Intermittent Fasting, by Matthew Romans
Posted November 27, 2019 by Matthew Romans
Much recent attention has been given to the concept of intermittent fasting, even by the traditional media. Jillian Michaels, the fitness personality and former host of The Biggest Loser, recently discussed intermittent fasting in a video post. While some of her points were inaccurate, her overall favorable opinions about it were correct. Fasting may sound radical compared to conventional nutritional advice, but it is not a new idea. Fasting has been a part of many civilizations and religions (to one degree or another) for thousands of years. Intermittent fasting has likely become popular because people are finally more aware of the flaws of the USDA food pyramid and the traditional Western diet. Let's take a closer look.
The current era of food abundance is a relatively recent phenomenon in the overall history of human civilization. The rise of the big food companies and the corresponding change in nutritional content didn't come about until the 1960s. As recently as World War II, starvation was still a very real possibility in many parts of the world, particularly due to war rationing. Food scarcity has been a reality throughout history and we have evolved to adapt to and thrive on that scarcity. Evidence shows that our paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors were not as consistently active as we once thought, and they certainly didn't eat small, carbohydrate-rich meals every three hours. Their eating schedules were often erratic, and they may have gone for days at a time without eating before consuming a very large meal. Simply put, they fasted out of necessity!
What is intermittent fasting? It's not a diet, but rather, a schedule or plan of eating. In simple terms, it involves condensing your feeding window, which is the time between your first and last meals of the day. There are many ways to structure your eating and fasting periods. In order for your body to get into ketosis (which is where the body shifts to fat as its primary fuel source), you need to fast for at least twelve hours. If you are just experimenting with fasting and consume a traditional Western diet, twelve hours will be a challenge, but it's a good place to start. One popular method is to restrict your meals to an eight hour window, and fast for sixteen hours. This is congruent with pushing back your first meal of the day a little later than a traditional breakfast hour, and also eating your dinner a little earlier than a traditional dinner hour. As their bodies adapt, many people find it is easier to fast for longer periods and have shorter feeding windows. Some may only eat one or two meals per day.
Intermittent fasting, especially for longer periods, is much easier to do if you consume a diet rich in whole, single-ingredient foods, with a greater portion of your total calories in the form of healthy saturated fats. Good sources of fat include meat, eggs, nuts, coconut oil, butter, and olive oil.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting? As I mentioned, fasting promotes ketosis, which allows your body to use fat as its primary fuel source. This is extremely effective if fat loss is a goal, particularly in conjunction with a slight reduction in caloric intake. Fasting also increases your body's levels of human growth hormone (HGH) and stimulates cellular repair. Regular fasting promotes autophagy, which according to Priya Khorana, PhD, "is the body's way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells." This can be very important as a way of fighting off certain forms of cancer. Other benefits of regular fasting include changes to the function of genes related to longevity, and protection against disease and systemic inflammation, which is a major trigger in developing the "diseases of modern civilization." Fasting can also improve sleep by strengthening our circadian clocks, which regulate our waking and resting hours. Not eating too late in the day and minimizing exposure to artificial light after sundown stimulates the body's release of melatonin, which helps to facilitate sleep. Finally, regular fasting improves insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to allow nutrients from food to get into the cells. Eating too frequently results in spikes to your blood sugar, requires a greater insulin response from your pancreas, and increases your risk of insulin resistance and Type II Diabetes. Eating less sugar and processed foods in conjunction with regular fasting will regulate your blood sugar and energy levels and help to maintain your insulin sensitivity. If you are eating the right foods and in the right amount, you should not feel hungry every two or three hours.
How does this relate to your workouts here at Total Results? I have experimented on myself, and have gathered anecdotal evidence from clients, and I have seen mixed results when it comes to exercising in a fasted state. I find that I perform best if I have eaten a few hours prior to my workout, but other people have done very well exercising in a fasted state. Working out in a fasted state may hamper workout performance to some degree, but the benefits include improving insulin sensitivity (on top of the benefits of fasting alone) by flushing glycogen from the muscle cells, hence allowing any circulating sugars to then populate the muscles. This means less sugars in the bloodstream that the body has to produce insulin to deal with. My advice is to experiment a little and find what works for you.
Like many people, I was a skeptic until I decided to give fasting a try. Now, I can't imagine eating another way. As I said, intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather a lifestyle and a schedule. It is simple, effective, relatively easy to do, costs no money, and has far more evidence to support it than the traditional Western diet. The benefits are numerous, and all it requires is a little planning and the right mindset. Get in touch with your inner hunter-gatherer today!