Intermittent fasting is everywhere. Instagram influencer’s stories, magazines in line at the grocery store, and titles of daunting books on the front table of your local bookstore.
While research continues, it is said to help with caloric intake to sustain (or lose excess) weight, clear acne, diminish brain fog, and lift overall moods, while also reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, metabolic syndromes, cancer, and so much more. But, just like everything else in life, there is a right and wrong way to introduce yourself to this new lifestyle.
Based on the common 16:8 intermittent fasting style, here are some benefits, tips, and tricks to get you in a fasted state in the healthiest way possible.
Am I Intermittent Fasting or Just Starving?
The Self-Eating System That Helps Decrease Your Biological Age
Intermittent fasting is known to help increase cell autophagy. For the layperson, think of it like your body’s recycling system. When in a fasted state you’re giving your body the opportunity to rid itself of bad cells and rejuvenate itself with newer, healthier ones.
This is the task on your to-do list that your body chips away at slowly every day for long-term benefits. Whenever you eat, you’re giving your body a high-priority task that it needs to acknowledge immediately. And the thing about autophagy is, it only occurs when you’re in a fasted state.
Autophagy, however, works because your body is forced to metabolize by breaking itself down for energy, and it only stops doing so when your body is digesting. Autophagy is said to not only have anti-aging effects due to the increase of new cells building, but some studies have said that it also lowers the risk of cancer as this state allows your body to rid itself of toxins and defective cells.
You’ve Heard of The Keto Diet, So Let’s Talk Ketosis
The Keto-diet has been taken on by many to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, and increase potential weight loss. Unlike autophagy, ketosis can happen in fed states which is why diets (i.e., Keto-diet) can work concurrently with it.
It is typically based on high protein, moderate to high fat, and low-carbohydrate foods with encouragement for smaller eating windows to allow your body to fall naturally into ketosis and use stored fat as an energy source. Truthfully, going without sugar and carbohydrates, meaning under 50 grams/day, will increase this process.
Ketones are especially of interest for your brain, which is why people on the Keto diet are constantly raving about feeling energized, focused, and without brain fog. Regardless of if you consider yourself Keto or not, ketones are an important part of your metabolism and it makes all the difference between burning fat or burning carbs.
If you continually feed your body its most easily utilized energy source (aka carbohydrates and sugar) your body is going to consistently be in an energy surplus and store body fat. Your body is so willing to use and store sugar and carbs for instantaneous energy expenditure locally, but the ketones in your bloodstream are not localized.
Fasting every day for a fasting period of 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window is training your metabolic machinery for fat utilization and flexibility. Just as cardiovascular systems and mitochondrial systems need to be developed and trained to be more efficient, you can do the same to your biological machinery to create and utilize energy from stored dietary fat.
In a sense, running low on fumes is exactly what your body needs to exercise the machinery and encourage it to efficiently break down fats and fatty acids properly and with ease. It is said that exercising your body’s ability to fall into ketosis has a host of potential health benefits such as reducing your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and more.
Timing is Everything
By intermittent fasting, you’re simply adding a few more hours into your controlled feeding window with hydrating instead of food. Arguments have been made that you are better to start your fast earlier in the night than late in the day.
This is where I struggle with fasting a bit, as I have always found it much easier to wait until 2 pm to eat and end at 10 pm. The problem with my doing this is that I am eating so close to my bedtime that it’s affecting my sleep no matter what the food choice (though it does matter). Eating at any point in the day causes an insulin response as insulin transfers nutrients from food to their respectable homes within the body.
Why does this matter? Insulin suppresses melatonin production. Anyone that has struggled with insomnia or the late-night tossing and turning knows that melatonin is key for a sound night’s sleep.
That late-night ice cream that I simply cannot help myself from is what’s stopping me from going to bed at 10 pm instead of midnight, and it’s upping my caloric intake with sugar which is affecting my metabolic health and weight control. Thus, it is suggested that you give yourself two-three hours prior to going to bed to begin your fast.
Allowing your body to digest during the day grants it the ability to do so in a more energized state and the process become all the easier when you’re up and about rather than horizontal attempting sleep. In addition to light exposure and exercise, your feeding habits are the biggest influencing factors to your natural cycles, in this case, your circadian rhythm. Better sleep makes not only fasting easier, but life in general.
It’s Good Stress Your Body Needs
Think back to caveman days. You are living out in the wild, in the rain, the scorching heat, the winter freeze. You are waiting for your next meal but will continue to seek out berries and other plants that won’t kill you (ideally) in the meantime.
Now fast forward to now. A constant state of homeostasis. Middle of winter we jump in our warm vehicles thanks to remote start.
Muggy mid-August? No problem, we have the AC on in our apartments at a comfortable 65-70 degrees.
There are reasons people have been practicing cryotherapy (like polar plunges and ice baths), thermography (like saunas and steam rooms), and exercise for decades.We don’t stress out our bodies in the right way nearly enough anymore, and it’s negatively impacting our health.
This goes for fasting as well. We are hunters and gatherers by nature. Our ancestors became accustomed to the fear and pain of starvation and Mother Nature’s wretchedness.
They didn’t have billboards of sexualized burgers begging them to pull over their horse and eat up. We are consuming more than ever, and our eating window is from the moment we wake up until the moment we sleep, and our bodies are working OT to keep up. Stressing our body with fasting allows it to fall into that state of autophagy, encourages our bodies to use stored fat for energy production, and heal themselves at a metabolic level.
Do What Works for You
No one knows you as you do. If you are trying to be healthy and sustain that health, then you need to follow your gut (literally and figuratively) and not any of the fads you’re being smacked around with.
You are better off finding a diet to live on than a “diet” to do for a week. If you are sitting there at hour 15 positively starving, eat! While fasting does get easier with practice (as you become more metabolically flexible and your body adjusts to no longer crave simple carbs and sugars), everyone is different.
I typically fast for 16-20 hours a day (unintentionally at this point) and it wasn’t until many days of being disappointed with my hunger at hour 14 that I investigated and realized a lot of researchers say women need to fast for less time than men due to our hormones. Here I am chastising myself and ignoring my body’s needs for one single day of cravings and stomach growls all because of studies that aren’t based on my gender. And that’s on me.
I need to take care of my body because I love it and want it to thrive, and you need to do the same for you. It’s incredibly important to find the controlled feeding window and foods that work for you, your energy expenditure, and your nourishment. And give yourself a break!
Truly, no one has any idea. There is new information every day because we’re all trying to find a civilization-sized band-aid to cure everyone of everything. It’s unlikely to happen that way, and it is fueling unhealthy habits and thoughts in many.
If you are someone who has struggled with eating disorders in the past, I highly recommend staying away from any regimes that put you in an unhealthy state of mind and/or being. Always discuss with your doctor, especially if you are or trying to get pregnant, and keep in mind what you need at your age, gender, background, and activity are different than the person next to you.
Remind yourself that when you eat “clean”, practice fasting, watch your portions, see the sun, and exercise you are doing it to give your body what it needs. If you are hungry, eat. If you are tired, rest.
No diet should consist of misery, self-denigration, or starvation. Care for yourself as you care for a loved one. Do it because you deserve it, and no reason other than that. Everyone looks great when they feel great, and that should be the only goal.
Have you tried the intermittent fasting diet? What did you think?