Intermittent Fasting – What is it?
Intermittent fasting is not eating or drinking any calories for anything between 12-24 hours which can be over any part of the day. This knowledge sorts people into two groups: those who know about it, are doing it, are reaping the benefits and loving it and those who recoil at the mention of it.
The majority of people who know about it and are reluctant to do it is because they think they can’t. They just couldn’t go without their evening snack or their morning breakfast or whatever. The reason they think this, I’ll bet you, is because they haven’t tried. No, really. I am aware of sounding like a lecturing matron to a five year old. “How do you know you don’t like goat’s milk when you haven’t even tried it” but really when was the last time that you actually didn’t have access to food? With all the convenience shops, cafes, and restaurants around it is hard to be genuinely unable to source food, quality aside (nothing good ever came from a petrol station). We are also a little bit scared of going without food because we don’t know what will happen to us.
It will however benefit you in ways such as; increased muscle mass, fat loss, improved cognitive ability, increased alertness, more energy, and prevention of diseases such as cancer, and make you appreciate the lovely food we do have of course.
However our ancestors would not have had Pret-a-Manger offering little protein pots (they are great aren’t they!) or any sort of targeted marketing from food establishments convincing you that you need a ‘pick me up’. What about gatherers? I hear you say, what about harvesting food and storing it for times when we don’t have any? Well yes that also makes sense but there would have been times when food either wasn’t available or it wasn’t actually possible to eat due to environmental factors such as threats, weather, and food being spoiled.
We also know what happens when we don’t have food for a few hours or we are later than normal having dinner and everyone is ‘tired and hungry’. So the thought of having a big fast of a long time is surely going to be like that but ten times worse isn’t it? We use the term “I’m starving…” with innocuous disregard to genuine famine in the world; we really don’t have any idea of what it’s like to be without food – we’ve never experienced true hunger and an intermittent fast offset against bountiful fridges is not going to hurt. It will however benefit you in ways such as; increased muscle mass, fat loss, improved cognitive ability, increased alertness, more energy, and prevention of diseases such as cancer, and make you appreciate the lovely food we do have of course.
Firstly let’s address the main myths surrounding fasting (otherwise known as starving):
Myth: You will not lose weight as your body will go into starvation mode and retain all of its fat.
No that is what it has been doing in preparation for now – the starvation period. Your body does not go into starvation mode where you do not burn any fat. I don’t know who invented this myth but no doubt it was beneficial to a company selling food products or more likely breakfast products as that’s the meal of the day most people skip. You actually burn fat because it’s a reserve.
Myth: You will not be able to concentrate.
Not true. Again, the opposite is true – you will become more alert. Why? Because in true Paleolithic form we naturally associate being hungry, we’re not talking peckish because we haven’t eaten for a few hours, but hungry where we haven’t eaten for over 15 hours or more – with the need to catch something. This alerts and heightens all of our senses in order to best equip us to hunt – it drives us. Therefore applied to modern life it can be a way of becoming productive and achieving more in the later stage of a fast than after a big meal, which as we all know, leads to an energy slump (initially).
Myth: You need to graze throughout the day for energy.
Insulin – the biggy that more people need to know about. Not just something diabetics need to be aware of this cheeky hormone is your key to weight loss. It’s a hormone made by the pancreas which allows your body to turn the glucose you consume (in whichever form it comes in) into energy or to store it as fat. Simple. If you are constantly grazing your insulin is constantly being topped up/activated however you like to imagine it and when you are in this post-fed state (which can last from 3-5 hours) your body is less able to burn fat. Which leads to…
Myth: You need fuel before a run.
You couldn’t possibly exercise on an empty stomach. The fight or flight mode activated by our stress hormones which actively produce physiological changes – increased heart rate, heavier breathing, and sweating prepares us for action crucial to survival. Now before we continue I want to clarify that I am not promoting being stressed and fully acknowledge the health implications of chronic stress. Your body has reserves of energy to use that you are not aware of because you’ve never let it explore them before.
There are different types of fasting but you need to do whatever works for you!
I prefer to restrict eating for 6-8 hours a day and fasting for around 16-18. For example from 6pm until 12pm the next day you have nothing except water and perhaps some herbal teas or black coffee. I chose this time frame as I have found it to be the easiest and most convenient as I normally spends the majority of those hours satiated from dinner and then asleep, leaving only the morning for the feelings of hunger to really kick in (which only really consist of a few pangs that plenty of water will satisfy anyway) and leave me feeling really nice, svelte, and so on the ball that sometimes I don’t even want to eat!
It is not changing the amount you eat rather just the time frame in which you eat it – it’s efficient in that when we bunch all our meals together we are setting a routine for our body. It has this time to absorb its food, get its digestion done, and be in a ‘fed state’ with high insulin levels rushing around. Endorphins are getting released and we are in a high state of happiness and relaxation after eating; it’s play time, we are satisfied. Then bang, come on “back to work” we tell our bodies, through fasting. Get that duster out, do those cell renewals you’ve been busy putting off, reach that box of fat off the top shelf and work through that. Solve that problem using your more clarified thinking due to a higher amount of the stress hormone cortisol which is putting it to use – as it is intended.
Your body is amazing and it needs to be in states of primal response to reach its potential, it will amaze you with what it is capable of and modern life requires us to use a fraction of what we could be doing with it.
- Clear, J. (2015). The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting. In James Clear. Retrieved 21 July, 2015, from http://jamesclear.com/the-beginners-guide-to-intermittent-fasting
- Morin, K. (2014). 5 Intermittent Fasting Methods: Which One Is Right For You?. In Life by Daily Burn. Retrieved 27 July, 2015, from http://dailyburn.com/life/health/intermittent-fasting-methods/
- Understanding the stress response. (2011). In Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved 27 July, 2015, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
- Safdie, F. M., Dorff, T., Quinn, D., et al. (2009). Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report. In Aging (Albany NY), 1(12), 988–1007. Retrieved 27 July 2015 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2815756/