The word fasting brings up my Catholic guilt.
In the early days of the church, as in when I went, there was this ritual of fasting at different times. It included, (so called) starving on Sunday mornings so we could partake of a little white wafer representing salvation while the other kids were having pancake orgies. This moment of my childhood is not remembered fondly. It was sold as a way to save my soul, a concept far too esoteric for this hungry 9 year old. I defiantly dipped in to my secret stash of Fruit Loops figuring it would all work out.
So far so good.
So why would I want to revisit this idea especially since I take the side of science that says juice fasting or fasting using concoctions of any kind in place of food for extended periods can be dangerous and unhealthy for many?
Because there’s a new kid in town called Intermittent Fasting and much of the available science on it has good things to say.
There are at least 6 different styles developed by as many enthusiasts and a couple of doctors, each with a twist on when you eat and don’t and how much. The effects range from fat and weight loss to improved cognition and disease prevention in the long term.
Let’s start with a bit of science on the physiology of fasting.
When we eat the body goes into digestion mode. Insulin goes up because blood sugar is produced by digestion of said meal. This will last anywhere from 3 – 5 hours. Once you are fed and food has been digested you are in post-absorptive mode. This means you are done processing and absorbing nutrients. Insulin has gone down, returning to normal. You now enter fasting mode. The longer you stay here the more likely the body is to burn stored fat for energy. Spend too long here though and the body will burn muscle and lower metabolic rate as a way to preserve energy stores.
The key is to fast just long enough-and how long is hotly debated-to burn stored fat and give you the benefits of calorie restriction without the down sides mentioned.
The simplest of these plans says eat within an 8 hour time frame-it doesn’t matter what 8 hours-and fast for 16. It could look like eating dinner by 8, skipping breakfast, and eating again at 1.
Confusion just set in. Isn’t skipping breakfast bad for you?
For some it will be. If you are hypoglycemic this is not the plan for you.
For others the body will adapt, you will not die, and the results for those looking to lose weight can blow traditional dieting out the window.
Why is mainly because it’s easier to restrict eating times than how much or what you eat.
There are other plans, The Every Other Day Diet by Krista Varady, a scientist, is popular and well researched. Pretty much you eat the way it sounds, every other day you fast or feast. An interesting finding from the research Krista has done is that the majority of people don’t overeat on the feast day by enough to prevent weight loss.
Martin Berkhan originated the name IF and has a variety of options if you want to try it.
John Berardi of Precision Nutrition is, in his words, a professional dieter. That is to say he tests diets and exercise programs for a living. He has the best free download on the IF way of weight loss and health. You can grab it here. He tested almost every variation you can come up with. Since working out is still important he addresses when to work out within a fasting time frame.
It’s worth noting that his final word on whether it works for weight loss and is healthy or not is this, many programs will work if the person is suited to it and will stick to it. This is just one option.
There are extreme versions of this concept where you eat 500 calories one day and normally the next or you eat one day and fast for 2, and so on. I’m never a fan of extremes even as a launch pad to a plan. If IF seems like a good idea or you just want to give it a try and see how you feel and if you will lose weight, start by shortening the hours in the day that you will eat. As in the first scenario I described.
Aside from smaller thighs what does anything else good happen?
Intermittent fasting falls into the category of calorie restriction which has well researched science behind it as a way to increase lifespan.
Animal studies have both supported IF as a bridge to better health and longevity and warned against it. Scientific America published a comprehensive article on this.
We are in the early days of IF science but it’s hard not to believe in what science there is. If you do try it monitor how you feel when you are fasting. Don’t go longer than feels safe but do be prepared to feel hungry. Learning to feel real hunger vs the urge to eat out of boredom or anxiety is one of the benefits of IF.
Now that I’m no longer forced to follow someone else’s rules about when I eat, or why, I’m going to experiment with IF without guilt or thinking for one minute that it will be my salvation.
Anupam Ghose, a physician by training, was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) in 2017. After the diagnosis of T2DM, he followed a low carbohydrate high fat diet and reversed his T2DM within a year. Now he has one main goal in life. Yes, it is to make people understand that the conventional method of treating T2DM is not beneficial. The best way to reverse T2DM is through diet and lifestyle modification. He decided to help people suffering from T2DM in their new journey by offering consultations and working together with them in order to achieve a T2DM free life.