Intermittent Fasting. Have you heard of it? It’s a total buzz word in weight loss circles. Some people swear it to be an effective weight loss tool. Other people view the breaks in food consumption as totally unnecessary, and possibly even torture. Some people fast as a regular part of their religious practice (my hand is raised on this one). And some might read this and ask, “What the heck are you talking about?”.
As a nutritionist, it is out of my scope of practice to prescribe an intermittent fast. But I am allowed to teach you what intermittent fasting is and why it may be a beneficial approach for you. It is, then, up to you to decide if it is worth incorporating fasting into your lifestyle (or not). I’m going to do this in a small handful of installments, since there are various key points to discuss around intermittent fasting. Before I chat with you about the “how to” and “why or why not”, let’s talk about what it is.
What is Intermittent Fasting, Anyway?
Intermittent fasting is a nutritional approach which has you alternating between periods of eating and periods of not eating (fasting). When you are in an “eating window”, and shortly thereafter, you are in a fed state. The fasting state begins to occur several hours after your last food intake when nutrients are less available and your body must conserve energy and resources. Once you are in a fasted state, your cellular metabolism completely changes from when you were in a fed state. Your metabolism transitions from a carbohydrate burning state to a fat burning state.
In a fed state, your body extracts the nutrients it needs for immediate energy and function. Anything leftover is either stored as fat or turns to waste. In a fasted state, carbohydrates from previous meals are utilized for energy first. After that, fat and other energy-storage compounds are broken down. The liver converts some of these fats into ketones, which are another fuel source for the brain and other tissues in the body. After enough time (well beyond twelve hours without food), the ketone levels rise and the body transitions into utilizing fat as it’s main energy source instead of carbs. Ever heard of ketosis? Well that is what this process leads to (but fasting isn’t the only way into ketosis). That’s a topic for another day.
There are no hard and fast rules about which foods you should eat during your feeding time period. But it’s always in your best interest to consume foods from whole food sources, first. (Foods containing minimal ingredients on its nutrition label, or more likely than not has no label at all. Think meats, fruits, veggies, dairy, whole grains, etc.). During a fast, you are restricting calories, so some people appreciate that they can consume a bit more (but not excessively more) in their feeding windows.
My Experience with Fasting
As I eluded to, above, fasting is included as part of my religious practices. I have practiced fasting since I was eight years old. The first Sunday of every month is referred to as “Fast Sunday” in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Our purpose for fasting includes both the not eating aspect, as well as spending the day praying in gratitude of His blessings, or praying for our own specific needs or the needs of others. We go without food and drink (even water) for a whole 24 hour window. We then donate the money we would have spent on food to bless the lives of those in need (this is known as a fast offering). This blog post teaches a little bit more about the religious aspect of fasting.
Beyond fasting for religious reasons, I find myself intermittent fasting an additional three to six times a month. I do it because it just makes me feel better. Plus, it brings me peace of mind knowing of the health benefits that come with intermittent fasting. In installment two of this intermittent fasting series, we’ll talk about the benefits of intermittent fasting. We’ll also talk about why it may not be for you.
Besides Fast Sunday, I don’t have a set approach that I take on fasting. There are varying timing approaches that can be taken to intermittent fasting. We’ll talk more about that in installment three of this intermittent fasting series.
Talk to you soon!