Intermittent fasting: a breakdown

I went to dinner with some friends recently and one of them told me that he was trying on Intermittent Fasting for size. He explained that it is essentially a daily fast that is broken at the end of the day. So far, from what I could tell, it was working, whatever it was. He seemed more trim and had great energy. He also reported that he felt great, which is usually a good thing.

I wasn't quite sure what he was referring to so I asked what he meant. I didn't understand how you could fast once a day ... so I asked, "you mean, like when we go to bed and then break-fast in the morning?" He laughed and said, "kind of". He explained it a little bit more and once I got it I made a mental note to look into it more.

And then, fortuitously, the next morning on NPR there was a feature on Intermittent Fasting. 

It seems like a great thing, actually. When I first went raw I was really into juice fasts. I completed a 21 day juice fast and I felt like it was an incredible experience that I always looked forward to. Following the 21 day fast I frequently went on 3-4 day fasts whenever I was feeling brave.

Then, when I moved to Miami and consequently into a tropical (read: super humid) climate I stopped that fasting behavior almost immediately. When I first moved here I had planned a usual 3 day fast and even recruited my SO to join me. Within 8 hours of day 1 I threw in the towel. I had never felt so terrible in my life and was then convinced that juice fasting is not for everyone and not always healthy. 

The humid climate made the juice fast very difficult for me and made me think twice about such fasting behavior. I still love juicing and still believe that it works for many people, but I also appreciate the experience of it not working for me so I could explore other ways to "detox", as they say.

What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

What I've found in my investigating is that Intermittent Fasting is very approachable and provides the same benefits as calorie restriction. The difference is that it's not depriving, since it's a very short period of time only several days a week, and it's easy to maintain since you're not actually starving yourself. 

To put it simply, you are more likely to eat fewer calories if you cut off eating for certain hours of the day, and that in itself is likely to lead to weight loss.

The root of the theory is this: Your body relies on glycogen stores for energy, releasing it for use in the body as needed. So within the first few hours of eating your body is able to supply a steady source of energy from the foods you've eaten. If you continue to replace your glycogen by eating throughout the day, with no more than 8 hours between a meal, then you will constantly use your carbohydrate and sugar consumption for energy, leaving your fat stores mostly untouched.

The theory says that if you fast for at least 16 hours in a 24 hour cycle--say, restricting eating times to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.--then your body will then dip into your fat stores and begin burning fat for energy. This, in turn, helps improve your overall health as excess fat is a stress on your body. Not to mention, you then burn excess fat, making you less fatty.
The theory also states that once 16 hours of fasting has passed, if you continue the fast your body will begin to dip into muscle for energy. Most people do not want to deplete their muscles storage so find that the 16 hour mark is a good one to have the first meal of the day.

Is it safe?

As with any "diet" it is important to do your research, speak with medical and/or health professionals that you trust, and make wise decisions for yourself. Most health professionals have the same consensus on this: yes, it is safe, to a degree. If you have specific health conditions that could be triggered by IF then avoid it (i.e. pregnant, lactating, hypoglycemic, etc.). Otherwise, it doesn't hurt to eat your meals only during your most active hours of the day.

What about many small meals a day?

One of the biggest "diet" trends today are to keep your metabolism running high by eating continuously throughout the day. This is one trend I mostly disagree with, no matter how healthy you are, only because eating 6 times a day in a healthful way is very unlikely. It's not unlikely because it's a bad theory, but it's unlikely because what most people consider to be "small meals" are protein shakes and protein bars ... which are not health foods. In fact, Dr. Weil addresses this same idea here and mentions that most of these meal bars are actually more like candy bars.

The main idea, here, is to just be mindful of your eating and overall health habits. As Michael Pollan put it: 

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.'

I like to stick to the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. time frame, naturally, and sometimes I do eat after that. Sometimes I eat during a different 8 hour period. I've always believed in eating for your energy needs and that has naturally made me an IFer. Either way I feel good and I feel healthy and that's what is important. Find what works for you!

Have you ever tried IF? What are your thoughts??


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