The nutrition world is always contradicting itself. One minute it says “plant based diets for everyone!” the next moment your coworker is telling you that grains are bad for you. During the last few years the big nutrition thing was eating every two to three hours and now the new talk is intermittent fasting. Although this information seems to clash, all of it has its place within the complexities of your body.
Intermittent fasting is simply going without food for a longer period of time than you’re used to. The beauty is that the length of time can vary from person to person, anywhere from 16 hours to 24 hours and the amount of days of intermittent fasting (IF) can vary as well. In fact, some forms of intermittent fasting entail restricting calories for a period of time, for example, eating 75% of what you would normally eat once or twice a week.
Benefits of intermittent fasting include weight loss, insulin sensitivity, preventing brain aging and increasing cellular energy production. The combination of both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting proved to be highly effective for decreasing weight and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease in one study with obese women [i]. Studies also show that restricting food consumption benefited blood sugar levels rather than fluctuating them [ii]. (More about this below). The idea that decreasing calorie consumption can benefit the brain is fascinating as well [iii] showing that the brain actually does well while limiting calories and increases its function. By increasing the cells ability to produce energy [vi], the entire body benefits with optimal energy metabolism and cellular health.
All these benefits come with some precautions however. In my opinion, intermittent fasting needs to be done cautiously and after some preliminary work on the body. For instance, going from a standard American diet to cutting calories and fasting is likely not the most ideal way to lose weight or encourage optimal health. Prior to incorporating intermittent fasting it is important to understand your blood sugar levels and how your body reacts to stress.
When your blood sugar levels drop dramatically, cortisol (a stress hormone) raises, which in turn causes the blood sugar to lift in order to normalize the instability. This is typically something you want to avoid, as we ideally do not want to do things that radically increase cortisol production. This means that intermittent fasting can actually create more stress on the body by fluctuating blood sugar levels too dramatically. So first and foremost, before driving head first into intermittent fasting or calorie restriction we would first gain control of blood sugar levels and create a healthy relationship with stress. This can be hard for people and it can take a long time before that trust is created.
So, coming back to the idea that we need to eat every 2-3 hours. This is how trust is created with the body.
- The first step is to balance your ratio of proteins, fats and carbs while decreasing simple sugars and simple carbohydrates.
- Eat within 90 minutes of waking and always have a high protein breakfast.
- Balance your meals with lots of vegetables, high quality protein and healthy fats.
- Help your body decrease cortisol by relaxing, exercising, and sleeping well.
Once this stability is created within the foundation of your body then you can move forward into calorie restriction and intermittent fasting and reap all the benefits.
Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction can have amazing benefits for the body as we’ve seen, such as weight loss, insulin sensitivity and optimal cellular function but it’s important to note that it can also create unwanted stress on the body if you have not taken the time to build a proper foundation. As with any new nutrition fad it’s important that you listen to your body first and foremost. If something you are doing creates stress than take a step back and only move forward when it feels good for your body.