Intermittent Fasting: Beginner’s Guide
Intermittent Fasting: What the Body Is Built For
Fasting has been around for centuries, whether for religious reasons or simple food scarcity. Like a pine tree that has learned to not only resist forest fires but even adapt to release its seeds due to such fires, the human body has learned to adapt and benefit from periods of not eating.
The human body is meant to go through periods of fasting. Only in the last century have we truly had an overabundance of food in the Western part of the globe. We must acknowledge that hunger is still a global issue, of course. But in the Westernized countries where food is plentiful, obesity has become an epidemic and the host of illnesses that come from it. In the United States, children are developing fatty liver, high cholesterol levels, and even type II diabetes (which used to be known as “adult-onset” diabetes but had to be renamed as the result of more occurrence to children developing the disease.)
In fact, countries that start adopting American fast food culture have been found to develop the same lifestyle-related illnesses. The issue often lies with too much food, that has too little nutrients.
How can you burn fat stores, if you are always eating?
After age 30, our metabolism begins to slowly decrease. At 35, a further significant drop. In fact, the more we age, the less caloric intake we need. So fasting just makes sense. The old science of eating five meals a day only really benefits those, such as athletes, who are trying to build muscle or people who are diabetic, hypo- or hyperglycemic, or with gallbladder disease. For the rest of us, it only adds to weight gain, not to mention a rollercoaster of energy levels. This is where intermittent fasting (IF) can really come in handy.
Intermittent Fasting In Brief;
- Lose weight
- While providing more leeway in the diet
- Burn excess fat stores
- Slow down cellular aging
- Improve bone density and lean muscle mass
- Stabilize Blood Sugars
- Which stabilize energy and mood
- Can be customized to fit one’s needs better other diets
- Easier to continue for the long term
Provides more flexibility & freedom than other diets
You can have A LOT more flexibility and freedom when you practice fasting. You can eat more of a variety of foods than say the ketogenic or low carb diet, and you don’t have to constantly be counting carbohydrates or making sure you consuming enough fat to keep your body in the ketogenic state. You also don’t have to have the worry of keeping your sodium levels up because keto makes it harder for you to hold electrolytes.
Whenever I tried keto, I didn’t like all the restrictions caused by the lifestyle. I felt ill from the high consumption of butter, bacon, coconut oil, and heavy cream. While you can find so many cool alternatives to almost any dish, more likely than not, you are cooking from home. God forbid that I’d like to have dessert or mashed potatoes while having dinner out with my friends, and *gasp* cauliflower is just not the same texture and mouthfeel as rice. I’ve said it!
Embarrassed to even confess, I do like to eat fresh fruit besides berries! If life means I cannot have the occasion banana or a delicious ruby red grapefruit, am I really living then? I love foods besides bacon! Sorry, not sorry!
This is why I enjoy fasting instead. I can have a pastry or french fry every now and then without feeling bad about myself. I can go to a dinner party without having the host having to accommodate my dietary needs and spare my friends from having to hear what and why I eat a certain way. We all know someone like that, and as a nutritionist, I didn’t want to be that person either.
Have dinner plans later in the evening? Wait till later in the day to break your fast then. Feel like splurging on vacation? Enjoy yourself and get back to a fasting schedule once you return to reality, or even on your travel day back since airport food is typically junky and overpriced.
Can help the body stay more youthful
Every time you eat, your body releases insulin and has to expend energy towards digestion. By giving your body a break, you allow more calories (kcal=energy) towards other bodily functions like muscle and DNA repair.
Doing sixteen-hour fasts, you go through enough of a fast for your body to release leptin, the hormone the body releases to start burning fat stores. Fasting also boots your Human Growth Hormone (HGH), keeping you more youthful and supporting lean body mass and healthier bone mass. Research in mice has shown that going through fasting states also triggers the cells to self-protect, such as activating sirtuins in your mitochondria.
The fountain of youth, right inside of your body. Who would have guessed fasting is the key?
Intermittent fasting can give the same cellular results as calorie-restricted diets without the aggravation and irritability of always being hungry. In order to slow down aging and be given two choices, what would you prefer? Eat 30% fewer calories every day and constantly be hungry? Or eat your full caloric intake for 30% of your day and fast the rest? You decide!
Helps Regulate Blood Sugars
Every time you eat, your body’s pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is the body’s way to take in glucose and convert it into energy. A reason why low-carb or ketogenic diets have become so popular in recent years is that high carbohydrate consumption can lead to a rollercoaster with blood sugar levels. This results in dips of energy throughout the day.
The more times the pancreas has to release insulin into the bloodstream, the more taxing it becomes on the organ. Like a copy machine making copy after copy of the same paper, the quality begins to diminish more and more. Stressing the pancreas over time can lead to type II diabetes, thyroid issues, metabolic conditions, and stubborn weight gain, especially in the midsection. It’s never about just one organ, the body is a synergistic system.
When you become a fat burner, hunger and mood tend to become more stable. The body is not constantly having to use insulin to convert food into energy, and your body is less reliant on sugars. Once again, fasting allows the body to use its fat stores, overall improving blood sugar stability.
While intermittent fasting can help stabilize blood sugars, people with diabetes, hypo-, or hyperglycemia should certainly exercise caution and check in with their doctor before attempting fasting.
It’s important that you make your meal(s) high in nutrient content, with adequate fat, protein, and fiber from plenty of vegetables and some fruits. You must make your nutrient quality count or else it can make the body self preserve fat stores because it thinks it’s in starvation mode. Lack of proper nutrients can also lead to hair loss and other vitamin/mineral deficiency issues.
Different kinds of fasts
For beginners, you can start with a simple 12:12 fast. Stop eating around 7 PM and don’t eat or consume beverages with calories until breakfast or 7 AM the next morning. This is generally safe for anyone (but you should always check with your doctor before starting any diet change, especially if you have diabetes, hypo- or hyperglycemia*)
If you find that you can handle 12:12 with a breeze, then you should try the most commonly used 16:8 kind of fast. This usually means skipping a meal to stretch your fast and to shorten your feeding cycle. You eat the same amount of calories but in an 8-hour window. Then you spend 16 hours fasting, and usually, most of the time is going by while sleeping.
You can choose to eat earlier in the day or later at night depending on your preference and schedule. This is the one I use mostly.
One Meal a Day (OMAD) is where you fast all day and then have one epic meal! You consume a day’s worth of calories in one meal, or within a 1-hour time frame. Some people naturally gravitate towards this lifestyle, but it’s not for everyone and should be done after handling the smaller fasts listed above.
If you are doing OMAD, maybe have fruit in the first part of your 1-hour window, while you are prepping the rest of your meal. Giving the stomach a chance to digest it alone will help absorb delicate fruit’s nutrients that eating it all mixed up with heavier foods such as meats and fat.
24-36 Hour fasts can be done safely but should be done with care & caution. This is simply not eating or consuming any liquid calories for an entire day or longer. Some argue this can be good for healing, or maybe to do once a week for weight loss or weight maintenance. Recommended to try only if you have some experience already with fasting, and do not have a blood sugar issue unless your doctor gives you the go. Start out on a day you can take it easy, like the weekend. You should still drink plenty of water, but some people will withgo completely, which is known as dry fasting.
I have never done dry fasting, so wouldn’t give an opinion on this subject
If you do alternate day fasting, where you eat regularly 3-4 days of the week and fast the other 3 days a week (or some do 2 days on the weekend or other variations) you CAN have about 500 kcals to buffer the fast. Make those calories count though, perhaps some nuts, a protein shake, a small salad, half of an avocado, or a cup of bone broth. Just know, if you exceed 500 kcals, that fasting day becomes a feeding day.
What Can you Consume During A Fast?
Nothing with calories! If you are truly fasting, you are not taking in calories. Here are some things you can have during your fast:
- Water (and have plenty!)
- Unsweetened tea (peppermint is lovely without sugar)
- Black coffee (a splash of milk has shown not to break a fast, but don’t go crazy)
- Beverages sweetened with Stevia
- Diet sodas (though I don’t personally recommend them)
Now you know all the benefits and reasons to add fasting into your lifestyle. I hope you find the style that works best for you so you can enjoy all the richness of life, increased energy, without feeling deprived like most diets. Because here at the Carrot Campaign, we are all about healthy and HAPPY living! So go have dessert, go explore new cuisine and go live your life to the fullest!
Check out 5 tips to maximize your fasting results, here in part two of this series.