The nutrition world has a history of promoting false information at its worst and simply misguided at its least. That’s why I advocate for people to own their health and stand up for what works for them vs. blindly accepting what they’re being told. Hidden within the constant flow of information are gems of practical action and wisdom that can improve your life. My goal is always to be your information filter and share with you what’s worked for me, for my clients/readers, and simply what makes sense.
When information comes to light that vindicates something I’ve been practicing for years, it feels pretty damn good! For over a decade, you’ve heard how important a big breakfast is. Now that I look back on it, I’m pretty sure it all came from the mouths of breakfast brand behemoths trying to sell us sugar-laden cereals and yogurts. For me, a big breakfast never worked. It always made me feel more hungry, grumpy, or lethargic. When I skipped breakfast, however, I always felt great. Here I was, a nutritionist, skipping the most important meal of the day. How blasphemous! For years I was almost embarrassed to admit it. What I didn’t realize was I was actually just listening to my body and practicing something that is currently all the craze: intermittent fasting.
Simply put, intermittent fasting is condensing the timeframe you ingest food down to a 6-8 hour window. Rather than spreading out your three meals a day or snacking consistently, the idea is to give your system clear boundaries and time to recover. Typically, foods recommended include high-quality, nutrient-dense, whole foods and tend to limit starchy carbs.
It turns out that I’ve been unknowingly intermittent fasting for years. It just works for me! I have more energy, get more done, and waste less time throughout my daily routine. Now I am more aware of the hours in which I eat or give my body a rest. I finish dinner and then wait 16 hours until I eat again.
I do have water, coffee, and green juice in the morning – sometimes, I add collagen to my green juice or coffee, which holds me over until mealtime. I break my fast with more of a plant-based meal because it feels lighter to transition me back in. I gravitate towards plant-based protein, lots of veggies, or a macro bowl. The fasting makes me a little hyper because I feel so energized – my energy isn’t constantly going towards digesting food – so I always add a complex carb into my lunch meal to break the fast because I feel that it calms my system down.
Let’s discuss some of the primary benefits of intermittent fasting:
Enhanced mental function
Ever felt a little slow after lunch? There’s a reason. Digestion is an incredibly taxing, though vitally necessary, process. It requires a ton of energy to break down our foods into the building blocks that turn into our organs and tissues. By giving it some off time, we can channel that energy to enhance the function of another organ: our brain. Fasting has the ability to sharpen our mental acuity. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. If you’re hungry, you want a keen sense about you so you can find food. This adaptation can easily be hacked through intermittent fasting. Have a big meeting coming up? Give it a try. I almost guarantee you’ll be able to feel just a bit more mental sharpness.
Increases insulin sensitivity
A good intermittent fasting routine that sticks to whole foods, will quickly enhance insulin sensitivity and decrease diabetes risk. Because your body isn’t constantly flooded with sugars, insulin and your pancreas gets a break. It helps “retrain” your insulin receptors to become more sensitive and less bogged down.
Resets your hunger hormone
Have you ever felt like you could just eat and eat without stopping? You feel physically full, but your brain wants to keep going? Your hunger hormone, known as Ghrelin, has probably been switched off. This is the hormone that signals our brain to stop eating. Diets high in processed foods, designed to turn off your hunger hormones, can mess with the regulation of Ghrelin. An easy way to reset it is through intermittent fasting.
Fasting has been shown to elongate life
One of the coolest recent discoveries is something called telomeres. They are found on the end of our chromosomes, and they shorten as we get older. The rate at which they shorten is basically the rate at which you age. There’s currently no known way to lengthen them, only ways to slow them down. Fasting has been shown to be one way to slow the shortening of your telomeres. Intermittent fasting allows you to get this same effect while also providing your body with vital nutrients to sustain itself.
Improves the body’s ability to burn fat
We have two ways of deriving energy from our food. One uses sugar for fuel, and the other uses fat for fuel. If sugar is readily available, your body will always pick that pathway first. However, if sugar, more specifically glucose, is not available, your body will burn fat instead. This is called ketosis. Most macronutrients break down into glucose, so one of the only ways to switch into this fat-burning mode is to fast, which mimics starvation. As long as it’s not a long-term state, it’s perfectly safe and beneficial to the body.
A few important things to remember…..
Intermittent fasting is NOT calorie-restrictive
You aren’t cutting the amount you eat overall; you’re just cutting down the hours in a day when your body is actively digesting. You can still eat three square meals if you want; the goal is simply to fit them into a smaller time window. For me, two meals are typically adequate, and I eat until satisfied.
Intermittent fasting may work much differently for women than for men
Remember, everyone is bio-individual, and this is especially important when considering fasting. Women’s bodies do function differently than men’s and may not do as well on a strict intermittent fast. Our hormones are a bit more complex and demanding, which is why I’ve always done my best adding in some liquid nutrients as my breakfast. As a woman, starting my day with adequate fats and nutrients is key to feeling good with this type of regimen. This fasting “hack” allows me to get the vital nutrients I need without taxing my digestion or depriving my system.
Not sure if intermittent fasting is for you? Everyone is different, so check with your functional MD first, then reach out to me if you’re ready to give it a try!