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Intermittent Fasting: The Basics

by Carly Neubert, BA, NC on September 22, 2021

If you’ve ever tried dieting, you know that it’s all about “what” you eat, rather than “when” you eat. Intermittent fasting (in the simplest terms) is focused more on when you eat. It is keeping your eating during a certain amount of time. Whether it is fasting for a couple hours a day or a couple days in a week, experts are saying that this is a great way to burn fat in 2021. And beyond losing weight, you have the added benefits of longevity and mental clarity. That is right, fasting to live longer and be smarter are both great reasons too.

While intermittent fasting has been labeled as a “fad” by some, it has a lengthy history in religious practices as well as in therapy. The Christian practice of Lent is a good example of this. This is also seen in the Jewish holy day, Yom Kippur. Fasting has been utilized in many other religions, such as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Did you know that the Greeks believed that fasting improved cognitive abilities? The great thinkers Hippocrates and Plutarch were staunch believers in fasting and the practice of consuming apple cider vinegar when feeling sick. Hippocrates wrote that “to eat when you are sick is to feed your illness.” While most followers of Western medicine would have their doubts about this claim, I think we can all agree that fasting has its benefits (but only when used correctly and responsibly). 

Treatment of obesity has seen many forms of therapeutic fasting in the previous century; more research is coming out to support claims of weight management as well as disease prevention. For example, the risk of type 2 diabetes decreased in those who are overweight. Another article described the benefits to be wide-ranging, from improving cardiovascular disease to cancer to obesity. 

Types of Intermittent Fasting

It may seem intimidating at first, but once you have the go-ahead from your doctor or another medical professional, intermittent fasting approaches are fairly simple and easy to follow. That is one of the reasons why they are gaining traction in the public eye. 

  • 16/8 Approach: This method suggests eating during an 8-hour period of time during the day and then fasting for the other 16 hours. This method is widely known, as many celebrities have tried and endorsed it. 
  • 5:2 Approach: This method describes a scenario where you eat regularly for 5 days and then limit yourself to a 600 calorie meal for the other 2 days. An example of this would be if you eat regularly for every day of the week except Mondays and Wednesdays.

I do not recommend fasting for long amounts of time (longer than the 16 hour approach highlighted above). While you may find recommendations for fasting that last longer than 16 hours, I don’t recommend this without the help of a practitioner, as well as a blood sugar monitor. Prolonged fasting can cause extremely low blood sugar in some individuals.  For a customized plan for using intermittent fasting in your lifestyle, schedule a consult with me, Carly Neubert BA, NC.

What am I allowed to eat when I’m fasting?

When you are fasting, try to go for beverages that are zero-calories like tea or water. Do not fast from water. There is no benefit, and there are actual dangers to abstaining from water during a fast. To hinder any feelings of hunger (or worse feelings of being “hangry”), eat full and complete meals during your eating window.

Sometimes, people refer to fasting as “water fasting.” This makes it sound like you are fasting from both food and water. This is never the case and never recommended. A “water fast” is a fast that only allows water.

Beware of Binge-Eating

This is where many people go wrong when they are implementing intermittent fasting into their daily lives. You may feel the urge to binge eat during the 8 hours you have allowed yourself to eat. This has the possibility of becoming more of a hindrance than a help to your health. A good way to picture this is when you have gone to a theme park like Disneyland. You binge eat the churros, cookies, and ice cream cones, but you are never fully satisfied. This is because you are just putting in simple sugars and simple carbohydrates - there are no healthy fats, fiber or protein to keep your body active and moving. Before you know it, you have a stomachache from all the treats and can’t go on Space Mountain. Instead, I recommend that you eat foods that are high in fiber (like a grilled chicken salad) or foods that have probiotics and healthy fats (like sprouted nuts and olive oil salad dressing). 

Example Daily Food Plan: 16/8 Method

7:00AM: Wake up and have coffee without creamer or sugar.  Better yet drink a tall glass of water.  Even black coffee does have the ability to spike insulin in some people.  

11:00AM: Begin 8 hours of eating. Have some paleo pancakes (my favs are Birch Benders)  and grass grazed butter  (or if you are in the mood for lunch, try a salmon and avocado salad wrap).

3:00PM: Snack of carrots and hummus or a cup of nuts

6:00PM: Low carb pasta and sugar-free Paleo pasta sauce of your choosing (my favorite is Primal Kitchen.) 

7:00PM: Make sure that you are done eating by this time. Your 8 hours are over; try drinking some sleepy time tea or more water to wind down for the night. 

How long until I see results?

Results are dependent upon how well you are eating and how many calories you are consuming. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the participants in a 2015 study experienced weight loss after 10 weeks. Levels of calories you intake depend on your age and physical activity level. There are multiple websites that calculate your caloric intake based on your gender, age, exercise level, weight, and height. 

Things to Watch Out For

With intermittent fasting, there are some cons to watch out for. While intermittent fasting may help with mental acuity and weight management, it may lead to overconsumption of food when not fasting. Like we see in the Snickers advertisements, we aren’t “us” when we’re hungry. Feelings of extreme hunger during fasting periods can lead to emotional disruptions and challenges as well as physical side effects like headaches, dizziness, and weakness. One strategy is consuming at least 12 ounces of water every hour of your fast.  That includes compensating for the hours that you are sleeping during your fast. 

One of the most important things to consider beforehand is how this will affect your eating behaviors long-term. If you want to make improvements for your health with life-long habits, I recommend implementing healthy eating choices with your intermittent fasting efforts. If you don’t think about the foods you are eating when you are considering intermittent fasting, there are no guaranteed lifelong beneficial results. Those are just a few things to keep in mind when looking into fasting.

What if fasting isn’t right for me?

There is no problem with that mindset. For people who are under the age of 18, pregnant or nursing, or recovering from eating disorders, this is not the right way to go. In an article from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Tello describes some healthy choices we can all make in our daily diets that can improve our health, without engaging in fasting-related behavior. 

  1. Remove sugars and unrefined grains from your diet in favor of a diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and healthy fats. If you love the Mediterranean diet, this will sound very familiar. Dr. Tello is a big fan of the Mediterranean Diet and its benefits. 
  2. Be active throughout your day and limit any snacking. This allows for your muscles to gain tone and digest food in between meals.
  3. Try a more easy-going approach to fasting. Stop eating around 4:00pm, or a couple hours before you go to bed. Not only will this be healthier, but it will help you sleep better.
  4. Avoid any nighttime snacks and meals.

More research does need to be done into intermittent fasting and plenty of human trials are underway.  Intermittent fasting does not mean automatic weight loss - correlation does not mean causation. A weight loss in one person could have been due to a factor other than their fasting. If you are looking for another option, detoxes and cleanses might be the path to take. Check out my article on food-based gentle detox programs here

In Closing…

Your relationship with food should not be something that scares you. Our lives are constantly changing in 2021. Food should be the one thing that you can have a steady hold of. Intermittent fasting can be a great way to improve your overall health (beyond weight management). Fasting has the potential to turn dangerous, however, and I highly recommend that you take the proper steps to talk with your practitioner and decide if it is ultimately the right choice for you. 

For a customized plan for using intermittent fasting in your lifestyle, schedule a consult with me, Carly Neubert BA, NC.