Could Intermittent Fasting be the missing link to your health goals?

Introduction

When it comes to losing weight, maintaining a healthy weight, and improving our overall health so that we can feel our best, our diet is the first thing we work at changing.  And rightfully so.

Our diet is what provides us with the nutrients our bodies need to function optimally!  That means WHAT we eat is important and WHEN we eat is just as, maybe even more, important!

Over the years, the suggestion was mainly to eat small, frequent meals as many thought this would help balance blood sugar, stave off hunger, keep energy levels up, and even experience some weight loss! 

But what is well known now is that this could not be further from the truth.

When you eat frequent, small meals (5-6 or more) throughout the day, your insulin levels stay elevated, which can trigger fat storage, inflammation, and ultimately lead to insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is a condition where your cell receptors are so over-stimulated that they no longer hear the cry of insulin to allow the glucose into the cell.  It can occur as a result of having too much insulin in our blood due to over consumption of carbohydrates, snacking, or eating too frequently.

Elevated insulin and insulin resistance promote weight gain (especially in the trunk), stiffening of arteries and tissues, elevated blood pressure, joint pain, systemic inflammation, encourages cancer cell growth, and eventually leads to cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and stroke.

So the gist is this: if you want to lose body fat, you want to avoid spiking  insulin levels throughout the day.

Intermittent Fasting to the rescue!

The good news is that there are tools you can use to help encourage fat loss as well as increase energy, improve mental capabilities, and reduce hunger.

My favorite of these tools is Intermittent Fasting!

The ability for your body to burn fat is highest when you haven’t eaten for a while. Thus, extending the time between meals improves your ability to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. 

Intermittent fasting, condensed eating windows, and proper meal timing are important aspects of maximizing fat burning and weight loss, but implementing these methods can also have additional health benefits.

Fasting, along with a Ketogenic diet, is the best way to reverse insulin resistance, diabetes, cognitive decline, chronic fatigue, tumor growth, and other chronic inflammatory issues.

Other, more obvious, benefits you can expect to experience if you choose to practice intermittent fasting include:

  • Decreased risk of heart attack due to lower triglycerides
  • Less hunger due to balanced ghrelin levels (i.e., your “hunger hormone”)
  • Less inflammation!
  • Weight loss 
  • Increases your cell’s sensitivity to insulin
  • More clarity and focus
  • Improved nightly detox processes. 
  • More energy from all of the above benefits and from autophagy and mitochondrial biogenesis!

In this first part, you will learn all about Intermittent Fasting.  What it is (there are a few definitions!), the benefits you can experience from practicing IF, and how IF and a Ketogenic Diet can be your ticket to your healthiest self!

In Part Two, I will walk you through how to best transition into IF so that you can enjoy its benefits for the long term!

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

The reality is , there are many definitions of “Intermittent Fasting”. An easy way to understand a variety of IF approaches is by considering how many meals are skipped.

Skipping one meal (usually breakfast but can be any of them) leads to one or two eating windows with long fasts in between (aka: “Time Restricted Eating” or “Condensed Eating Windows”).

Skipping two meals is the equivalent of a 24 hour fast (i.e., eat a meal mid-day and then don’t eat again until the same time the next day), and skipping three meals is the equivalent of alternate day fasting (i.e., eat one day, don’t eat the next).

Regardless of which method of fasting you choose, when you are truly fat-adapted (i.e., your body prioritizes burning fat for energy which fasting can lead to), prolonged fasts will feel effortless as your blood sugar levels stay balanced and your hormones aren’t signalling your body that you need food.

Hormones and Hunger

Yes, hormones play a role in our appetite.  One hormone that can impact our success with IF is Leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is secreted by your fat cells and gives your brain the signal that you are full.  Leptin is released by fat cells in our body.  

When your brain gets this signal, your appetite turns off and you go into a phase of fat burning to keep yourself fueled instead of needing to eat for fuel. 

Normally, leptin levels rise in the evening and peak around midnight. This increase in leptin should ensure that your appetite is turned off and would typically put you into fat burning and repair mode during the night. 

Overeating, eating at the wrong times, and eating the wrong foods can cause you to develop a condition called leptin resistance. Like insulin resistance, this is when your brain and pancreas become resistant to leptin, so you never get the signal that you are full.

This causes food cravings and a prolonged feeling of hunger, even if you recently ate!

Additionally, since fasting can improve your insulin levels this can lead to improvement in growth hormone production which plays a role in muscle development and general vitality.

Why does Intermittent Fasting do such great things for our body?

Breakfast is defined as “breaking the fast” and meant to do just that.

There is no hard rules around what time you should “break your fast”.  However, at a minimum one should always go a full 12-hours between your last meal and your first meal of the next day.

This can encourage improved immune function, detoxification, and metabolic processes such as autophagy, cell repair, cell recycling, and hormonal breakdown.

One of the reasons for these benefits is due to something called “metabolic switching”.

This is when our bodies go from utilizing the quick burning glucose to slow burning fat for energy.  And studies have shown “metabolic switching” being the cause for improved blood sugar regulation, decreased inflammation, and can even improve resistance to stress! 

Prolonged intermittent fasting (12 hours/day or more) has shown to have positive effects on the inflammatory status of the body (lower IL6 levels) and on the risk factors for cardiovascular disease (homocysteine, CRP, TC/HDL).

Intermittent Fasting and Fat Loss

So what is so special about IF with regards to fat loss?

Well, when we are in a fasting state a few things happen:

First, we can jump start something called “ketosis”.  This is basically your body’s “burning fat for fuel” phase.  When we fast, we use up glucose quickly and the body must switch to using fat for fuel.

More fasting can mean more fat burning.

Also, when we are in a fasted state, there is less insulin circulating our blood which can trigger our body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy.

And lastly, when one transitions to IF, it is likely that the person will reduce their overall caloric intake and temporary caloric deficit is one of the easiest ways to induce fat burning.

HOWEVER, with regard to the last point, It is important that you don’t restrict your calories in your daily meals when intermittent fasting.

Not only does this make the process harder and cause symptoms of intense hunger, shakiness, and irritability, but caloric restriction will lead to much more serious issues like:

  • hormonal imbalances
  • hypothyroidism
  • chronic fatigue
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • hair loss, and 
  • lowered basal metabolic rate, which puts a stop to fat loss. 

The best way to be successful with intermittent fasting and avoid common mistakes is to start slow.

You may only be able to go 14 or 15 hours without getting hungry or anxious at first and that is fine. Don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone or feel pressure to fast longer than your body says you should on any given day.

Don’t just jump into IF if you’re eating a Standard American Diet (SAD).

I’ll go more in depth on how to transition into IF but I want to at least state here that you will not be successful fasting if your windows of eating are full of junk!

Improving your diet so that it focuses on REAL, nutrient dense foods is a crucial first step to experiencing the benefits of IF!

Once you shift WHAT you eat, you can then focus on WHEN you eat!

Recovering from previous blood sugar imbalances, such as hypo or hyperinsulinemia, hypo or hyperglycemia, can make intermittent fasting seem impossible but just be patient with this process and let your body adapt. 

Summing it all up!

As mentioned previously, eating small, frequent meals has never been proven to accelerate weight loss. 

In fact there is growing evidence to show that less frequent eating, and not necessarily caloric restriction promotes fat burning the most. 

Intermittent Fasting is a wonderful tool for fat loss but plays a role in improving our health.  It has been found to support the body’s detoxification processes, allowing the body to clear itself of excess toxins and debris.

People practicing IF also show improvements in blood sugar levels, balanced hormones, less inflammation, and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease due to lower triglycerides!

Another important thing to note is that eating too often can add an extra burden on your liver!

The time between meals is an opportunity for your liver to clear out toxins, make ketones (for successful ketosis!), and use up glycogen.

If you snack between meals or eat a meal too soon after the previous one, your liver’s opportunity to do its job well is blocked.

The sluggish, burdened liver can also become insulin resistant, resulting in fatigue, impaired detoxification, excessive cholesterol production, and more fat storage.

Lastly, I do want to stress that a Ketogenic Diet is NOT required to practice IF, HOWEVER, it can help improve the results you see and feel. Ultimately, the goal is to find a diet that supports your body’s functions and satisfies you so that you can make this a lifestyle change and NOT just another diet!

If this all seems like a lot, don’t fret!  I know that switching to an IF approach can seem scary so in Part Two I will take you through some practical tips on transitioning so that you can practice IF as a long term solution to improved health and healthy weight.

References:

  1. How Small Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High
  2. Benefits of Eating Smaller, Frequent Meals – And How to Do It Right
  3. Recommending Small, Frequent Meals in the Clinical Care of Adults: A Review of the Evidence and Important Considerations
  4. Effects of Increased Meal Frequency on Fat Oxidation and Perceived Hunger
  5. The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting
  6. Insulin Resistance
  7. Insulin resistance: an additional risk factor in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease in type 2 diabetes
  8. Everything You Need to Know About Intermittent Fasting
  9. Evidence Review: Intermittent Fasting, Meal Frequency
  10.  Metabolic Effects of IF
  11. Why Intermittent Fasting is More Effective When Combined with a Ketogenic Diet
  12. Intermittent Fasting: Live ‘fast’, live longer?
  13. Interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and biochemical parameters during prolonged intermittent fasting.
  14. Everything You Need to Know about Intermittent Fasting.