I am being asked about Intermittent Fasting a lot these days.
So, what is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting is simply taking a break from eating for 14 to 48 hours.
In my experience entirely, interest seems to come primarily from two groups:
- Teenagers who might see it as a trend and may want to combine it with Veganism that they know very little about in terms of how to incorporate it in a balanced and nutritionally optimal way, although their intention may come from all the right reasons. This all is a worry as certainly in case of Intermittent Fasting, if ever advised, it would be for healthy adults and certainly not recommended for growing teenagers.
- Adults who wish to implement it as a way of losing weight: less opportunities to eat leads to consuming less calories and, naturally, it will boost your weight loss. Question is, what is that weight loss made of (muscle tissue or actual fat loss) and whether it can ever be considered as a lifestyle?
I find it interesting that same people who might object to the concept of nourishing and science backed meal replacement shakes (taken once or twice a day as part of eating 5-6 times balanced meals each day with at least 1500 calories and optimum amount of all the nutrients) thinking they will “starve”, are more than open to the idea of, well, starving.
Without doubt, the appeal to Intermittent Fasting is real and I had to look into it more closely. It seemed fair to start with an official disclaimer aimed at Intermittent Fasting:
Fasting is not recommended for pregnant/lactating women, diabetics, active athletes and those following a structured training programme, if you are under 18 years of age, persons with an eating disorder or a BMI under 18.5, and anyone with an illness, a medical condition, or following a medical treatment. Also, medical supervision is recommended for any fast over 24 hours.
So, it does leave out quite a large part of the population, suggesting it is not entirely safe, certainly not for those who fall into the above categories. This advice certainly should be followed.
What does the research tell us about Intermittent Fasting?
Some research into Intermittent Fasting shows that when you fast, it causes your insulin levels to decline, that there is a benefit to the human growth hormone as it increases and that your cells also initiate important cellular repair processes and change which genes they express.
So, overall, great great news and, naturally, I want all this for my body too, right?
As a matter of fact, fasting is very common in many religions and customs, it is an ancient and powerful method that can promote healing and regeneration and, if done correctly, can be very good for our health, as even modern science now proves it.
But, fasting once a month or being it an annual practice like it is for Muslims during Ramadan, is slightly different from those who wish to live by it. Hence, the long disclaimer above.
As a believer in having breakfast, I can not just ignore the science and research behind Healthy Breakfast, “breaking the fast” from the moment we wake up as our empty tanks require nutrition to run effectively!
Certainly if you’re diabetic, hypoglycemic or pregnant, breakfast is essential to maintain glucose levels, but, what about these important and well researched benefits for the rest of us:
- Improved energy levels & metabolism.
- Provision of essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre (compared to no breakfast).
- Stable blood sugar levels, which effects our hormones responsible for weight management, reduces hunger and cravings, reducing our chance of over-consuming high calorie foods later in the day.
- Improved memory and concentration.
So, if Intermittent Fasting can indeed improve our present health and future longevity and while Healthy Breakfast has already well researched benefits for our metabolism, weight management, concentration, moods, etc – can those two be combined?
I was glad to hear that Dr David Heber, Chief, Clinical Nutrition Director, Nutritional Medicine and Obesity Professor at the UCLA, certainly thinks so:
“In ancient times, humans did not do intermittent fasting as a weight loss diet. They had no choice as there was little or no food available in many environments from cold caves to hot deserts. Today with fast foods and street foods everywhere, many people only stop eating at night and while sleeping.“
I am sure many can relate to this is as sometimes we’re not even listening to our body signals because we’re mindlessly stuck in our habits around eating as we are so used to having food around us all the time.
Dr David Heber suggests that “eliminating after dinner binge eating of snacks after 5 PM and not eating for 14 hours until 7 AM qualifies you as an Intermittent Fasting Dieter.”
So, it does not have to be a big deal and there certainly is a safe way for everyone to benefit from Intermittent Fasting during the night when body is generally regenerating and cells are given the space and time to get the DNA debris and waste products out, but without missing out on ever so important Healthy Breakfast, an opportunity to fuel body for the day ahead.
Dr David Heber continues:
“Your body goes through a change in metabolism every night while you are sleeping and not eating. These changes are the adaptation to starvation which allows you to survive long periods without food. You lose body protein and muscle during long-term fasting which has to be restored with more protein when you resume eating a healthy diet without high fat/high sugar snack foods.
I don’t recommend fasting for many days as this will lead to losing muscle, lowered metabolism, and weight regain. The body normally adapts to fasting and breaks down fat to spare protein being used to keep blood glucose up while you sleep.
Amino acids from protein account for half of glucose production while you sleep with the other half coming from glycogen breakdown in muscle and liver. Ketone bodies formed from fat in the liver rise while you are sleeping and are used for energy by your cells and organs.
Having a Protein-Rich Shake at breakfast (The most important meal of the day) helps to restore your muscle protein lost during sleep and will lead to healthy weight management in combination with resistance exercise and a Healthy Active Lifestyle!“
I share his views that behaviour of Intermittent Fasting as, while it works for some and is seen as a lifestyle choice for many, it is not as good as combining Balanced Nutrition and Healthy Active Lifestyle.
Certainly not as a way of life.
But, if you must try it or if you desire to implement it for the benefits of cell longevity and all other researched benefits of IF – consider taking Dr D. Heber’s advice and building a habit of an early dinner, eliminate snacking after dinner and having your Healthy Breakfast when you wake up, which would allow at least 12 -14 hours for body to fast – giving body a break from food during the evening and night when body is naturally resting and regenerating.
This would also solve mindless snacking in the evening that many have an issue with and certainly make it possible to have the best from both worlds, after all.
Yours in health,