Fasting may be the latest fad, with the 16:8 diet taking over lunchroom talk, but religions have long maintained that fasting is good for the soul. However, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that doctors recognised the health benefits, when they began recommending it to treat various disorders like diabetes, obesity and epilepsy.
For the uninitiated, intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather a pattern of eating where a window of eating is followed by a period of fasting. One example is the 16:8 diet I mentioned above, which - as the name suggests - involves fasting for 16 hours followed by an 8 hour window where food is consumed.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Our bodies run on glucose, or simple sugar, but when we fast for a longer period of time, that energy source becomes unavailable. Our body then begins to convert body fat into fatty acids, which in turn, produces molecules called ketones, which the body uses as its new source of energy.
One huge benefit of intermittent fasting is cellular autophagy, a process in which the body breaks down old, weakened and damaged cells and recycles them for energy. This allows your body to make room to produce new and more efficient cells.
Another benefit of intermittent fasting is weight loss—fat loss, specifically. “Insulin increases when you eat, and when insulin is high, you cannot burn fat. When you fast, insulin falls, which allows your body to access its stores of food (i.e., body fat) for energy,” explains Jason Fung, M.D., a Toronto-based nephrologist and author of The Complete Guide to Fasting. Other benefits include:
· Improved insulin sensitivity
· Boosted the immune system
· Reduced oxidative stress and inflammation
· Improved hormone sensitivity
· Increased growth hormone
· Stimulated production of more efficient mitochondria
· Improved metabolic flexibility
· Normalised ghrelin levels, also known as "the hunger hormone"
How to try intermittent fasting
The great thing about intermittent fasting is that you don’t need anything to start! Simply plan your day so that you have a 16 hour period of fasting, with an 8 hour window to eat. Over a day, that might look like eating dinner by 8pm, then not eating again until 12 noon the next day for lunch.
Overall fasting can provide many benefits, but keep in mind that proper nutrition is even more important when fasting, so addressing your diet really should be the first step. It is very important to eat mostly healthy foods during your eating window. This won't work if you eat lots of junk food or excessive amounts of calories.
You can do intermittent fasting as often as you like. I suggest at least 2 days per week minimum, but you can practice daily for the best long-term benefits. For people who get hungry in the morning and like to eat breakfast - this can be hard to get used to at first. I suggest starting with a 12 hour overnight fast and then gradually working your way towards 16 hours over time.
If you are hypoglycaemic, diabetic, pregnant or breastfeeding, you need to be extra cautious with fasting, so remember to consult your Naturopath for the best advice before you try it.
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