Intermittent Fasting - Health Benefits and How To's
For thousands of years, many brilliant cultures have known that fasting and even periods of whole food dieting, not only heal, but also restore all kinds of disturbances in the body and mind.
By embracing periods of 'rest' (abstaining from food), you give your 'house' (abode/body) a chance to re-set, allowing your metabolism, digestive system, immune and respiratory function and mental performance to optimise.
In recent times, ‘Intermittent Fasting’ has become a major trend and buzzword as people around the world have woken up to the benefits of extending the number of hours in a day or week without food and adopting a more 'compressed' feeding window.
Unlike extended fasting, intermittent fasting can more easily become part of your regular lifestyle because you still eat within a 24 hour period, it's more a question of what you eat and when.
Intermittent Fasting is effective because it really does allow your digestive system to get a decent break within each 24-hour time slot, which in turn gives your body a chance to do its "living temple work" (the ancient term that was used for body restoration and healing).
It's important to remember that the English word “breakfast” is in reference to the meal that breaks your fast after a prolonged period of abstaining from food that naturally takes place while you sleep.
The etymology of this word, breakfast, actually acknowledges that fasting is something we should all be doing on a regular basis, even if it is only for a certain set amount of time daily.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting is actually an ‘all-encompassing’ term for several types of eating patterns and is currently one of the world's most popular health and fitness trends. It’s caught on as a way to not only lose weight but also improve health and simplify one’s lifestyle.
What each of these different eating patterns has in common is periods of fasting that are longer than 'the standard' overnight fast of 8–12 hours per night, that we all tend to have when sleeping.
Intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that nightly fast for a bit longer.
This style of fasting is sometimes referred to as "Time-Restricted Eating", “Time-Restricted Feeding” or “Cyclic Fasting”, as the eating window is limited to a certain number of hours or to set times each day.
For example, you could choose to eat all your daily food in an 8-hour period, such as from 10am to 6pm or 12pm to 8pm, in other words, allowing your body to go for 16 hours without food within each 24 hour period.
This 16-hour block would be considered the ‘fasting period’ when no solid food and only water is consumed. Once you have the hang of this, you could actually repeat this same cycle every single day and the long-term health benefits would be incredible!
Most commonly, intermittent fasting periods range from 14 to 18 hours, however, some people experiment with longer periods which you can also do.
From Ancient Practice to Modern Trend
Intermittent Fasting is nothing new.
In fact, different civilisations as diverse as India, Greece and Egypt have practised it - not just for religious reasons or as a way to conserve food seasonally in times of scarcity - but also to prevent and treat many dis-eases.
They were well aware of its health-promoting benefits and also used it to strengthen the body, feel more energised, alert and focused.
During a break from eating certain things happen in your body. Your digestive system gets a rest so your body initiates not only important detoxification and healing processes but also changes to hormone levels so that stored body fat becomes more accessible for use as fuel.
Unlike extended fasting which often takes a willingness to go right out to the breaking point mentally and emotionally, intermittent fasting is a form of this ancient practice that can quite easily be integrated into most people’s busy lifestyles.
As an added benefit recent studies are proving what ancient cultures have known for millennia that regular fasting, even if it is only for relatively ‘short’ periods of time can have far-ranging effects on the body and brain, and even promote longevity.
As a result, many people are now experimenting with different forms and periods of fasting and making them a regular part of their scheduled routines.
What are the Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Benefits commonly reported by intermittent fasters are that it’s actually quite easy to do and many people swear that in addition to the health benefits, they also feel better and have more energy from the practice.
Intermittent fasting kicks off a set of processes in the body, as the release of more Norepinephrine, an organic chemical in the catecholamine family that functions in the brain and body as a hormone and neurotransmitter. It also promotes autophagy, or “self-eating,” which is a natural bodily process of healing and cellular renewal.
Once used to only eating during certain ‘windows’ of time, hunger is not normally an issue for most people, however, it can be at first, while the body adjusts to going without food for longer periods of time than it’s used to.
Here are the top reported benefits:
Intermittent fasting promotes bodily functions that facilitate both weight and fat loss.
When your body is digesting and absorbing food, this is commonly referred to as the “fed state”. This state begins when you first start eating and can last up to five hours while the body is digesting and absorbing the nutrients from the food. While in this process, it's difficult for your body to burn fat due to insulin levels being too high.
The next phase is when your body goes into the “postabsorptive state” when it’s not in the process of digesting. This state can last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours after the last meal, as a result of entering the “fasted state”. Your body can much more easily burn up fat while in the fasted state because insulin levels are lower.
When your body doesn’t have a constant supply of glucose, it starts to break down glycogen to use as fuel. Once that has all been used up, it will then seek out other sources of energy, such as fat cells to use for energy. Thus, fat that was not accessible in the fed state then becomes available for your body to use as fuel once it's in a fasted state.
As a result of this forced use of fat stores, many people who start to fast intermittently will lose weight without even changing what they eat, the quantity they eat, or the amount they exercise. Additionally, studies have shown that lean tissue such as muscle, organ or bone tissue is not significantly affected which is important in terms of the continued healthy functioning of our bodies.
Additionally, many find that when they restrict their eating time they also eat less overall than they would following a typical 3 square meals a day routine, which also contributes to weight loss benefits from this form of fasting.
Blood Sugar Levels
Intermittent fasting helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent peaks and troughs which many people experience as “crashing”. This leaves people craving sugar or caffeine “fixes” which although give a quick short sharp burst of energy initially will then cause an even bigger crash exacerbating the problem.
Recent studies have demonstrated that it can also significantly decrease blood sugars in addition to lowering insulin from being in a fasted state. This is especially beneficial to those suffering from diabetes.
First and foremost in terms of benefitting your gut, fasting gives your overworked digestive system a more extended rest from the energy-intensive tasks of breaking down, digesting and absorbing solid food matter. This in a way is like hitting the “reset” button even if it is only for a few extra hours each day.
By doing this, your body can then devote more energy and resources towards cleansing, detoxifying and healing that would otherwise go to digestion processes.
It can also promote beneficial gut flora that protects against issues ranging from high blood sugar to mid-rift belly fat. Additionally, the benefit of losing weight also reduces inflammation and can additionally improve the ecology of your gut thanks to the positive changes it promotes in the composition of microbiota (good bacteria).
If you suffer from any type of gut health or digestive problems, you can't help but benefit substantially from embracing some form of Intermittent Fasting into your Self Care routine.
Inflammation is a natural response to ‘chaos’ in the body attributable to injury, toxicity and dis-ease. Chronic inflammation, more often than not leads to chronic dis-ease such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Intermittent Fasting will usually enhance the body's natural resistance to oxidative stress which in turn can reduce inflammation in the body.
Intermittent fasting can improve your heart health by helping to lower the following common risk factors that contribute to heart dis-ease:
- Blood sugar levels
- High blood pressure
There are indications that in addition to general health and wellness benefits intermittent fasting can also help to enhance cognitive function and protect against declines in memory and learning functions as people age.
What’s more, its anti-inflammatory effects may also help slow the progression of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
There was an ancient wisdom that I believe 100% to be true, which was: "The less you eat, the longer you'll live".
One of the most stressful functions your body performs over your lifetime is the constant processing of food. It is the root cause of just about every discomfort, ailment and dis-ease known to man!
That's why, it's important to embrace either periodic extended fasting and/or intermittent fasting throughout your life if you want to remain healthy, energetic and disease-free.
When in the fasting state, your body naturally finds ways to extend your life. It's kind of like a survival mechanism, where when faced with the possibility of starvation, your body will do everything in its power to heal and keep you alive.
Intermittent Fasting can also delay or even reverse age-related afflictions like wrinkles, hair loss and atrophying muscles and joints.
All of these results become even more pronounced, particularly when you also embrace a clean, heavily plant-based diet of whole foods and follow other healthy lifestyle practices such as the 7 Principles of Health. Learn more in my blog: Longevity Secrets: Staying Forever Young with Nature’s Gifts
How to do Intermittent Fasting
These are the three main ways to fast intermittently:
This being the most well-known and popular method involves fasting for 16 hours each day and eating only during a compressed 8-hour eating window.
Most people prefer to do this by skipping breakfast and eating their first meal at either 10am or noon and the last meal by 6pm or 8pm that same day. This is a method that most folks can easily fit into their lifestyle and schedule too. To break your fast, it's always best to start with liquids e.g. a juice or smoothie before working your way into solid foods throughout your feeding window. You can drink as much water as you feel comfortable with during the 16 hour fasting period - add a little sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice if you wish, particularly when you rise.
This method involves fasting for an entire 24 hour period once or twice a week.
It’s most often done by not eating anything from dinner one day, until dinner the following day.
Unlike the other 2 methods above this 5:2 ratio involves restricting eating a maximum of 600 calories a day, twice per week. So in effect, you could consider it like intermittent 'whole food fasting' e.g. fresh fruits, salads and nuts.
You’d really want to pack as much nutrition and goodness as possible into the 2 fasting days to gain the maximum detoxification, cleansing, mental clarity and healing benefits, so best to only eat fruit and veggies and or snack on my Pulse Sacred Meal
Learn more about this in my blog: Ancient Secrets: What Daniel & Pythagoras Knew About Whole Food Fasting