5 Proven Reasons to Fast Intermittently
When you skip breakfast or limit your intake of food to a specific window of the day, you can expect some pretty remarkable improvements in your body.
Intermittent fasting is good for most of us, basically because that is what the human body genetically is build for. We are not designed to have a stocked fridge. We are rather built to get up when the sun wakes us, and have enough energy to go out and find food on an empty stomach.
Our ancient ancestors grew up in a world of stress and scarcity. Food was often not available and intermittent fasting was common. This form of life left a genetic blueprint with key information pertaining to our health and wellbeing.
Intermittent fasting gives your body more time to effectively digest what you are eating and eliminate waste. Many biological repair processes take place when your body is in the "rest," not the "digest," mode, which is why all-day grazing is a bad for you.
Most people, who have practiced intermittent fasting for a long time, feel that they have gained more energy, are stronger, and look better than before - and there are proper reasons for that, which many scientific studies now support and explain.
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Contents of this blog
A little bit of Meal history
What is INTERMITTENT FASTING?
What happens to the metabolism when you fast?
Five Healthy Reasons to Fast Intermittently
how to do intermittent fasting
Women and Intermittent fasting
Seven Diet and Workout Tips
Me and Fasting
Who Should Avoid Intermittent Fasting
1. A little bit of Meal history
Many people across the world - have been brought up on the idea of three square meals a day as a normal eating pattern, but it wasn't always that way.
We don't know for sure, but suspect our early ancestors had only one main meal a day.
The Ancient Greeks, Persians, Romans and early Jews all ate one big meal per day - usually around noon or in the evening.
The Romans were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time.
The habit of two meals a day was still the norm in the 19th century even among the upper-classes, and only changed recently.
A proverb at the time proclaimed this was the healthy new recipe for long life: 'To rise at six, dine at ten, sup at six and go to bed at ten makes a man live ten times ten."
2. What is INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Intermittent fasting is a scheduled eating plan that restricts your normal daily eating to a specific window of time. It’s based on the concept of feast and famine, the same eating pattern our ancestors followed.
3. What happens to the metabolism?
When you eat the body spends a few hours processing food, burning what it can from what you just consumed.
The natural sugars in any meal that aren’t immediately needed for energy are stored in the liver as glycogen. When maximum glycogen storage has been achieved, the body then stores this energy as fat. Glycogen stores are the first fuel source the body will turn to for energy. When glycogen is depleted the body will then turn to the energy stored in fat cells.
When you are in a fasting state your body doesn’t have a recently consumed meal that it can burn as energy. Instead it uses your stored fat as its primary energy source.
In general it takes between 6 to 8 hours for the body to burn through its glycogen supply.
4. Five Healthy Reasons to Fast Intermittently
Besides being easier to stick to than the classic calorie reduced diets, intermittent fasting also triggers a cascade of health benefits such as boosting metabolism increasing insulin-sensitivity, lowering blood sugar and reducing belly fat. For more about how to balance your hormones.
1. Firing up the fat burning furnace
As mentioned before the body starts to burn fat when the glycogen supply is depleted after about six to eight hours, but on top of that, intermittent fasting will also help spice up the metabolism.
Restricting the time period, during which you eat, makes your body burn more calories throughout the day. Because the longer you feed, the lazier your metabolism becomes. But fit your food intake into an 8-hour window and your body steps up to the plate, burning more calories day and night.
Leptin, the hormone that regulates fat storage as well as hunger signals, and ghrelin, another hormone that tells your brain the body is hungry, are also normalized by routine fasting.
Leptin is produced by fat cells and works by telling the brain to turn off hunger signals when body fat levels are sufficient for survival and reproduction. (Since fat is necessary for survival, leptin is part of the reason low-fat diets never work and usually only result in the dieter being hungry all the time.)
2. Help Balance Blood Sugar
During times of food scarcity our cell membranes become more sensitive to insulin. This is especially important when food is scarce because it ensures that every bit of food being efficiently used or stored.
During times of food abundance the body desensitizes the cells to insulin in an effort to avoid the stress of a heavy calorie intake. This results in elevated insulin levels, increased fat storage and increased oxidative stress and inflammatory conditions in the body. Insulin also enhances cellular division, which is a risk factor for cancer formation.
A review of studies that compared alternate day fast with calorie restricted diets found that in overweight people, insulin sensitivity improved between 20 to 31 percent, with small reductions in fasting glucose. LDL cholesterol (- the not so good one) and triglyceride levels also tend to decrease by as much as 30 percent after alternate day fasting (1).
3. Better Cleaning and Detoxification
When the body has finished digesting food, it has more energy to take care of other important processes such as cleaning and detoxification. Cleaning and detoxifying is something your body does all the time, and it is happening 24/7, but this process can be made more cumbersome and less effective when the body has to digest food concurrently.
Fasting gives the body the space to better perform a process in the body's cells called autophagy - which means " self-eating".
Autophagy refers to the processes by which your body cleans out various debris, including toxins, and recycles damaged cell components.
This adaptation appears to allow certain cells to have a longer lifespan during times of famine. It is energetically less expensive to repair a cell than it is to divide and create new cells. This has a positive effect at shutting down cancer cell formation and proliferation.
And it makes you younger (sort of)… Because there is a direct connection between improvements in the body's detoxifying abilities during fasting and a slowing down on the aging process.
4. You become Prettier, Slimmer and Stronger
The effects of fasting on hormones are multi-faceted. Fasting has a dramatic impact on human growth hormone levels (GH). Increased GH results in greater endurance with faster muscle repair and growth as well as a slowing of the aging process. One study showed that interval training while fasting increased GH by 1300% in women and 2000% in men.
GH is known to create physiological changes in metabolism to favour fat burning and protein sparing. The proteins and amino acids are utilized to repair tissue collagen, which improves the functionality and strength of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. GH also improves skin function, reduces wrinkles & heals cuts and burns faster
5. help You Get Rid of Sugar Cravings
Interestingly, it’s been shown that overweight people have very high levels of leptin, yet few who struggle with weight will tell you they rarely feel hungry. The body is yelling at the brain to stop eating, but the brain has become deaf to the signals. This happens by the same mechanism that leads to insulin resistance: consistent overexposure to high levels of the hormone.
Fasting, and in particular when combined with decreased sugar consumption, allows the brain to clean out its ears and properly hear leptin calling.
In short, when the blood sugar and insulin release are in balance, you are less likely to crave food and sweets.
Moreover, you are more likely to prefer proper food instead of junk, when you have limited your intake of food to a specific time frame.
5. how to do intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is best approached as a shift in lifestyle and eating patterns, not a diet. It is an easy lifestyle that is relatively quick to get used to. There’s no need to count calories or measure grams.
Simply focus on the healthy foods you already eat with a particular emphasis on healthy fats and proteins.
Most of us are fasting every day anyway, because we rarely eat from the evening to the morning.
Start by establishing a healthy eating pattern with frequent meals eaten at the same time each day. This should allow you to avoid hunger and cravings and get your cortisol in check prior to starting a fasting protocol.
Once that happens, you can start restricting your daily eating to a 10-hour window and 14 hours of fasting and build it up from there. The 14/10 method will still provide all the benefits of fasting and is suitable for many women and beginners.
For many, a good way to get started with fasting is to eat later and later in the mornings until you are skipping breakfast all together, and lunch becomes the first meal.
Stop eating 3 hours before sleep time.
This will limit your feeding time for 6-10 hours a day and provides a fasting period of 14-18 hours.
If you struggle without breakfast, you can instead stop eating you last meal earlier. Play around with it and find out what works best for you.
The 16/8 Method is the most popular fasting method.
This is where you fast for 16 hours of the day and only eat during the other 8 hours. This is the method I use. The first meal of the day happens around noon, and the last meal is at 8:00pm.
The 24 Hour Method is the second most popular method. In this method, you do one or two 24-hour fasts during your week.
This usually happens from 5pm in the evening to 5pm the next day and is followed up with a big, healthy meal.
We are all different, so find the routine that fits your temper, health and situation.
Be aware that it may take a few weeks to a few months for your body to get the message that you’re serious about making it burn fat. Once it clearly gets the idea it will begin increasing its production of fat burning enzymes and turn into a fat burning furnace.
6. women and intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting can cause hormonal imbalance in women if it’s not done correctly (source). Women are extremely sensitive to signals of starvation, and if the body senses that it is being starved, it will ramp up production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin.
So when women experience insatiable hunger after under-eating, they are actually experiencing the increased production of these hormones. It’s the female body’s way of protecting a potential fetus — even when a woman is not pregnant.
So women have to set cunningly about it. And if you do so, you can get all the benefits of fasting.
One study of healthy young women found that a 10-hour eating window (with a 14 hour overnight fast) had an “anti-stress” effect, lowering cortisol and increasing parasympathetic* activity (2).
*) The parasympathetic nervous system is the "brake" that causes the body to calm down, and which is active when we relax, sleep, eat and meditate.
So if you are a woman or trying fasting for the first time, you might benefit from modified — or crescendo — intermittent fasting.
This is a more gentle approach that helps the body more easily adapt to fasting. Not all women need crescendo fasting, but it will ensure success in most.
- Fast on 2–3 non-consecutive days per week (e.g. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday)
- On fasting days, do yoga or light cardio.
- Ideally, fast for 12–16 hours.
- Eat normally on your strength training/HIIT workouts intense exercise days.
- Drink plenty of water. (Tea and coffee are okay, too, as long as there is no added milk or sweetener)
- After two weeks, feel free to add one more day of fasting.
7. Seven Diet and Workout Tips
New research shows that intermittent fasting may be a viable option for the less active, the very active individuals and some athletes during lower volume training.
For example, a study from Italy found that experienced bodybuilders were able to reduce body fat by 16.4 percent, losing 1.6 kg of fat, while improving strength and physical performance after 8 weeks of what is known as an 8:16 fasting protocol (they ate all their calories in an 8-hour window each day and fasted for the remaining 16 hours).
There are lots of examples of professional athletes who fast regularly.
Whether you are the one or the other, based on current research, here are seven tips for success with intermittent fasting.
- Don’t Slash Calories. Intermittent fasting is not about getting less food, but about limiting the time of the day where you eat food.
- Stick With A Consistent Eating Schedule. Some people like intermittent fasting because it allows them to eat only when convenient. This is not an ideal approach for athletes who need to optimize their circadian rhythms if they want to reach their potential. Another benefit of a steady eating schedule is balanced cortisol levels, which is essential for long-term success with fasting.
- Protein is a Godsend for helping you manage hunger pangs as you transition to longer periods of fasting because it increases gut hormones that keep you satiated. Additionally, the amino acids in protein can improve focus and motivation so that you stay on point with your feeding / fasting schedule.
- Coffee or Green Tea can be useful to start your day when delaying your first meal until the afternoon. However, drinking huge volumes of caffeinated beverages throughout the day is bad news for the adrenals, and may lead to excessive cortisol release.
- Amino Acid Supplements. Some athletes take a supplement of BCAA amino acids (branched-chain amino acid) during their fasting periods to strengthen the muscles - I have not been able to find a BCAA supplement without artificial sweeteners and other additives, so I cannot recommend any. But clean marine collagen also contains these amino acids and if dissolved in water it might be a good alternative - with no carbohydrates.
- Eat Healthy. Fasting and junk food really don’t go together all that well. Especially if you workout on a regular basis, you want to get all the high-quality nutrition you can out of the limited time eat. Proteins (amino acids), vitamin C, zinc, B vitamins, magnesium, antioxidants, co-factors for enzymes, and cholesterol are just a few of the key players in enabling optimal athleticism.
- Strength Train. Strength training makes everything better, helping you to enhance body composition adaptations by triggering protein synthesis for improved lean mass. It also helps you make the transition to being able to burn fat for energy by improving levels of fat burning enzymes so that as blood sugar drops during your fasting periods, you maintain energy and mood.
Read here for more tips on how to naturally train off body fat.
8. Me and Fasting
I have never really had any appetite in the mornings, so I have more or less always lived up to the principles without knowing it. I follow roughly the 16/8 routine.
Where the fasting can go awry for me is when I haven’t eaten enough food within my feeding time. Then my stress hormones start playing up. Therefore, I cannot emphasise enough that intermittent fasting is not about eating less, but just about eating healthier and within a limiting time period.
Depending on my activities, my day looks pretty much like this - eating vice:
- I wake up at about. 6:30.
- I drink 1 litre of water and tea up until lunch. Sometimes I add a little twist of lemon to my water or olive or coconut oil to my tea to feel satiated.
- I usually eat my first meal around 11am or 12pm - It's about at this point that hunger really hits. My lunch often consists of protein (meat, eggs, fish) and vegetables, along with a small cup of green tea or a glass of water with fresh lemon juice. With my first meal, I also take my first dietary supplements.
- Early afternoon, I eat a big smoothie consisting of frozen organic berries, a bit of frozen organic kale or spinach, 1 avocado or ½ mango, ½ lemon juice, ½-1 package of tofu, 1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp. cod liver oil, 1-2 tbsp. soaked nuts and chia seeds, 1-2 tbsp. collagen powder, 1 capsule magnesium, 1 capsule probiotics, 1 tsp. match- tea powder, bit of coconut chips (provides a looooovely taste). High speed blender.
- I usually workout between 5pm and 7pm for an hour. During and after exercise I drink about 1 liter of water.
- 3-4 times a week I make a fresh vegetable juice that I drink before dinner. The vegetable juice can consist of 4 carrots, ½ cucumber, 2 beetroot, ¼ broccoli, 1 apple, and 1 lemon. When the juice is pressed I add 1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp. turmeric and a little pepper. (I use a heavy duty powerful stainless steel juicer that juice large fruits and vegetables with little to no cutting or preparation).
- I eat my dinner between 7pm-8pm that most often consists of protein and vegetables.
- Last intake I have is around 8pm when I drink a shake of 1-2 dl water or unsweetened almond milk with 1 tbsp. collagen powder and 2 magnesium capsules to help me sleep well.
- I leave nuts and seeds to soak in bit of bpa free coconut milk in the fridge for the next day's smoothie.
- I go to sleep around 11pm
9. Who Should Avoid Intermittent Fasting
If you want to do intermittent fasting it requires that you pay attention to your body and make careful evaluation of your own situation and needs, and find the rhythm that suits you and fits into your training patterns.
Fasting is not for the stressed, sick, pregnant and breastfeeding. Nor is fasting for those who take blood sugar lowering medication or suffer from low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), and I also advise against fasting if you have a history of eating disorders.
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All information in this blog is strictly for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. The statements made in this blog have not been evaluated by The Danish Health Authority. The products linked to in this blog and any information published in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided by this blog is not a substitute for a face to-face consultation with your physician, and should not be construed as medical advice. The entire contents of this blog are based upon the opinions of Hanne Robinson. By reading and using this blog, you agree to only use this publication for personal informational use and not as a substitute for medical or other professional advice.
Sources and literature
- (1) Barnosky, A., et al. Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research. 2014. 164(4), 302-311.
- (2) Ohara, K., et al. Cardiovascular response to short-term fasting in menstrual phases in young women: an observational study. BMC Women’s Health. 2015. 15:67.