Fasting has become somewhat of a buzzword in fitness and nutrition world lately, but it’s an ancient remedy that dates way back to Hippocrates of Kos who is known widely as the father of modern medicine.
Common questions that arise when it comes to fasting are:
Does it actually work? Is it effective for weight loss? Won’t I starve? What can I do if I’m constantly hungry? There’s no way I could do this long term? Won’t my metabolism slow down? What if I’m a diabetic?
I plan to answer these questions and many more by end of this post. Intermittent fasting was something I began doing about 3 months ago and I’ve dropped some body fat without really changing much else in my diet (7 ½% to 5%). I’m already very lean so my results are not as impressive as someone who’s overweight or obese would be if they intermittent fast for the same time period. But, I don’t want to just focus strictly on body composition there other benefits to intermittent fasting that makes this an effective long term approach.
First for those who don’t know...
What it means to intermittent fast?
It’s simply a period of time where zero calories are consumed through food or beverages. (You are allowed to drink water or tea (yes caffeinated tea is fine)) A typical intermittent fasting interval last anywhere between 12 to 36 hours to obtain the most benefits. A big misconception for most people is believing that fasting means starvation but there’s a big difference. Fasting (intermittent or prolonged) is a voluntary and systematic absence of food for health or spiritual reasons whereas starvation is an involuntary absence of food where the person doesn’t know when or where their next meal will come from. Many people make the mistake of turning fasting into a starvation diet because they jump into the process with no plan or strategy on how to do it correctly.
The biggest issue and downfall most people run into when it comes to a diet and weight loss program is that the main focus is put on the type of food their eating and they’re missing another crucial factor - meal timing. I know you’re probably thinking I do consider meal timing; I eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks and desserts on a regular basis at relatively the same time. That’s great, but that also might be the issue.
We’re taught in society that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and we shouldn’t miss it for reasons such as our "metabolism will slow down." But, if we take the time to actually look into history our ancestors didn’t wake up and have breakfast; one reason being that food wasn’t readily available, secondly they understood the meaning of breakfast or BREAK THE FAST which involved some form of physical exertion normally coming from hunting for their food. The body through a cascade of hormone response gave them the strength and energy to carry out their tasks before the feast.
the American BREAK-FASt…
In the U.S. breakfast foods are highly processed sugar foods like muffins, cereals, instant oatmeal, sugary drinks like orange juice and chocolate milk. OH! Don’t let me forget the smooka tooka latte from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts with the pastry or donut on the side.
So what’s the problem with this?
Our standard breakfast that we consider normal literally resembles dessert after dinner or a party with different names and strategic promotions telling us it's a “perfect way” to start our mornings. Don’t get me wrong I love pancakes, waffles, syrup and all those other things, but overtime of constantly consuming these things first thing in the morning starts us off on the wrong foot. The obvious realization is that these foods contain high amounts of sugar and processed carbohydrates and have caused an onslaught issues like unwanted weight gain, diabetes, intense cravings, and midday energy crashes to name a few. But, the deeper issue with the way most diets are set up and how we’re taught to eat is that we’re constantly stimulating a hormone called insulin.
Insulin is our #1 fat storage hormone.
It’s commonly understood that when we eat sugar or carbohydrates we stimulate an insulin response which is the hormone that allows sugar to enter the cell for either energy or to be stored, but there’s a misconception about the role the other two macro-nutrients (proteins & fats) play when it comes to an insulin response. Protein and fat also cause a insulin response through something called the incretin effect (protein) and the cephalic phase. Going back to meal timing, we follow diets that constantly have us eating throughout the day whether that be more meals with smaller portion sizes or snacks in between our regular meals.
Almost 50 years ago before the rise of obesity and the onslaught of diabetes we didn’t eat nearly as many times a day as we do now. In other words we had extended periods of being in a fasted state instead of a feeding state and this allowed for our insulin levels to drop.
Now with a constant insulin production we eventually run into something called insulin resistance. This is a term used for type 2 diabetics, but this becomes the case long before someone becomes diabetic. Insulin resistance is the reason “eat less, exercise more,” and calorie restriction diets don’t pan out for us long term. The body operates through a biological system called homeostasis (equilibrium) meaning if we constantly stimulate a certain response or stress the body it will adapt to bring the body back to homeostasis. With the eating habits we've adopted nowadays we’re constantly stimulating an insulin response which causes our body’s over the years to become more and more resistant. Let's add in things like high consumption of fructose, along with the daily stressors of life, poor sleep quality producing chronic levels of cortisol and we create the perfect environment for diseases like obesity and diabetes.
What does cortisol and sleep quality have to do with insulin?
When cortisol levels are chronically elevated whether that be through poor sleep quality, everyday life stressors, or prolonged caloric restriction, blood glucose levels are constantly elevated causing insulin to constantly be produced to remove the glucose from the bloodstream so the body can use it or in most cases store it. Overtime this constant stimulation causes the body becomes more and more resistant (adapt) forcing the body to produce more and more insulin leading to a vicious cycle.
What about fructose?
The liver is the only organ that can process fructose. High fructose corn syrup is prevalent in most of the process foods we eat causing the liver storage to be full, but fructose also has a loophole causing the liver to become hungry for more glucose leading to insulin resistance along with the production of VLDL (bad cholesterol).
Bringing this all together...
The body processes insulin differently in three main areas the brain, liver, and muscles. The liver and muscles become resistant over time due to high sugar consumption and lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle, but the brain will not become resistant. Instead as this high insulin level reaches the brain, the hypothalamus in the brain raises the body set weight (increases fat accumulation). This is why diets typically fail long term and part of the reason caloric restriction ends up failing long term, because even though weight is lost temporarily the body’s set weight is still set high. The other piece to caloric restriction has to do with the biological principle of homeostasis mentioned earlier; the persistent exposure to restricted calories causes the body to resist (adapt) leading to total energy expenditure dropping causing a plateau in weight loss and unwanted side effects such as lethargy, intense cravings, feeling cold, and eventually regaining the weight back normally with more body fat than before.
The Solution (How do we lower our body set weight?)
This is where intermittent fasting comes into play. Unlike caloric restriction, zero calorie consumption over period of 12-36 hours doesn’t stimulate an insulin response, but instead decreases insulin levels along with producing a cascade of other beneficial responses within the body:
The body adjust from burning carbohydrates for fuel and instead burns stored body fat by stimulating another hormone called glucagon.
Growth hormone is produced to maintain muscle mass and bone tissue density along with increasing the availability and our ability to use fat for fuel.
Adrenaline is produced to increase our metabolic rate to allow us to be more alert and ready to perform physically.
The body builds up enzymes allowing for the body to breakdown triglycerides (fat) more efficiently, in order to produce ketones for energy to fuel the muscles and the brain.
I regularly fast 12 to 16 hours a day, which is a normal intermittent fasting period for the typically person. A very practical way to do this is to track when you consumed your last meal the day before and hopefully if you’re getting 6-8 hours of sleep a night you’re already halfway through your fast when you wake up.
Example if your last meal was between 7-8pm the night before. 12 hours would be at 7-8am the next day. If decide to not have breakfast at 7am and instead opp to wait until lunch to have your first meal at 11am or 12pm you’ve hit the 16-17 hour mark.
The first 7-10 days of switching over to a fasting protocol you’ll normally feel sluggish, have an urge to eat and may even experience headaches and that’s because the body has to adjust to breaking down and burning body fat efficiently. Also there will be psychological component which will give the urge to want to eat more because food is a primal need and this why most people have the perception that they’re starving, but as mentioned earlier our body operates through the principle of homeostasis so it will adapt.
Another way to combat this problem is to fast using a wave protocol meaning you’ll fast until dinner later in the evening one day and the next day you’ll have a full day of having all three meals and a snack (if choose to have a snack) following this cycle for 7 days a week. You can follow this protocol regularly or use this for the first 1-2 weeks of starting intermittent fasting.
5 Recommendations For Food Selection
Consume a moderate amount of protein (25-35% of calories consumed). Even though protein produces an insulin response is has the highest satiety effect out of the 3 macronutrient which gives us a longer feeling fullness. You never hear about someone over eating chicken breast or steak.
Increase the consumption of natural fats. Fats have become somewhat of villain in the world. With everything being labeled low fat or no trans fats. But, natural fats are crucial for our cell walls and sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Foods like avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, and fat from animal protein are great ways to get natural fats.
Cut down on foods with added sugars. Most foods that come in a package are highly processed and contain added sugars. Names like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, molasses, hydrolyzed starch, invert sugar, cane sugar, glucose-fructose, brown sugar, corn sweetener, cane, corn, golden, malt, maple, palm, rice syrup and agave nectar should be cut down or eliminated completely.
Cut down on refined grains - white flour stimulates an insulin spike higher than almost any other food. Whole grains and whole wheat are improvement from white flour because of the vitamin and fiber content, but should still be consumed minimally.
Increase the consumption of fermented foods and fiber. Fiber is a protective mechanism slowing down how quickly the fructose and other sugars are processed in the body meaning longer satiety effect as well stopping high insulin spikes. Natural foods like fruits (especially the berry family), vegetables (green leafy veggies), whole grains, flax seeds, chia seeds, beans, popcorn, nuts, steel cut oatmeal and pumpkin seeds are great sources of fiber. Fermented veggies help reduce insulin spikes along with helping improve our gut microbiome which improves our ability to digest foods. Foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, plain unprocessed yogurt are some great choices.
A note on desserts - having desserts on occasion is perfectly fine (this includes alcohol). At a wedding, birthday party, or special event by all means enjoy the food. Food is a form of celebration and in those cases it’s perfectly fine to indulge. However, on a regular basis desserts should be consumed occasionally, it's perfectly okay to not have a treat everyday. We learn the habit of constantly needing a snack or sweets at childhood and we grow into giant kids raiding the cabinets for sweets. I’m included in this as well =).
It’s not about being perfect it's about becoming aware and making the necessary adjustments and progress to becoming a better version of ourselves. If you’re not in good physical shape and or not psychologically happy with how you look and feel it's a great chance you’re not able to be the best version of yourself.
Commit and Take Action Today!
Thank you for reading please leave a comment or contact me if you have any questions.
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