Intermittent fasting is the thing everyone is talking about it now. Intermittent fasting (IF) is super popular right now, and people are realizing that it is possible to not snack for extended periods of time. But who is this diet suitable for and why should you or should you not give it a try? Gisele Bündchen, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Terry Crews, and Halle Berry swear by fasting to keep their fit physique, so is this something you should be trying as well?
Why IF? What is it?
There’s no point in joining just because it’s cool and all the hot celebrities are doing it. Why is intermittent fasting all the rage now if it’s been around forever? Hunter-Gatherers used to fast unwillingly while hunting for food and would go days at a time with no food. Many of us are surrounded by food all day, and that is a privilege. Why would we choose to not eat for long periods of time? Some of the health benefits include: Stabilizing blood sugar levels, increasing resistance to stress, decreasing inflammation, decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improving resting heart rate, and improving brain health and memory.
I think what really made me gravitate toward intermittent fasting is the fact that if you fast long enough, your body goes through a phase called Autophagy: a process by which components inside of cells are degraded and recycled. Autophagy can protect brain cells against the accumulation of “bad” proteins that cause neurodegeneration. Basically, your body kills off old and useless cells and regenerates newer and fresher cells.
Here are the stages of Intermittent Fasting:
1- Metabolic State of Ketosis – 12 hours in
2- Fat burning mode – 18 hours in
3- Autophagy – within 24 hrs
4- Growth hormone level up to 5x as high as start of fast – within 48 hrs
5- Insulin drops to lowest point + become more insulin-sensitive – within 54 hrs
6- Body breaks down old immune cells + generates new ones – within 72 hrs
Here are just a few ways you can try fasting:
- Time-Restricted Feeding (TRF) – typically, restricted food intake between 8-12 hours a day
- 5:2 – eat your normal diet (daily calories) for 5 days, eat 500-600 calories for 2 days
- Alternate day – not suitable for beginners; Fast every other day (or eat up to 500 calories on fasting days).
- OMAD – Eat one meal a day (any time of day – typically a 2-hour eating window)
Keep in mind, fasting for 10–16 hours can cause the body to burn its fat stores into energy, which releases ketones into the bloodstream. Just 10 hours of fasting can help your body burn fat, and give your body a chance to digest food, so don’t rush into long fasting periods.
Who should or shouldn’t try intermittent fasting?
Fasting is beneficial for those with Metabolic Syndrome, those who want to lose some body fat, and those who want more routine in their life or less guesswork in their diet.
There is now a lot of research being done regarding women and fasting, and how it may or may not be more detrimental to some bodies. It may have something to do with kisspeptin, a protein-like molecule that neurons use to communicate with each other. Both men and women have this molecule, but females have more than males. It is sensitive to leptin, insulin, and ghrelin, and because women have more kisspeptin, they may have a greater sensitivity to changes in energy balance.
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone, which increases and leads women to feel hungrier throughout the day, making it much harder mentally to fast for long periods of time. Leptin is an appetite hormone, and if you are fasting, this tends to drop dramatically more than if you were to eat at normal intervals. These studies have yet to be performed on humans, and so far rats have been the closest to humans we’ve come. The results show that both reproduction and appetite-regulating were completely out of sync in the rats, and we can hypothesize that this could lead to missed menstrual periods and possible fertility issues in women.
I fast for 12-16 hours on most days. I find this hasn’t had any negative effect on me so far (short term), but I do notice that if I go any longer than 18 hours, I tend to feel weak. Always listen to your body. Do not force yourself to fast longer than you have to just because of willpower. It will drain you of all your energy you need to do other things!
Supplements you should take while fasting
Although it is not necessary to supplement while fasting, many people choose to while on an extended fast. I am not recommending anyone do an extended fast unless they know they have the support of a medical professional, or they have worked to extend their fast over time. Supplementing while fasting can also help you reach a state of ketosis quicker.
Some options could be:
- L-Tyrosine: Your brain turns Tyrosine into dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline which help with improving mood and energy during a fast. This one can be taken without food.
- Electrolytes: Specifically sodium and potassium; your body needs these to regulate key bodily functions.
- Other supplements you normally take on a daily basis. Don’t change up your routine or add in too many new supplements at this time, especially if you are doing an extended fast.
What breaks a fast? What should I eat to break my fast?
Anything with calories in it will break a fast. That being said, YOUR fast depends on how nitpicky you want to be? Technically, some supplements contain calories. Does that mean that you won’t take any supplements until you eat? I personally “fat-fast”, which means I will have some source of fat/energy in my coffee in the morning. I still consider myself as intermittent fasting, but I know I am no longer in a completely fasted state since my body is now converting my MCT oil in my coffee into energy I can use throughout the day.
Everyone will react differently, and if you are fasting for energy or overall wellness, a bit of fat in the form of liquid in the morning will likely not make or break you. If you are fasting for fat-loss, you may want to try a fast where you don’t ingest any calories until your fast is done. You could lose weight fasting both ways, so ease into it at first and see which works best for you.
Breaking a fast seems simple… and exciting. You finally get to eat! But beware: Be careful what you eat and how much you eat after a fast. Your body hasn’t digested food in 12 hours (or more!), so don’t expect it to break down a huge meal from McDonald’s or even a nutritious 1,000 calorie salad full of healthy fats.
Breaking your fast is like a slow-burning movie: you want to know what’s coming up next and just cut to the chase, but try to resist the temptation to inhale your food. Your body and brain will thank you. You will avoid most digestion issues and limit brain fog, especially if you break your fast with a light smoothie, bone broth, fermented foods, leafy greens, or healthy fats, such as coconut oil or nut butter. If you do accidentally eat too much, or something that is not so easy to digest, consider taking a digestive enzyme to help your body break down those key nutrients.
What about snacks?
This is an unpopular opinion, but you may want to avoid snacking throughout the day or close to your bedtime. Neither of these will “ruin” your fast since as long as you aren’t eating during your intermittent fasting hours, you are not breaking any rules. However, the whole point of fasting is to give your body a chance to digest your food without any interruption (interruption being any new food that enters your system 0-3 hours after a meal). Unlike constantly-grazing cows with four stomachs, we aren’t built to maintain a constant drip of food. Your body wants to burn fat between meals, but it can’t if you’re eating little things here and there.
For those who think you shouldn’t eat at night, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. However, give yourself time to digest before you go to bed. If you sleep at 2AM, you might not have any issues eating your last meal at 11PM. On the other hand, some people might enjoy their morning breakfast and may forgo eating dinner from time to time. This all depends on your schedule and what you prefer.
The great thing is, there is no set diet enforced during your eating window. You can eat whatever you want, but keep in mind, you will reap better the rewards of intermittent fasting if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet during your eating window.
Influencers, authors, and podcasters who practice intermittent fasting
- Dr. Jason Fung
- Mark Sisson
- Dave Asprey
- Brad Pilon
- Wim Hof
- Dr. Sylvia Tara & Dr. Amy Shah (women’s hormones + fasting)
If you are not already fasting, give it a try and see how you feel. If you are currently fasting, have you experimented with an extended fast? Many experts swear by 3-7 day fasts, but is this something that you could do? Or would even want to do it? Do the benefits really outweigh the utter discomfort you would feel over those 7 days? Let us know in the comments below!