Intermittent fasting is a controversial topic in regards to weight loss. Fasting your body for several hours of the day in order to lose weight… is it safe? Is it sustainable?
Although it seems like it has recently moved into the spotlight, intermittent fasting is not a new idea. It has been included in religious practices and utilized for medical purposes throughout decades, and it’s been known to support the body in many ways:
There are a variety of intermittent fasting types — fasting for 16 hours (most common referred to as the 16:8 method), alternating full-day fasts of 24 hours or prolonged fasts over 48 hours. However, before we explore non-eating, we first need to understand what happens to our bodies when we consume food.
Our bodies break down our food into glucose (sugar) which triggers the brain to tell the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is responsible for bringing the excess sugar circulating in the blood into the cells for storage in order to utilize as energy later. When blood sugar is low, the brain signals the cells to release the stored form of glucose, which can be found in fat tissue, muscles and the liver, into the body for fuel.
During times of fasts, this process of breaking down stores continues and allows our bodies to learn to use our fat storage for energy, which typically happens after 12 hours of not eating. Fat is the largest storage of energy in our body and can feed us for long periods of time (which is how people survive the multiple-day fasts). During the breakdown of fat, known as lipolysis, human growth hormone is released. This hormone is beneficial for muscle growth and repair. Within the 12-16 hours, autophagy — the process of cells releasing dysfunctional proteins built up within cell walls — occurs and aids in the process of decreasing inflammation and encouraging the body to remove excess waste.
This eating technique is used for weight loss simply by narrowing the feeding window, which we perceive as taking in less energy and, as a result, helps us to lose weight.
One aspect to consider is that intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather an eating schedule. The practice is more of a lifestyle plan in which the benefits occur after consistent action. During feeding times, there needs to be focus on eating a real, balanced, whole foods diet paired with consistent exercise. If those steps are followed, chances are you will see weight loss.
If you are considering starting intermittent fasting, the best way is to ease into it with shorter fasts, starting with 12 hours and working your way up to 16 hours or more. When you’re starting out, it’s also best to schedule the largest amount of fast time for while you are sleeping. For example, stop eating at 8 p.m. and have your first meal at noon the following day. Nutritionists recommend starting the process of intermittent fasting when you do not have any major work meetings or scheduled events for the morning hours as well.
Consuming some coffee or herbal tea during your fast to ease hunger is also allowed and won’t mess up your fast. Cinnamon chai tea can aid in sugar cravings and peppermint tea may be used to soothe the stomach.
However, one common question with intermittent fasting is whether or not exercise while in a fasted state is safe. You can certainly continue to work out. Although it might be challenging at first, your body adapts to using its fat stores as fuel. Just be mindful and pay close attention when you first start, as there is potential to feel light-headed and dizzy.
If you are not scheduled to eat for a few hours after working out and you are concerned about nutrition timing, remember that your human growth hormone levels are high, so your body is still in prime position to gain muscle. You can plan your workouts closer to your eating window, supplement with some BCAAs or drink some bone broth to help if you find yourself physically unable to complete the fasted window after challenging workouts. Either way, make sure that the meals consumed during the feeding window are balanced with good quality proteins, carbohydrates and fats to refuel properly.
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone, though. As with any major diet, you should always consult with a doctor prior to starting intermittent fasting — especially those with known health risks, those who are using certain medications, people with metabolic disorders, pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, adolescents and individuals who have a history of disordered eating.
Liquids to Aid In Your Fast:
Fast for 16 hours, eat for eight hours
Fast two days per week
Alternate Day Fasting
Fast every other day