Before I talk about the incredible health benefits of fasting, let me be clear. I’m not talking about starvation. I’m not talking about some sort of eating fad.
This is not a “lose weight quick” strategy! Yes, you’ll likely drop a few pounds if you fast but that shouldn’t be the primary goal.
You already fast a little bit every day. Your body isn’t consuming food during an average 6-8 hours of sleep per night but all the systems inside you have to keep going.
Your Body Works Hard…Around the Clock
Food eaten throughout the day is immediately converted to fuel and used to power all the functions inside you. Whatever isn’t used is converted to a compound called glycogen [a form of glucose that can be accessed quickly for energy] and tucked away in your liver.
Your body is working hard while you’re asleep.
Your neurological system is storing memories from the day (and maybe producing dreams), your cardiovascular system is still pumping blood, your respiratory system is still providing you the oxygen you need, and your lymphatic and digestive systems are working to remove toxins.
Once your body uses all the stored glycogen, it transfers over to burning stored adipocyte (fat) cells. That’s why nutritionists have suggested for years that people stop eating 2-3 hours before bed to keep your body from storing too much glycogen.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits for Health
The Regulatory Biology Laboratory determined that keeping your consumption of food within set hours each day helps burn more fat. In their mice studies, one group was able to eat a specific number of high-fat calories at any time and the other was given the exact same calories within a set schedule of eight hours each day.
This is known as intermittent fasting (IF). The mice in the scheduled eating group didn’t gain weight and their overall health was better. The mice in the free-for-all eating group gained weight and developed diabetes!
The theory of intermittent fasting isn’t defined by calorie load or nutritional content. It isn’t what you eat so much as when you eat. It’s a framework of food intake – not a diet. However, I’ll insert that if what you eat is also chosen carefully, you’ll see even better results. Of that, I’m certain.
Humans are designed for this cycle of fasting. All signs point to ancient ancestors who dealt with periods of famine or low availability of food. Burning fat cells is your body’s way of maintaining system function without getting big doses of “new” fuel.
It feels more natural to eat once or twice a day than the “7 small meals” myth pushed by the fitness industry. There is no scientific evidence to prove eating smaller amounts of food many times throughout the day is effective in weight loss.
I wouldn’t have time to make (or plan ahead for) that many meals/snacks. I’ve been doing intermittent fasting unintentionally for a long time. I typically eat my total calories within the same 8-10 hours every day. Going forward, I’ll be more cognizant of it.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
The eating window is critical to establish. Let’s use 12 hours daily as a simple guide (this is the max time suggested for intermittent fasting). That would mean you wouldn’t drink or eat anything that must be digested outside those 12 hours. That is basically water (infused with fruit has negligible calories).
Don’t think too hard about what you’re “going to do” outside your eating window. The key is figuring out the best window for you.
You wake up, have some water if you like, and consume your first calories around 8am. Throughout the day, you eat whatever you choose but you cannot eat or drink anything after 8pm. If you aren’t a breakfast eater (that it’s the most important meal is another myth), you can narrow this window considerably.
- Most people who follow IF confine their eating within 8 hours (this results in 16 hours daily of fasting). This is referred to as the 16:8 Method.
- Other people pick two days each week (not in a row) to fast from dinner one day to dinner the following day. That is the Eat-Stop-Eat Method.
- Another popular option is to cut calories on two days per week (again, not in a row) to less than 600 per day. This is the 5:2 Method.
Play with it a bit but once you establish the eating times you like, stick to it. If noon to 7pm is best for you, maintain it.
As your body adjusts, you’re going to have a lot more energy. The systems inside you will run far more efficiently and it’s an excellent (fairly simple) lifestyle change you can make that will likely inspire other positive health changes.
No matter what you eat, how often you eat, or when you eat, your body is getting the same number of calories. With intermittent fasting, you’re improving the processing of those calories.
Is Less Exercise a Hidden Benefit of Fasting?
Not exactly. Fasting pushes your body into a period of efficiency that many people have called “starvation mode” for decades.
You aren’t starving by confining eating to specific times. You’re still getting the food (hopefully in the form of good nutrition) you need…just burning it differently.
Intermittent fasting benefits your health by decreasing free-radical damage while ramping up the processes critical to your well-being. It has the ability to level blood sugar, improve metabolism, stimulate hormone production, speed up repair or replacement of damaged cells/tissue, boost your immunity, and may ultimately lead to weight loss.
Burning fat is good for your entire body and your long-range health. Letting your body use it for fuel is just smart! Less fat means less inflammation and you know how insistent I am about lowering this root cause to most disease!
A Word of Caution
For those of you who might have a history of eating disorders, are pregnant, or suffer from diseases or conditions that require food at specific times – intermittent fasting is probably not right for you. Always talk to your doctor before making a radical lifestyle change if you have pre-existing conditions that could be impacted.
Other than that, intermittent fasting may make you hungrier at first if you’ve been eating at various times throughout the day. This can lead to mood swings or general irritability.
I suggest starting with a 12-hour eating window for two weeks, then gradually lowering it by an hour each week thereafter until you drop to the most popular 8-hour eating window. The important thing is creating a plan that truly fits into your life (and hunger patterns).
Let me know below if you’ve tried the health benefits of fasting and how it worked for you.