Fasting for Health
Fasting is an ancient practice that involves going for periods of time without food. People throughout all ages and cultures have used fasting for a variety of benefits - both spiritual and physical health.
In our culture, we are bombarded with information telling us to “add this or add that”
into our diets to experience better health. However, sometimes the answer lies in taking a break from food.
What is the best approach to fasting?
There are several different ways that we can incorporate fasting into our lives. Some
methods work better than others. Many people enjoy shorter fasts because they are less
stressful and carry less health risks. On the other hand, prolonged fasts are more stressful on the body and carry more health risks. With the right approach, fasting can work extremely well. More and more people today are discovering how fasting improves their overall health and well-being.
One of the best ways for us to start experiencing the positive health benefits of fasting is through Intermittent Fasting (IF). Intermittent fasting is a special form of fasting that breaks your day down into a period of no food and a window of time for eating. A popular ratio that many people use is the 16 hours of no food with an 8 hour eating window.
Others opt to go 18/6 or even a full 24 hours.
An example of applying IF to your day would be waking up in the morning and skipping
breakfast, making your first healthy meal at lunchtime. This would be followed, perhaps, by a light snack around 2-3pm and then dinner at 6pm. After that, you would be done eating for the day.
Intermittent fasting gives us a whole multitude of health benefits without the health
risks that are associated with longer fasts. This is especially true when it comes to weight loss, detoxification and digestive health. IF helps to control cravings, normalize hormones, decrease inflammation and prevent disease in several ways:
1.) Intermittent fasting is critical for healing the gut. When we fast for 16-18 hours out of the day, we give our gut and digestive system a much needed break for repairs and detoxification. The second major health benefit is weight loss. When you fast for most of the day, this allows your body to actually tap into your fat stores and start melting off that fat!
2.) Intermittent fasting normalizes the hormones in your body that are vital for weight loss, such as insulin, leptin, and cortisol. It also drastically reduces the overall inflammation in the body, which lowers the risk for disease.
3.) Finally, IF helps us psychologically. Snacking, cravings, and temptations are much less
of an issue when we know that we have a window of time to eat our meals and the rest
of the time we simply don’t eat. Not to mention, it's convenient and time-efficient to skip breakfast and get started with your day right away.
Isn’t breakfast the most important meal of the day?
The popular stance of mainstream nutrition experts is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it provides you with enough energy for the
morning. People who eat breakfast consistently are less prone to have dysregulated
eating patterns and are typically more involved in living a healthy life.
However, the latest research debunks this popular myth. It turns out that not
eating breakfast is healthy. Skipping breakfast through the Intermittent Fasting
model is one of the best things that you can do for burning fat, building muscles
and longevity. The primary reason for this is hormones.
How does IF affect your hormones for weight loss?
Our body works via cycles. For example, there are circadian rhythms - our body
becomes accustomed to certain hours of the day being awake and going to sleep
during a certain time. Our hormones function the same way - they have cycles and
rhythms.. When a person skips breakfast, beautiful things happen to their hormones.
The three key hormones that are primarily affected are cortisol, insulin, and growth
Cortisol is the “stress response hormone” that is responsible for several key functions in the body. One of the important roles of cortisol is to help burn fat and raise our energy levels. Cortisol follows a “diurnal rhythm”, which means that its levels are naturally highest in the morning. Cortisol levels gradually fall throughout the day, dropping to their lowest point near midnight. With the IF model, a person will typically fast for a short period of time - between 16 24 hours. This means that they had their last meal ideally around 6-7PM. By the time breakfast time comes, most people have been fasting for around 12 hours. At this point, our short term energy stores, aka glycogen, that are found in our liver and muscles, have been modestly depleted. Simultaneously, cortisol levels are at their highest. Our bodies are in the “sweet zone” to burn fat and build muscle.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have insulin. Insulin has a see-saw effect on HGH and Cortisol. Eating carbohydrates in the morning (things such as oatmeal or a banana) will raise insulin levels, which, in turn, will lower cortisol and HGH. This will effectively and swiftly take you out of the “sweet zone” for weight loss and muscle growth. When we wake up in the morning, our hormones are primed for burning fat and building muscle. Skipping breakfast allows us to maintain this fat burning mode for an extended period of time. The longer our body is in a fat-burning mode, the faster weight loss results will come.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is one of the most powerful hormones in the body that is responsible for building muscle, burning fat, and reducing the aging process. HGH is so potent for building muscle and burning fat, that artificial HGH is occasionally (and illegally) used by high-level athletes to boost their performance. Other benefits of HGH include expanding exercise capacity, strengthening bone mass, enhancing the immune system, as well as positively affecting our mood. One of the best way to raise natural HGH levels is through fasting. A recent study found that fasting raised HGH by 2,000% in men and 1,300% in women.
Fats for Breakfast
Some people wonder if simply avoiding carbs in the morning and instead eating protein or fat will have the same effect? This is a better option; however, when your body breaks down proteins, insulin is still released. If you must eat in the morning, eat fats. A simple and convenient breakfast would be a beverage called Bulletproof coffee (check out my blog to read more about Bulletproof coffee). Not only is it rich, creamy and frothy, it also enhances the prime fat-burning state of our hormones that we experience in the morning.
Intermittent Fasting + Neurology
Many people notice that when they skip breakfast in the morning, they experience more energy, more productivity, and better focus. It all comes down to the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). There are two aspects to the ANS - the sympathetic mode and the parasympathetic mode. The sympathetic mode is the fight/flight mode - which allows you to be alert, have energy, and handle stress. The parasympathetic mode is the rest/digest mode - which relaxes you. Upon waking up, your body is in full sympathetic dominant mode. Skipping breakfast prolongs the sympathetic mode, which helps you feel energized and focused. When you eat breakfast, your body switches over to the rest/digest mode - the parasympathetic mode. Now you are too relaxed and even too groggy to do the things that you need to do in the morning. This is why it takes so many people hours and multiple cups of coffee to fully wake up.
So, if you want extra hours of enhanced fat burning each day, along with far more energy and mental focus in general, IF may be for you. Keep in mind that every person is different. There are certain situations in which IF may not be a good fit for you. Dr. Mercola goes on to say that, “It’s important to remember that when you’re fasting, proper nutrition becomes even MORE important, so if you’re currently on a processed food diet, you may be better off addressing the foods you eat FIRST. Your focus should be on eating REAL FOOD.” Intermittent Fasting is a great way to take your health to the next level. If you would like to give IF a try, I would encourage you to start gently
As author Mark Sisson puts it: “Bottom line, there is no concrete, objective law regarding the suitability of intermittent fasting for a particular person. If you’re truly hungry, eat. Failing to do so will add stress. If you’re stressed, don’t IF. You don’t need another stressor. If you’re training six days a week, don’t IF. Unless you’re genetically blessed, you’ll need lots of fuel to prevent overtraining. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If coffee’s enough, skip breakfast. If life is good, try fasting.”