (Brain derived neurotrophic factor) and may aid in neuronal cell repair and prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, a form of dementia. (Anissa Cherif 1, 2016 Jan)
Anti-aging: In animal studies, lower daily caloric intake has shown to increase the life span of certain animals. (Samantha M. Solon-Biet, 2015 Jul). There is some evidence that it may help with longevity in humans. (Martin P. Wegman, 2015 Apr )
Weight loss: Weight loss is a known outcome as a result of incorporating intermittent fasting into your life style. Less caloric intake results in more fat loss because it is being utilized for energy purposes. Fasting sets in motion a hormonal shift which results in: low insulin, high growth hormone, and high norepinephrine production - which in combination results in loss of fat. Short term fasting may also increase the basal metabolic rate, or in simple terms - increased calorie burn. (Astrid Hjelholt 1, 2020 Jun)
Save money: One may be able to save money too by using intermittent fasting because obviously you won’t be buying as much food!
The most common side effect of intermittent fasting is the potential to over-eat or “binge” once one has completed a fast. Reward yourself by eating foods you like very much, but in moderation! To prevent binge eating, in my view, adding or mixing a tea spoon of Black Seed Oil in food really helps with appetite suppression. Simply mix it with your salad dressing or combine it with peanut butter, organic butter or even toasted sesame seed oil which is used in cooking. This will help control your appetite. Try it and let us know.
I would strongly recommend anyone with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes to consult your doctor before adopting intermittent fasting into your daily life.
Common questions regarding intermittent fasting include:
- Do you lose muscle mass? You don’t lose muscle with intermittent fasting, as long as you continue to have optimum protein intake. For example just to maintain muscle mass you need to eat about1gram per kilogram of your body weight per 24 hours and you must keep up with your regular exercise routine.
- Do you feel less energetic or tired initially? Again, listen to your body. Be mindful of what your body is telling you the first few days you are on a fasting regimen. While your body adjusts you may feel somewhat tired but once your metabolism has adjusted this new way of eating should actually give you more energy while helping make your thinking clearer and sharper.
- Can a pregnant woman do intermittent fasting? No, it is not advised.
- Can I drink water during fasting? Of course, it is actually recommended that you stay well-hydrated during fasting times.
What is considered a “low-calorie diet?”
Generally speaking, an active woman needs between 1500 to 2000 calories a day while men need somewhere between 2300 and 2500 calories per day to maintain one’s weight. Obviously, this varies based on your body type, level of physical activity and age. So, start by calculating your current caloric intake (I suggest you use the App: LOSE IT) and then gradually decrease your caloric intake by roughly 500 to 600 calories off your baseline.
A low-calorie diet is the golden key to successfully lose, and maintain healthy body weight without dieting! By adding exercise to intermittent fasting, you will achieve your goals more sustainably and much faster. For example, simply walking on an empty stomach in combination with intermittent fasting should accelerate your results.
If ultimately, you decide that you want to use the 6/18 method for your intermittent fasting routine, you don’t have to eat two large meals for your total daily calorie consumption. You can, for example, have 1500 calories in one day, but spread it out by eating six small meals or snacks within your six-hour window or whatever timing your body tells you works the best for you.
You can enjoy a healthier lifestyle with intermittent fasting and/or a low-calorie diet, but over and above what this new way of eating will do for your body, the discipline it requires will make you emotionally stronger and move you one step closer to taking control of your overall health!
Keep your core goals and values in mind and remember, patience, persistence, and consistency will give you the results you seek.
Live a joyful life by leading yourself to a healthier life!
Tip of the day: use a half-to-one teaspoon of peanut butter or Nutella combined with half-to-one teaspoon of black seed oil before you start your fasting. It should help curb your appetite and give you extra energy! Plus, it lightens the taste of the black seed oil.