This post is in no way to be construed as medical advice.
Easy and lots of benefits
Intermittent fasting has been researched for decades on both humans and animals. While the concept has been in the news for a while, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in December 2019 ramped up both its celebrity and seemingly, its credence in mainstream medicine. I had heard many glowing reports about the health benefits that this lifestyle produced, including losing weight with relatively little effort, lowering blood pressure, suppressing inflammation, preventing Type 2 Diabetes, and improving cognitive performance—and those were only a few of the advantages.
News about intermittent fasting seemed to find me almost daily on TV, the radio, and at our grocery store’s checkout—clearly a message from above. The heavens were on to me. I had gained 10 pounds and shrunk ¼ of an inch at my last physical exam, and now here came the all-knowing “you know what you should do” message. It was time to take my own advice about hitting reset in 2020, and turn this body into a lighter, leaner, fat-burning machine. Intermittent fasting would become my new BFF—at least until I could see how well it worked. Everyone has a different definition of “with relatively little effort,” and I’d see if intermittent fasting fit mine. My new lifestyle goal had now been assigned, as Dr. Phil says, “project status.”
There are several types of intermittent fasting—or, “time-restricted eating”—but for this post’s purpose, I’m talking about the 16:8 plan, whereby you consume all of your calories within a six-to-eight-hour window, and fast for 16 hours. There is also a 5:2 fast where your food intake is restricted to 500 calories on two days a week. The two fasts are said to produce similar results. I’m also told that there is a 12:12—12 hours of eating and 12 hours of fast.
As for 16:8, you pick the hours but try to leave at least three of them in between your last morsel of food and bedtime—better for digestion and sleep.
Is Mother Nature In On This?
Researchers do not seem to fully understand all of the mechanics behind time-restricted eating, however, many of the benefits of this lifestyle—versus the “much-of-the-day grazing” that many of us do—seem to be attributable to our body clocks and evolution. One reason that time-restricted eating is believed to work is that it supports the body’s circadian rhythm—our internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and being alert, and eating during the day and sleeping at night. According to Monique Tello, MD, MPH from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and author of Healthy Habits for Your Heart, nighttime eating is well associated with a higher risk of both obesity and diabetes.[i] Further, studies on both humans and animals showed that intermittent fasting likely flips our “metabolic switch”—a shift in the body’s fuel preference from burning sugar-based fuel to burning fat—a process that evolved from periods of food being scarce. Eating three squares (and c’mon—you know you have snacks on top of that—) prevents that shift from happening.
All That and a
Bag of Chips Handful of Almonds
Intermittent fasting can help your body hit reset in a variety of ways. According to medical research,[i] time-restricted eating has been shown to:
- Boost fat burning and improve metabolic efficiency
- Improve blood sugar regulation, helping to prevent, reverse, and slow the progression of Type 2 diabetes. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, Type 2 diabetes has been reversed within a short amount of time with fasting, and it has been shown to trigger the regeneration of the pancreas in both Type I and Type II diabetics.
- Increase resistance to stress
- Suppress inflammation
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of cancer
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Improve immune function
- Lower the risk of cancer
- Improve cognitive function, helping to protect memory, and slow down diseases that affect the brain
- Help protect against neurological diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease
- Boost mitochondrial energy efficiency and biosynthesis. Mitochondria are a cell’s powerhouse—their job is to provide the cell with needed energy. They take in nutrients, break them down, and release them to create energy-rich molecules for the cell. Biosynthesis is the production of complex molecules within living organisms or cells.
- Increase the production of Human Growth Hormone, HGH—“the fitness hormone.” According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, research has shown that fasting can raise HGH by as much as 1300% in women and 2000% in men.
- Increase longevity
Out with breakfast, in with brunch
And just to be clear, I’m talking about timing—not daily Bloody Marys and Mimosas—
How do we get in on all these potential health benefits? An easy way to do an intermittent fast is to skip breakfast, as most of us define it. We need 16 hours of fasting. If you take the time in between dinner and your next meal, with three hours before bed and eight hours of sleep, you can eat between 10:00 am and 11:00 am instead of between 6:00 am and 7:00 am (assuming you finish dinner between 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm and start catching zzzzs between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm)—just think brunch instead of breakfast. Later than that for dinner and bedtime, forget brunch and go straight for lunch. It’s easy to figure out: 12 hours plus 4 from when you finished your nighttime meal.
One more thing…
Intermittent fasting, with as many potential benefits as it appears to have, isn’t for everybody. People with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under they’re under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them.[i] It is also not recommended for children or older adults.
And as always, only you know how you feel. If you don’t feel good on this type of plan, it’s probably not for you. Talk it over with your doctor.
So far, I like it…
As of this writing, I’ve been doing the 16:8 intermittent fasting for two weeks, have eaten approximately the same number of calories with the same nutritional breakdown, according to My Fitness Pal, and have lost four pounds. That’s more per week than I’ve been able to lose in more than 10 years. I feel a little bit hungry toward the end of those 16 hours, but yes…by my definition, 16:8 intermittent fasting has required relatively little effort.
Of course, you can improve your overall results with healthy eating—such as a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet—getting exercise, and not snacking in between meals.
So, at the moment, this seems to be working for me. It’s encouraging to see progress in such a short amount of time. My clothes feel better and some of them are getting looser.
…Sounds like a good reason to take advantage of some sales…
Hope your new year is off to a healthy start!
Until next time,
[i]Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Intermittent Fasting: Surprising Update, health.harvard.edu, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, 2019; https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156; 13 January 2020
[i] Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Intermittent Fasting: Surprising Update, health.harvard.edu, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, 2019; https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156; 13 January 2020
[i][i] Dr. Joseph Mercola, DO, Top 22 Intermittent Fasting Benefits, https://fitness.mercola.com, 2019,https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2019/01/18/incorporate-intermittent-fasting-daily-routine.aspx; 13 January 2020
Lauren Haslett, Why Is Intermittent Fasting Good For You? A New Study Shows Impressive Health Gains, https://droz.com, https://www.doctoroz.com/article/why-intermittent-fasting-good-you-new-study-shows-impressive-health-gains; 13 January 2020
Jayne Leonard, Medically Reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on January 2, 2020, A guide to 16:8 intermittent fasting, medicalnewstoday.com, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327398.php, 13 January 2020
Johns Hopkins Medicine, Intermittent Fasting: Live ‘Fast,’ Live Longer?, hopkinsmedicine.org, Newsroom, 2019, https:// https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/intermittent-fasting-live-fast-live-longer,13 January 2020