Fasting is one of the most prominent buzz words in recent discussions about diet, nutrition and optimizing wellbeing. There has been a proliferation of articles about fasting in general, and about intermittent fasting, time restricted feeding, and various fasting protocols in particular. The info can be dizzying!
So let’s take a look at this practice, but before we do let’s ensure that we have a common understanding of the terms to be discussed. Fasting is the voluntary abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink or both for a period of time. Further, although it has become a more prominent practice lately, it has been a part of nutritional, cultural and religious practice for thousands of years (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516560/). Truth be told, most of us fast daily whether we realize it or not. If, following an evening meal, one chooses to not eat until the next morning, then they have voluntarily gone on a ‘fast,’ for 12 to 15 hours or so prior to breaking the fast with “breakfast.”
Intermittent fasting is a catch-all term for several variations of fasting where one eats only during scheduled windows of time. Examples include a 16:8 protocol where one fasts daily for 16 hours and then eats during an 8 hour period. Variations include 14:10 through to 18:6, depending upon the recommendations of dietitians, and individual circumstances. Other intermittent fasting protocols do not break out the feeding/fasting times during a single day but rather promote full day periods, such as 5:2 where one fasts for two days, restricting calories to 500/day, and eats as one pleases the other 5 days of the week. Another take on this is Eat/Stop/Eat where one includes a 24 hour fast one or two days per week. All of these patterns have their pros and cons, and none of them should be engaged in without first fully consulting and discussing such practices with a medical professional or registered dietician. To be clear, there are several groups/categories of people who should NOT fast; these include those who are underweight or who have eating disorders, pregnant and/or breastfeeding women, and children under 18 years of age (https://www.dietdoctor.com/intermittent-fasting#start).
I don’t know about you, but come Saturday morning (and Sunday morning, truth be told), I relish sleeping a little later and easing in to my day. I get up a later, have an extra cup of coffee or two, read the newspaper cover to cover, and generally take a little ‘me time’ unavailable while working Monday to Friday. (Full disclosure: These weekends have been possible only after our children have become adults and left the nest.) As a result, I tend to eat my first meal of the day a little later on weekends than I do during weekdays. I also tend to take a little more time to consider what to eat on weekends, as I have the luxury of time over which to ponder how and when I’ll break my fast. Often, on weekends, I find myself eating my first meal of the day around noon, maybe even a little later. This is by choice and feels perfectly indulgent. I have eaten this way most of my adult life when time and circumstance allowed. As I approached middle age a few years ago, I took some time to determine whether my eating habits were serving my goal of a healthy, active, robust second-half of life. When I looked at some of these habits, I realized that by choice, on weekends, I’d been engaging in some unplanned, but obvious, fasting practices. When reflecting on this weekend habit, what I was doing here was extending my overnight fast through the morning until noon or early afternoon. I was, really, adding intermittent fasting (IF) to my routine by eating like this most weekends – but I didn’t really know what intermittent fasting was, how it worked, nor what the acknowledged benefits were.
When, a few years ago, I began to research and consider lifestyle changes directed at promoting health and longevity, I came across many experts throughout the wellness spectrum, from nutritionists, to longevity experts, to elite personal trainers who extolled the benefits of fasting, particularly intermittent fasting. There are a myriad of reported benefits from fasting, but here are three likely to strike a chord:
- Study after study confirm that individuals who follow an IF protocol lose weight. In simple terms, our bodies tend to use energy from carbohydrates, stored as glycogen, first. They are the most readily available nutrient and are more easily metabolized by our body than our other energy nutrients, fats and proteins. After these are used up, and in the absence of more food, especially carbohydrates, our body will more readily metabolize excess fat for energy. However, if we keep providing food through eating often, our body rarely needs to access our stored energy reserves of fats. Further research indicates that intermittent fasting helps keep weight off over the long term. While many diets and nutritional practices result in immediate, effective weight loss, the hallmark of an effective weight loss treatment, or in this case, lifestyle adjustment, is in its long term success. Yo-yo dieting, where weight is lost and then put back on relatively quickly without permanent success, is not only frustrating, but can also be detrimental to your health as it causes stress on the body’s organ systems and emotional challenges as we experience initial success followed by failure (https://www.dietdoctor.com/intermittent-fasting).
- Intermittent Fasting has been shown to have a positive effect on lowering risk of Type 2 Diabetes. IF can reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels. The implication here is that intermittent fasting may be highly protective for people who are at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes. This type of diabetes primarily occurs as a result of obesity and lack of exercise. In other words, it is largely a lifestyle induced condition. Any positive changes to nutrition, activity levels and lifestyle, including considering IF, may well lower the risk of this debilitating condition (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-intermittent-fasting).
- Fasting may have a positive effect on longevity. Periodic fasting and other dietary restrictions can promote cellular protection and optimal cellular function, and can also activate regenerative processes that lead to cell rejuvenation. These cellular adaptations have been linked to promoting longevity and improved cellular health. This is a promising area of research and the findings are not definitive, but there are compelling results which lean toward exciting developments in this area before too long (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30334314).
Intermittent fasting may not be for everyone and definitely should not be adopted without direct consultation with your health care professional. Having said this, there continues to be fascinating evidence through rigorous research, as well as compelling anecdotal evidence that intermittent fasting may well prove to be a significant asset in promoting robust longevity to help lay the foundation for an active, healthy, and vibrant second half of life.
Until next time…
Michael Patterson, M.Ed.
Lift long and Prosper
Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].
*DISCLAIMER: The information provided and discussed in this column is based on my personal experience, studies of physical and health education and my expertise as a lifelong fitness and health professional. Any recommendations made about fitness, training, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided through this column, should be discussed with your physician or other health-care professional.