I’m a big fan of intermittent fasting. I think it’s funny that I can actually say that. When I first started investigating the primal/paleo way of life I kept seeing references to “IFing”. For a while I just skimmed over those references. I wasn’t really interested in figuring out what it meant. However, once I got the hang of everyday primal/paleo life “IFing” was a new mystery to be solved.
It wasn’t hard to figure out once I took a closer look. “IFing” is short for intermittent fasting. O.k. so, once I figured that out it was clear that there were a LOT of people embracing a primal/paleo way of life that were fasting. Hmmm. Interesting but I still wasn’t ready to really dig in. I, for one, was never going to fast. No sirree.
I guess I was about 6 months into my new lifestyle when I did finally decide to try intermittent fasting. I had been reading a lot about it. As it turns out Fasting won’t kill you and it won’t slow your metabolism, you muscle won’t deteriorate and if you see some weight loss only part of that is from water. Some of your weight loss will be from fat loss. A tiny bit, it’s a very slow and steady process. Think long-term results gained from a lifestyle change.
The reason intermittent fasting appears to be so huge in the Primal/Paleo world is because it’s part of human evolution. The human body evolved on intervals of being fed and unfed (fasted) due to the availability of food. If you buy into the primal/paleo lifestyle, it only makes sense that you would eventually see intermittent fasting as an important piece of evolutionary human development that has been over looked. The human body is supposed to eat and fast.
It’s still all about balance. When we eat, we store calories. We store calories so we can function when there isn’t any food. When there isn’t any food we aren’t eating (fasting) so we burn stored calories. This is how the body maintains balance. Today, for most of us, food is plentiful. We don’t normally fast because there isn’t any food. We are in a constant “fed” state. Our bodies have a hard time maintaining balance. We are eating but not burning. We all know where that leads.
There are published, peer reviewed, scientific studies that show short-term intermittent fasting has many health benefits. Here is a list of a few:
- Increases lean body mass by Reducing Body Fat
- Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
- Reduces Insulin and helps promote Insulin Sensitivity
- Growth Hormone levels are Increased
- Chronic Systemic Inflammation is Reduced
One of the biggest health benefits is Autophagy (“self eating”). Sounds gross but it’s really good for the body.
“In autophagy (“self eating”), cells engulf and digest their own macromolecules and organelles. Autophagy serves two functions: providing critical nutrients in times of scarcity, and recycling damaged cellular structures” (metamodern.com)
“Fasting turns on autophagy, which is the process by which cells recycle waste material, eliminate or down regulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves. Why is autophagy so important? It’s required to maintain muscle mass, and inhibiting it induces atrophy of adult skeletal muscle. It reduces the negative effects of aging and reduces the incidence and progression of aging-related diseases. In fact, researchers have determined that autophagy is the essential aspect of the anti-aging mechanism of fasting. Without the autophagy that fasting provides, you would get very few of the benefits. Fasting even increases neuronal autophagy, which aids in maintaining mental health and function.” (marksdailyapple.com)
Pretty cool wouldn’t you say. Internal house cleaning!
I have read a lot about intermittent fasting. The best book I have read is Eat, Stop, Eat by Brad Pilon. It’s an e-book. I hesitated to buy it because it’s on the expensive side for an e-book but so much of the other stuff I was reading referred back to it that I finally had to buy it. I’m glad I did. It’s a great book. I refer back to it often. I have also read a lot about intermittent fasting on Mark’s Daily Apple and on other blogs. The best blog about N=1 experiments with Intermittent Fasting is CriticalMas.com
If you are concerned about fasting because of information you have heard or read in the past you should read Eat, Stop, Eat. Brad Pilon does a nice job citing research that debunks popular myths about fasting. He covers metabolism, exercise, the brain, muscle mass, blood sugar and hunger.
From what I’ve read there appears to be two pretty common approaches to sort term fasting. The 24-hour fast or the 8-hour eating window; both approaches have you eating food everyday and drink non-caloric liquids throughout the fast – water is a good choice.
The first approach is a 24 hour fast. You eat dinner and then don’t eat anything until dinner the next day. You can do this with any meal, whatever works best for you. I typically like to eat an early dinner around 5:30 and then fast until around that time the next day.
The second approach is an 8-hour eating window. Condense all food you consume to an 8-hour window. You would do this everyday. I don’t particularly like this approach mostly because it takes the “intermittent” out of the equation. The body is an amazing thing. It catches patterns really quickly and adapts. I think eating in an 8-hour window would easily become routine and results would diminish. I believe Michael Allen Smith over at CriticalMas.com blogged about this very thing.
So, finally, my experience with intermittent fasting; First, I embrace the “intermittent” part. When I fast, I do a 24 hour fast. I don’t do this very often. At the most I would do it once a week. I found that I actually get pretty skinny (not a great look for me) if I do a 24-hour fast for several weeks in a row. I do it sporadically now. I’ve read that the fasting gets easier if you do it regularly but I haven’t ever had to struggle through a fast so the sporadic thing seems to work for me.
When I do fast, I love it. I feel great. I play a lot of tennis and when I’m fasting I find my reflexes to be much faster and my mental game to be way sharper. I actually feel very light on my feet. My whole body feels light. My energy level is through the roof. I know, it’s weird, but what can I say that’s how it is. I do find that I have to sometime force myself to eat at the end of the fast. I’m usually not very hungry
The one thing you want to remember when fasting is don’t gorge yourself at the end of the fast. Just move through your day normally. This includes the meal that breaks the fast. Just have a normal dinner or whatever meal it is you’re eating. Fasting shouldn’t be an event, it should just part of your life.
A little more…
- Stay busy on the days you are fasting.
- If you find yourself traveling use that as a fasting day. There is never any good food to eat in an airport anyway.
- Brad Pilon suggests fasting no more than twice a week.
- I have read that you can get all the benefits of short-term fasting starting at 16 hours. That’s not very long. That might be a good starting fast.
- Fasting without Hunger (I haven’t tried this but you can read more here)
- If you are unwell, do not fast.
- If you have an eating disorder, fasting is NOT for you.
- Studies show that short-term fasting doesn’t not cause changes in normal blood sugar levels, however, if you don’t feel well it may be due to stress. In this case, fasting is not for you.
If you decide to try a short-term fast, let me know how it goes. I will be curious to know if you decide to go with the 24-hour fast or the shortened eating window. Either way, enjoy!
Simplify & Have Fun
Amy White MS HNC
I am a holistic nutrition counselor and believe real food is the true path to wellness. If you are interested in learning more about me and how I can help you, please see my story.
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