Unexpected Benefits From FastingMar 12, 2023
Fasting is everywhere you look these days. It has been dubbed the panacea to so many of our health problems.
But the truth is it is just another tool in our healthy living tool box. And more importantly, if the house is falling down around your tool box, then pulling out this tool is not going to be beneficial and can actually cause you to feel worse.
I have been practicing fasting for several months. It works for my body and lifestyle, but I wasn’t seeing much change in my body composition. So I decided to embark on an extended fasting schedule (see below for description) for 4 weeks. Not only did my weight begin to decrease, but I saw unexpected improvements in my sleep, gut health, inflammation and mental well-being.
Why unexpected you may ask? Mostly because I had been fasting for at least 16-18 hours daily for several months. I already experienced these benefits, but I didn’t expect to have them enhanced with this new experiment that I had taken on.
In my extended fasting I employed a 48 hour fasting window two times a week. For the days between fasting, my eating window, I ate three meals with no more than 12 hours between each meal. My eating habits are pretty healthy overall. I focus on quality protein, plenty of vegetables and healthy fats. I don’t consume dairy very often as it causes inflammation in my system, and I try to avoid gluten and sugar.
I am not going to lie, 48 hours can be a long time and I would never recommend it to someone new to fasting. During my fasting window I ensured that I consumed plenty of fluids. Black coffee in the morning and water throughout the day with LMNT electrolytes added to a couple of my water bottles.
My daily routines were pretty consistent from a sleep, exercise and daily activity standpoint. The first thing I noticed was a change in my gut health. I had improved digestion and less pain and bloating. Overall inflammation decreased, meaning the pain in my knees and hips where I have arthritis decreased. Sleep can always be hit or miss for me, but during these past 4 weeks my sleep was rock solid. I hit not only my goals for hours of sleep but also deep and REM sleep were improved.
Still unsure what is involved with fasting? Let’s break it down, definitions, benefits and tips for implementing.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is restricting all of your eating to a specific period of time in the day. Most people eat throughout the day, starting with breakfast and ending with dinner. A person practicing intermittent fasting condenses all their eating into a shorter window of time, known as the eating window.
Intermittent fasting is a diet only in the sense that it involves making conscious choices about your food intake. It does not refer to limiting what foods you eat or how much you eat. Some intermittent fasters eat multiple full meals during their eating window, while others might graze throughout that time. While fasting definitions themselves do not require specific food selections or way of eating, it is important to note that our food selection does matter to our overall health so making healthy choices in our eating window is by far the way to go.
There are multiple benefits of intermittent fasting. intermittent fasting is an effective practice for improving mental and physical health in a variety of ways. Additional benefits of intermittent fasting backed by science include:
- Burning fat for fuel. Once your body stops getting glucose to burn, it uses fat as fuel instead. This is the primary way that intermittent fasting leads to weight loss.
- Cellular repair. While fasting, your body engages a process called autophagy, in which it recycles dead or unused cells that otherwise clutter the body and cause problems.
- Decreased inflammation. Certain key biomarkers of inflammation go down among fasting individuals.
- Improved mental health and decreased depression. Individuals in treatment for depression saw slightly larger improvements in their symptoms when they fasted.
- Improves insulin resistance. Individuals with diabetes can lower their blood sugar levels through intermittent fasting. After extended fasting, some people have no longer qualified as diabetic.
Intermittent Fasting Schedules
Maybe one of the most overwhelming parts of intermittent fasting is the schedule for fasting vs eating. Let’s review some of the most common schedules that you can implement.
This is a great place to start. Initially you limit your calories after 7pm and do not eat anything again until breakfast at 7am. As you begin to master this schedule and want to increase your fasting window you can add an hour of fasting either to the beginning or the end of your eating window. For example you either stop eating an hour earlier in the day or delay the eating window for an hour each day. As your fasting window grows you can modify the eating window to fit your schedule.
This may be one of the most popular fasting schedules and once you have started fasting routinely, one of the easiest to maintain. For example, a common pattern of fasting is from about 7:30pm to 11:30am each day. Therefore, the eating window starts at 11:30am and ends at 7:30pm. For most people, this can feel like “skipping breakfast”, although the goal is still to eat as many calories as they usually would during the eating hours.
The longer you fast, the more your body experiences the benefits of fasting, such as ketosis and autophagy. That means many people attempt to limit their eating window to four hours a day, spending 20 hours in fasting. A common way to do 20/4 intermittent fasting is to break one’s fast in the mid-afternoon, then finish eating in the early evening.
For the truly strong-willed, there is OMAD, or “One Meal a Day”. This is just what it sounds like – trying to cram all your caloric intake for the day into a single meal, or a short period of about an hour.
OMAD fasting is effective in the short-term for weight loss, but not very sustainable in the long-term. It’s hard to get a full day’s calories into your body in just an hour!
Every other day or extended fasting:
As the title states every other day simple means that you choose to fast for an entire day, eating every other day. Alternatives to this include extended fasting, where you may extend the fasting window beyond 24 hours to 36, 48 or even 72 hours. Implying the longer fasting windows is definitely a more advanced approach to fasting and should not be done for a long term method of eating. For example using a 48 hour fasting window a couple of times a week for a few weeks can help jump start a weight loss plateau or give you a better understanding of how foods affect your body.
Still intimidated to try fasting? Here are some tips for how to successfully introduce fasting into your lifestyle:
- Start modestly. Consider starting with one the 12 hour fast and gradually increase by an hour each day until you reach a 16 hour fast. Pick a day that will be low stress, where there are few demands on your time and energy. Choose a food for breaking your fast that you will look forward to, but not one that you might be tempted to eat before the fast is done or binge once you break your fast. One of my favorite post fast meals is a giant salad with loads of veggies and grilled chicken. I don’t deny myself but I am very unlikely to overeat as I fill up quickly with this meal.
- Break your fast judiciously. If you eat something carb-heavy to break your fast, your digestive system will rush to process that new source of energy, giving you a big spike and dip in your energy levels. So, break your fast with a smaller meal that includes a good source of protein, such as chicken or eggs and ideally some fiber as well. This ensures a smoother transition into the eating window.
- Embrace your hunger. You might not believe it when you are first starting out, but hunger doesn’t last. In this regard, it is like most sensations we have – temporary. So, expect to feel hungry – and expect that the feeling will pass. If you have a mindfulness practice, consider using it to acknowledge, but not become controlled by, your hunger. It also may be helpful to drink a cup of warm black tea or large glass of water when the urge to eat strikes.
- Remember to move. During your fasting window it is important to incorporate movement into your daily acitivities. Going for a brisk walk outside or doing a yoga routine can help get past the temptation to jump in the fridge and start consuming everything in sight.
- Hydration is important everyday but can really help when you are fasting. Bored with plain water? Try a cup of warm green or herbal tea, or even a cup of warm water can change your perspective.
- Add electrolytes to your fluid intake. There is increasing research pointing to the benefits of using electrolyte supplements during our fasting period. Not only does it help with hydration, I find it also curbs hunger and provides a boost of energy. Choose supplement brands that do not have added sugars. During my fasting I frequently use the plain or raw flavored electrolyte, saving the flavored varieties for my eating window.
- Ensure that you are getting adequate sleep. When we are overly tired our hunger hormones can be off balance and send signals to us that we need to eat. By ensuring that we are getting high quality sleep, we reduce the signals that our brain send our body to send fuel, when it really needs sleep!
- Consult with your doctor. For many of us, eating regular meals is important. Or perhaps you take a morning medication that wouldn’t go down well on an empty stomach. It’s always a safe bet to talk to your doctor before trying something like fasting. And there are definitely people who should not fast without medical supervision, like pregnant or breast feeding women, teens or anyone younger than 18 and type 1 diabetics.
Intermittent fasting is a simple, straightforward technique for accessing a variety of health benefits. While it is difficult at first to sit through the hunger, many people have experienced the rewards on the other side. If you are considering trying intermittent fasting, try not to go into it with any particular set of expectations. The benefits to your health, your focus, or your waistline may not be easy to discern at first. Like so many techniques for promoting health, intermittent fasting needs time and commitment to show its effects.
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