Intermittent fasting is gaining popularity and popping up in wellness discussions more and more frequently. But, what IS intermittent fasting? Is it healthy? Is it right for you? Here’s a quick run-down to help you decide.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet. Rather, it’s a lifestyle approach and method of timing your meals and eating to occur during a specific time period throughout the day with the goal of fasting to give your digestive system a rest during the remaining hours of the day. Though there are many variations and everyone has their own take, typically one might start with the 16:8 method - a 16 hour fast, leaving an 8 hour window for meals. Though 16 hours may sound like a daunting stretch, most people plan this around their sleeping schedule; with an early dinner and delayed breakfast, it can be quite doable.
The crucial thing to remember is that intermittent fasting is not calorie-restrictive. You are not intended to cut out meals and be starving! Instead, you should be shifting your eating for the day to a smaller, limited window of time. Giving your digestive system this fasting break provides a lot of benefits like speeding up your metabolism, decreasing hunger by lowering leptin (the ‘hunger’ hormone), lowering and managing blood sugar and insulin levels, lowering cancer risk and oxidative stress to your cells, improving cognitive function and protecting memory and lowering inflammation. Intermittent fasting also very often results in weight loss and fat-burning, while preserving muscle mass.
How Do I Start?
The easiest way to begin intermittent fasting is starting with an early dinner and delaying your breakfast (which often translates into skipping breakfast and starting the day with a larger lunch). Hopefully most people are getting close to 8 hours of sleep each night so you’ll be sleeping during much of your fast. Dinner at 7, nothing before bed and dive in with your first meal at 11am the next day! The morning stretch can be the hardest part to get used to, but plentiful water, tea and even black coffee can make it a little easier.
How Do I Know If It’s Right For Me?
Almost anyone can give intermittent fasting a try. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not fast, nor is it a good idea for anyone with fertility issues, adrenal or thyroid issues or Type 1 diabetes. As with any significant lifestyle change, it’s always a good idea to clear it with your doctor first.
Tips For Success
To help keep away hunger and make sure you’re getting in your nutrients each day, focus on eating healthy, whole foods. Keeping processed carbs to a minimum and stocking up on fresh veggies, healthy fats and lean proteins will avoid crashes in blood sugar and will help keep you feeling full and satisfied with plenty of energy and focus.
Also, listen to your body. The beauty of intermittent fasting is that there are no hard and fast rules. If you find that you’re getting too hungry late in the day or the morning hours are unbearable, perhaps a 16-hour fast isn’t for you. Try a 12-hour fast instead. Or, try fasting every other day. Everyone is different and has individual needs – it’s important to do what’s right for you and your body.
Koren Bradshaw, MS, CLC is a clinical nutritionist and certified lactation counselor passionate about functional nutrition and lifestyle education.