The best thing about intermittent fasting, or I.F., is the fact that it’s not a diet. Unlike keto, Paleo, vegan, Mediterranean, or other diets that call for cutting things out of your life, intermittent fasting doesn’t focus on what you eat. That’s because intermittent fasting is all about when you eat.
As a nurse, I wholeheartedly support a healthy diet filled with whole foods from a wide range of sources. Every popular diet trend gets its reputation by eliminating certain foods. I don’t like to villainize food because nutritious foods are an essential part of the regions we live in, the culture we grow up with, and I’ll admit it, I like carbs.
Sometimes we have to cut certain foods from our diet because of allergens or intolerance. Still, unless you have a specific reason for eliminating a food from your diet, a well-rounded diet is important because we get value from all types of whole and complete foods.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is simply the act of eating during a specific time frame and fasting the rest of the time. There are various I.F. styles, and it’s generally easy to find one that fits your lifestyle. Most diets generate results by reducing or eliminating foods or creating a calorie deficit. Intermittent fasting tends to get similar results because the window for eating can help reduce the number of calories consumed per day.
Intermittent Fasting Isn’t New
It might seem like intermittent fasting is a new alternative eating style, but our ancestors lived an I.F. lifestyle for centuries. Early man didn’t have the same access to foods that we do. It’s only been relatively recently that we have had the conveniences of grocery stores, refrigeration, and safe ways to preserve foods. That means our ancestors had to consume their foods quickly when they had access to them. Whether they were hunting for meat or consuming seasonal fruits and vegetables, sometimes there were significant gaps between the time people ate.
We can’t imagine not eating multiple times per day in our modern age, but it wasn’t that long ago that people routinely went without eating or eating very little throughout the week.
Fasting has also been a cultural and spiritual part of human life. Many people abstain from eating as part of their religious practice or during important cultural events. So, if you’re just hearing about fasting, be assured it’s not new.
Fasting Can Benefit Your Health
If the best thing about intermittent fasting is how inclusive it can be, with no limits on what you eat, the second-best thing is research shows it can be very effective for your health. One of the first questions curious people have about fasting is why should I fast? Let’s take a look!
- Fasting helps manage weight and promotes weight loss
- Fasting revs up your metabolism
- Fasting reduces weight-related illnesses, including diabetes
- Fasting can improve cognitive function
- Fasting improves blood cholesterol
- Fasting reduces inflammation
- Fasting stabilizes blood sugar
- Fasting fights aging
- Fasting improves blood pressure
- Fasting boosts immunities
When you think about the health benefits of intermittent fasting, it’s eye-opening and makes it very appealing. Fasting is an excellent way to help your body do what it does best, create and use energy. When we eat, our body uses food to create fuel. Some of that fuel is easy to access, and the body uses it quickly. When there’s too much fuel, the body stores it as fat to use later. When we fast, we allow enough time for the body to switch from burning the easy-to-access fuel to the fat stored. That’s why fasting is excellent for losing and maintaining weight.
How Do I Start Using Intermittent Fasting?
Learning how to use intermittent fasting isn’t hard. Think of it as a week-long commitment to an eating pattern that you review and renew each week. That can help make living an I.F. lifestyle easy and flexible. There are many ways to use intermittent fasting, but I’m going to share three of the most common. One of them is sure to appeal to you, but you can switch things up between the various types of intermittent fasting too. Here are some common types of intermittent fasting. You can also pick up a book if you need more of a solid guide, I really like this one.
16:8 – This is the most common type of daily fast. The name refers to fasting for sixteen hours and having an eight-hour window for eating. Generally, people eat between noon and eight p.m. or 11:00 a.m. and 7 p.m. and fast the rest of the time. Since sleeping is part of the fasting period, it can make fasting easier to stick to.
20:4 – This fast is similar to 16:8, but it increases the number of hours between eating and reduces the consumption window to four hours.
Alternate Day Fasting – This type of fasting takes an every-other-day approach to fasting, beginning with a day of ‘regular’ eating or calorie consumption followed by a modified day of eating. Your fasting days can be based on what’s best for your needs and lifestyle. Some people choose to cut their calories by 25%, while others limit their calories to 500 in total. You and your physician can choose what is best for your specific needs.
I personally feel amazing when I IF daily, so my favorite schedule is: eat dinner at 4pm, then nothing after that until around 10am the following day. This gives my digestion a long window of time to rest and digest.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe? What About Side Effects?
Intermittent fasting is generally safe. If your overall health is stable and you are attempting to lose weight or manage your weight, most people benefit from intermittent fasting, but there are some reasons you may not want to use intermittent fasting as a lifestyle. I.F. may not be right for you if:
- You are underweight
- You have an eating disorder
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding
- You are under age 18
- You are elderly
These factors indicate you shouldn’t use intermittent fasting. Some people should consult with their physician before choosing intermittent fasting too, especially if:
- You have a chronic medical condition
- You have low blood sugar
- You take prescription medication
To be on the safe side, check with your doctor to see if you are a candidate for intermittent fasting.
Most of the side effects of intermittent fasting are related to eating habits. If you are used to eating throughout the day, especially breakfast, hunger can be a common side effect, which tends to lessen over time. Constipation can happen because when you eat less, you go less. Finally, headaches are common but can be remedied by making sure to stay hydrated.
What are Some Tips for Keeping Intermittent Fasting Easy?
Start small – you don’t have to jump head-first into a prolonged fast. Start small and see what type of intermittent fasting works best for you.
Practice mindful eating – since you won’t be eating as much, be sure to take your time and enjoy what you eat when you eat. Be mindful about what foods you choose and grateful for the food that fuels your body.
Plan meals and meal prep – many people do better when they meal plan, so they don’t grab the wrong foods when they are really hungry. Plan your week’s menu and meal prep, so mealtime is fast and easy.
Increase your water intake – There’s no limit on water, coffee, or zero-calorie drinks during your fasting hours. Be sure to increase your water intake to help avoid headaches and curb hunger.
Intermittent fasting may seem trendy, but it’s been an effective way to manage weight, improve our health and keep our minds and bodies strong for centuries. Try a fast and see how you feel. It may become your new favorite way to regulate your eating schedule. Grab a book for more info and details.