What is Intermittent Fasting? Key Components for Success

If you are interested in wellness or weight loss, you have probably heard the term “intermittent fasting” and like most health and diet crazes, have also most likely heard conflicting information about it.

So what exactly is intermittent fasting? Unlike specific diets that manipulate what you eat, intermittent fasting manipulates when  you eat. The most typical time people fast is from the time they eat their last bite of food in the evening until their first meal the next day. Unless you tend to wake up for a little midnight snack, you are already fasting! However, this pattern of eating prolongs the amount of time you go without eating to achieve a level of benefit.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

  • Improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity  –> reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Weight loss via increased metabolism and decreased caloric intake    
  • Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation –> reduced risk of disease overall
  • Improved memory and learning
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Appetite control

According to a study from the National Institute on Aging:

Although all cells in the body require energy to survive and function properly, excessive calorie intake over long time periods can compromise cell function and promote disorders such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and cancers. Accordingly, dietary restriction (DR; either caloric restriction or intermittent fasting, with maintained vitamin and mineral intake) can extend lifespan and can increase disease resistance. Recent studies have shown that DR can have profound effects on brain functions and vulnerability to injury and disease.  DR can protect neurons against brain degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases and stroke. Moreover, DR can stimulate the production of new neurons  from stem cells (neurogenesis) and can enhance synaptic plasticity, which may increase the ability of the brain to resist aging and restore function following injury.

How to Incorporate Intermittent Fasting

There are several ways to perform intermittent fasting so you can choose the method that would be most realistic with your lifestyle. Individuals have been shown to benefit from fasting windows lasting anywhere from 12-20 hours, though 14-16 hours seems to be ideal for most people.

For example:

  • If you stop eating at 8pm, start eating at 10am (14 hour fast, 10 hour eating window)
  • If you stop eating at 7pm, start eating at 11am (16 hour fast, 8 hour eating window)

Intermittent fasting has the ability to be very flexible based on individuals work schedule, eating habits, ability to control blood sugar, etc. Those that tend to be late night snackers may benefit from a later dinner, and starting their fast at their last bite of food to help avoid those late night trips to the pantry.

Safety

For generally healthy individuals, intermittent fasting is safe if done correctly. On the other hand, extended periods of food restriction is NOT recommend for diabetic individuals, those that tend to experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), breastfeeding moms, or moms-to-be.

Tips For Success

In order to have success with intermittent fasting, it is vital to have a plan on how to make it sustainable for YOU.

  1. Quality: Since you may now be eating slightly less or skipping a meal, it is even more important to eat healthy, nutrient dense foods. Fasting is not an excuse to eat pizza and ice cream during your eating window (sorry!) — this is not the purpose or goal. In order to experience the biological benefits, we must maintain healthy (and sustainable) habits.
  2. Quantity: It is important to make sure you still eat enough food and maintain your caloric requirements, especially if you are fairly active or exercise regularly. I recommend eating at least 2 meals plus a small snack if you are hungry.
  3. Be realistic: Start with a fasting time frame you know you can be successful with. For example, if you typically stop eating at 11pm and eat breakfast at 7am, start with extending the fast 1 hour each way until you feel comfortable extending it further.
  4. Use exercise to your advantage: Research has shown that exercise can enhance the benefits of intermittent fasting!

Example of Daily Routine With Fasting Exercise

I have personally noticed that exercising first thing in the morning while maintaining my fast can improve my physical performance (less sluggish) and increase my mental clarity and productivity throughout my workday. Here’s an example of what a typical day with a 13-hour fast could look like:

6am – exercise (only drink black coffee or water)

8am: eat breakfast

12pm- eat lunch

7pm: Finish eating dinner

Rest of evening: Drink water or unsweetened hot tea

In Conclusion…

Many of us have been conditioned to believe that we need to eat 3 meals per day plus snacks to maintain a healthy metabolism and blood sugar control. However, this can often lead to high blood sugar, excessive caloric intake and ultimately, weight gain.

Our bodies came with excellent feedback mechanisms to let us know when we are hungry. In additional to occasional intermittent fasting, a goal of mine has been to let my hunger guide my eating, rather than forcing myself to eat because it is a certain time of day. If I’m not hungry in the morning, I don’t eat.

If you are interested in experimenting with fasting, try out the Zero fasting app, which can make getting started easier and help you stick with a fast longer via the built in timer and Fast Journal.

Are you open to fasting? Have you already tried it, and if so, how was your experience? Let me know below!