Let’s be honest. Nutrition advice these days can be confusing. How do you know if something is just another health fad, (like celery juicing) or if you should actually consider adopting a new habit? Before I go making any major changes to my eating habits, I always like to do a bit of research first. I also like to do some experimenting on myself to see if I notice any beneficial changes. If you’ve heard of intermittent fasting over the past few years but aren’t sure if it’s a trend you should get behind, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Believe it or not, you’re most likely already doing some form of intermittent fasting whether your realize it or not. Anytime you go an extended period of time without eating – you’re fasting. So unless you’re up all hours of the night snacking in the kitchen, the time period between your last meal at the end of the day and your first meal the next morning, is a fast. Let’s say you eat dinner at 7:00 pm and have breakfast the next morning at 7:00 am, that means you’ve just done a 12 hour fast. The word breakfast itself literally means “breaking your fast.” Simply put, fasting is anytime you’re not eating. Beyond the typical 12 hour fasting period between dinner and breakfast, longer fasts such as 16 hour, 24 hour or even 36 hours have been gaining popularity and may be able to offer some health benefits.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post meant for information purposes only. If you are a diabetic, taking medications, have a history of an eating disorder or have any other underlying health conditions, please consult with your health care provider before trying any type of fasting protocol.
Fasting has been around since ancient times and is one of the oldest remedies in human history that has been practiced by many cultures and religions for centuries. In our modern society, however, we’ve been taught to almost fear the hunger sensation – when hunger strikes, we MUST eat! Have a snack, eat small meals throughout the day, have almonds in your purse in case hunger hits. But what happens when the body is continually in a fed state? First, a constant state of hunger is due to poor blood sugar balance due to poor food choices which we’ll talk about later. Second, the body doesn’t even have a chance to burn off stored fat as energy if we’re continually refueling throughout the day. If weight loss is a goal for you, please understand that fasting is not a quick fix for losing weight and there are a number of other health benefits that have nothing to do with the scale that may come along with adopting this practice.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
While everyone is biochemically unique and improvements may vary among individuals here are a few potential benefits of IF.
- body fat and weight reduction
- decreased blood sugar and insulin levels
- decreased inflammation
- increased energy
- increased appetite control
- possibly improved cholesterol profile
If these benefits sound appealing to you and you think you’re ready to give it a shot, here’s three things I would recommend you do first:
1. Don’t try intermittent fasting if you’re currently eating the standard North American Diet.
What does your diet currently look like? Are you eating cereal, toast, muffins or bagels for breakfast? What about lunch? Maybe a sandwich, a wrap, or leftover pasta from the night before? Is dinner some sort of protein like chicken or beef with a side of rice or potatoes? Maybe a granola bar or cookie for an afternoon pick-me-up? One of the main problems with this type of diet is that your calories are coming primarily from simple carbohydrates. Foods that are for the most part, low in fibre and good quality fats. When the body is used to running on this type of fuel, the blood sugar is continually spiking and then dropping a few hours later which means you need a constant stream of incoming food to avoid feeling starving or irritable. This is where the need for continuous snacking and grazing comes in. If your current diet sounds similar to this, do yourself a favour and plan to make some dietary changes before starting a fasting protocol.
2. Switch to a whole foods diet, and aim to eat fiber, fat, and protein at each meal.
When you switch from the Standard North American diet and fuel the body with great quality whole foods containing fat (dietary fat does NOT make you fat, sugar does), fiber, and protein, you keep your blood sugar much more stable throughout the day. This allows you to avoid those dreaded energy crashes, irritability, and the continuous need for snacks. These foods help keep you feeling full and satiated and should ideally keep you feeling satisfied until your next meal. If you’re brand new to this type of eating style and aren’t sure how to incorporate these types of foods into your diet, download my one week meal plan for some inspiration!
3. Start slowly and work your way up.
Once you’ve switched from eating a diet rich in carbohydrates and processed foods to a diet rich in natural whole foods, start your intermittent fasting journey slowly. I recommend my clients ease into things starting with a 14 hour fast and then working their way up to the most common 16:8 fasting protocol. Again, you would be fasting for 16 hours and consuming foods for only 8 hours of the day. Use whatever hours work best for your schedule and try to stick with a routine as much as possible. My current schedule has me fasting from 8:00 pm – 12:00 pm, which streamlines my morning and allows me to skip breakfast and have lunch as the first meal of the day. There are other popular fasting schedules that are 24 hours and longer and can have even further health benefits. However, I would encourage you to work with your health care professional if fasting for longer than 16 hours.
Tips for Fasting
While some fasting protocols have you eliminate everything except water during your fast, I practice more of a modified version where I drink a bulletproof coffee in the morning before my first meal. If you’re planning on having coffee in the morning make sure you avoid sugary coffee creamers and stick with either a bulletproof coffee or full-fat coconut milk. Here are a few other tips to get you through with ease!
- Stay well hydrated! Make sure you’re drinking tons of water during your fast to not only keep you hydrated but to help curb your appetite as well.
- Keep busy. If you’re bored or have nothing to occupy your time your fast will feel much longer.
- Drink bone broth. Homemade bone broth is a great way to add electrolytes and minerals into the body during a fast.
- Drink herbal tea, as long as there are no added sugars.
- Ride out the hunger waves. Unless you’re feeling dizzy or lightheaded, ride out the hunger waves as they come. They will come and go and you’ll likely find intermittent fasting easier than you anticipated.
Have you tried intermittent fasting? If you’re still unsure if this is for you, send me an email or ask me your questions in the comments below!