You’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting. It’s been getting more and more popular over the past few years and there’s a pretty good amount of evidence that shows how beneficial it can be to your health: improved insulin resistance, enhanced weight loss, improved cardiac health, slowed progression of neurodegenerative diseases (i.e. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases), reduced risk for several types of cancer.1-7
If you’re someone who is so famished by the time you get to eat that you end up eating constantly during those hours of the day that you would normally eat, then intermittent fasting (IF) is probably not a good idea for you. Or maybe it is. Maybe try it on for a month and see how it feels. It might just be exactly the thing you needed to get you out of a food funk. But if by the third week you’re still eating tons during those “non-fasting” hours then I would suggest sticking to the traditional breakfast-lunch-dinner with a small snack or two.
The first few times I skipped breakfast I found myself “starved” and ate like a crazed lunatic throughout the day. But I think what was happening was that I was so used to having my big bowl of oatmeal in the morning that when I told myself that I couldn’t have it I suddenly felt restricted and my brain panicked. I felt like I was starved when actually, I really wasn’t. After a week into this new pattern I started to realize how good I felt, that I wasn’t starving and that I felt pretty great eliminating that first meal. After all, I do yoga on the mornings that I’ve decided not to eat that heavy breakfast meal and it’s better to do yoga on an empty stomach anyway.
Remember that book that came out about IF? I can’t remember the name of it, but it basically turned IF into a ‘fad diet.’ In the book the author said (and I’m paraphrasing here – full disclosure, I didn’t read the book) that you could only eat for I think it was 8 hours every day and the other 16 hours of the 24-hour period were no drinking (except water), no eating hours. I remember seeing a clip on TV of some chick in a gym talking about how much she loved the diet, that her and her boyfriend just cram as much food down the hatch as they can in those 8 hours and then they are so stuffed that they don’t even want to eat for 16 hours. Does that sound healthy to you? Um, no. Me neither. And I’m not saying that this is what the author of that book intended for people to do either. This is just an example of how something healthy, something with solid scientific evidence proving its health benefits can be taken so far to the extreme and turned into something so radically UN-healthy.
HOW I PRACTICE INTERMITTENT FASTING
I first decided to give IF a try last summer and went a little overboard. That’s when I made the mistake of thinking I needed to fast every day, or almost every day. I wouldn’t eat until around 1pm every day and since I was, or thought I was famished by that time I would eat nonstop until dinner. But then I started a new medication that I had to take with food and first thing in the morning every day. This put an end to my IF.
When I stopped taking that medication I gave it another try. This time though I had a much better plan. I decided that I would fast just a few nights each week. I decided to fast on three of the days that I have early yoga class – I practice at 10am on 5 days of the week and noon on the other two days. I stop eating around 7 or 7:30pm on the nights before my early yoga class and then break the fast at lunch which is around 1pm the next day. This is the perfect time for me to get home, shower and cook and then it just happens to be around 1pm or so when I’m sitting down to eat.
When I first started IFing I was super hungry by the time lunch rolled around, but now I honestly don’t feel any different than I do on days that I don’t fast. In fact, I’m so used to the fasting that sometimes I’m just not hungry for breakfast and prefer to fast an extra day or two. I no longer feel starved or restricted, so I don’t end up overeating during the hours of the day that I eat. I feel less bloated and hey, anything that reduces inflammation and my risk for chronic disease wins my vote!
- Shariatpanahi ZV, Shariatpanahi MV, Shahbazi S, Hossaini A, Abadi A. Effect of Ramadan fasting on some indices of insulin resistance and components of the metabolic syndrome in healthy male adults. Br J Nutr. 2008;100:147–151. doi: 10.1017/S000711450787231X.
- Martinez B, Ortiz RM. Thyroid hormone regulation and insulin resistance: insights from animals naturally adapted to fasting. Physiology (Bethesda). 2017;32(2):141-51. Doi:10.1152/physiol.00018.2016.
- Fann DY, Ng GY, Poh L, Arumugam TV. Positive effects of intermittent fasting in ischemic stroke. Exp Gerontol. 2017;89:93-102. Doi:10.1016/j.exger.2017.01.014. Epub 2017 Jan 20.
- Mattson MP, Longo VD, Harvie M. Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Res Rev. 2016. Pii:S1568-1637(16)30251-3. Doi:10.1016/j.arr.2016.10.005.
- Harvie M, Howell A. Potential benefits and harms of intermittent energy restriction and intermittent fasting amongst obese, overweight and normal weight subjects-A narrative review of human and animal evidence. Behav Sci (Basel). 2017;7(1). Pii:E4. Doi:10.3390/bs7010004.
- Antoni R, Johnston KL, Collins AL, Robertson MD. Effects of intermittent fasting on glucose and lipid metabolism. Proc Nutr Soc. 2017;16:1-8. Doi:10.1017/S0029665116002986.
- Simone BA, Champ CE, Rosenberg AL, et al. Selectively starving cancer cells through dietary manipulation: methods and clinical implications. Future Oncol. 2013;9(7):959-76. Doi:10.2217/fon.13.31.