As we head into spring, I know that for some of you shedding warm clothes is synonymous with the desire to lose those extra winter pounds. If you follow health and wellness trends, chances are you’ve heard of intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight and enhance your health. I often get asked about what intermittent fasting is and if it yields results in a safe, healthy way.
For those of you who don’t know, intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary approach where you alternate between an eating and a fasting cycle.
There are several different ways to approach IF, which can make it feel confusing. To cut through this confusion, here’s a brief rundown on the different options:
- Eating during an 8 hour window, fasting during a 16 hour window. This is one of the most popular and easiest approaches, and simply shortens the eating window. For example, if you finish eating by 7pm, you would resume with a meal at 11 am the next morning.
- Whole day fasts. A whole day fast could be done once a week or every other week, or once a month.
- The 5:2 Eating Plan. With this option you eat normally five days every week and eat only 500 to 600 healthy calories on two days.
You can see there is no one size that fits all. If you are interested in IF, sometimes starting simply with an overnight fast of 12-13 hours (e.g., 8pm to 8 or 9 am) is a painless first step as you’re sleeping for most of the fasting period. Then it’s easier to transition into one of the other options. The key for all approaches is making sure that when you eat you are focusing on quality whole foods — lean, clean protein, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. If you are only consuming 500 calories a day, and those calories come from chips and fries, you are doing your body no good and actually inhibiting the weight loss process. In general, eating quality food is critical to weight loss. The old “calories in versus calories out” formula needs updating to take into account that food actually communicates and interacts with our bodily systems, including our metabolism and blood sugar signaling. These two systems are critical components to losing weight and keeping it off.
Why Does IF Work?
When you don’t eat for a while, your cells shift from using glucose as their primary fuel source to using fat, broken down from fat stored in your body.
Studies have shown that IF may also help lower inflammation, enhance brain health, and balance fat regulating hormones. It’s also thought that IF gives your digestive system a break, frees up the energy you use for digestion, and allows that energy to be used for healing and bodily repair. You may not realize that digestion utilizes more energy than just about any other process in your body!
Is Intermittent Fasting for Everyone?
We are all unique and some people may take to IF, while others not so much. There are theories in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine that certain body types do well with fasting and others don’t. The most important thing is to listen to your body — how you feel and how hungry you are. If you are chronically hungry while doing IF, the chances are this approach is not for you. And if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have blood sugar issues or an eating disorder, intermittent fasting is not for you! There is also a study that shows that for women, IF can potentially trigger sleeplessness, anxiety, irregular periods, and hormonal dysregulation. If you are interested in IF, I recommend that you pursue it with the guidance of a nutritionist or other health professional.
As for my take on IF, I typically suggest it for people who feel like they’re doing everything they can to lose weight and it’s just not coming off. But the bottom line really is in our bio-individuality. For many of us, a balanced daily approach feels better than intermittent fasting. It’s also important as part of any weight loss program to focus on reducing the stresses and inflammation in our bodies, addressing the emotional and spiritual aspects of “hunger,” and developing a mindful awareness of our body’s natural hunger rhythms. When we do this, we set the stage for easier long-term weight loss. And remember, no matter what approach you take, make count the calories you do eat. Incorporate lots of colorful veggies and high-quality protein to provide optimum gas for your cells.
If you would like to discuss whether intermittent fasting is for you, call me at 310-650-2825.