A Beginner's Guide To Intermittent Fasting

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

"Eat as soon as you wake up to break the fast and set yourself up for healthy eating patterns.“

“Don’t skip meals, your body will think it’s starving and your metabolism will suffer.”

“To keep your metabolism revving, you should eat a mini meal every three hours.”

As a society we have spent decades believing these statements to be true. Have you ever considered that these current assumptions may be wrong? Or at least, not be entirely correct? The modern approach to meal consumption actually stands in stark contrast to more historical standards. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but how do you know for sure?

Enter INTERMITTENT FASTING which may well be the most discussed dietary concept on the Internet right now. Like many other buzzworthy eating plans, interest in intermittent fasting (IF) is growing exponentially. Similar to the Paleo Diet, IF is gaining ground despite challenging many long-held assumptions about nutrition.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

To begin, it should be noted that the primary focus of an IF protocol is on when to eat. The emphasis is not necessarily on what to eat, although variations of this method do sometimes recommend certain foods and drinks. Conventionally, this is not exactly what you might call a diet. Rather, it is as an eating schedule or pattern.

Consider a ‘regular’ day, during which breakfast, lunch, and dinner are consumed. The time period between dinner and breakfast does seem long since this time frame also includes your sleeping time. This break between meals (while you are asleep) can be considered a type of fasting. With IF you may be called upon to extend this time frame a little (or a lot).

This can be achieved by. Not eating any breakfast. It is that simple. The IF ideology implies there is no need to obsess about calorie counts and the numbers of grams of carbs, fats, and protein in your diet. What matters, essentially, is the time frame between when you can eat, and when you do not.

Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

By now you may find yourself intrigued by the idea and wondering how effective intermittent fasting is for weight loss. It does work, and it’s not exactly a novel idea, having been around for thousands of years.

It probably began due to lack of choice. As a member of a society of hunter-gatherers, fasting is the only option when winter arrives and there are no plants and fruits to gather, and no animals to hunt. Humans have evolved to make do with their meager stores during the lean seasons.

People who fasted also tended to experience unusual mental and spiritual processes. Soon fasting became a part of religious and spiritual ceremonies too. The practice also became popular among ascetics who embraced self-discipline and abstention from pleasures and privileges.

What has peaked the attention recently is that it seems like an obvious way to lose weight and as a weight loss measure, it really can work.

  • Fasting results in a natural limitation on calorie intake, forcing the body to mobilize energy from fat cells to obtain fuel for function.
  • This also boosts metabolic rate anywhere from 6% to 14% making it even more likely that you will begin to burn fat for energy.
  • Muscle mass is maintained with IF, especially when compared with other weight loss diets that involve lower calories. Maintaining muscle mass is important, not simply because it makes you look better. Your metabolism works better when you have muscles.
  • IF works because it’s simple. There’s no fastidious looking at labels, no consulting charts about calorie content and fat content. You do not eat at certain times, and on other times you can eat normally. This is easily adaptable to a Paleo template for when you are choosing to eat. There is little confusion about what you’re supposed to do.
  • Since it is simple, people have an easier time adhering to the program, or rather this eating pattern. It can also be implemented as a total lifestyle change or a one-time measure. One can practice IF every now and then and enjoy benefits.
  • It requires minimal effort. There is less planning, meal-preparation, shopping and eating leaving more time to enjoy life!!

How to Intermittent Fast

There are several established IF protocols although the basic ideology is adaptable to your lifestyle. It is recommended to start with one of the 3 most popular methods and adapt from there:

  1. The 16/8 Method

These numbers refer to fasting for 16 hours, and to eating during an 8-hour window of time. This can be amended to (or started with) 14 hours of fasting with 10 hours during which you can eat 2 or 3 meals. This method is also known as the Leangains protocol.

The simplest way to do this is to just skip breakfast altogether. That means if you finish your dinner by 8 PM, skip breakfast, and start eating lunch at noon, you have accomplished your 16 hours of fasting. In the morning you can drink water or coffee, tea or bone broth. During the eating hours, you keep in mind your Paleo principles of whole, real, unprocessed foods.

  1. The 5:2 Plan

These numbers refer to the days of fasting. You eat normally (whole, real, unprocessed food) for 5 days and have 2 days of fasting. During fasting days, one is permitted 500 to 600 calories per day.

Again, the schedule here is simple. On any 5 days of the week (whatever works for your life) you eat, and on the other 2 you ‘fast’ with 2 meals of 250 or 300 calories each.

This can be expanded into alternate day fasting which entails eating only every other day. On fast days, some eat no food at all and others eat a very small amount, typically around 500 calories.

  1. Eat-Stop-Eat

This method requires fasting for one or two days a week. The fasting days do not have to be consecutive, and in fact, this method is more effective when starting with one day a week. For this day of fasting, you cannot eat anything solid for 24 hours. Juices and clear liquids are permitted.

Fasting can begin after dinner or even after eating lunch, as long as the time frame is a full 24 hours.

The key to all these methods is that you cannot compensate for all the missed meals by over-eating during the times you can eat. The focus is on eating normally, within your lifestyle and dietary plan.

Benefits of IF

Other than the obvious benefits of fast loss, there are many other reasons to consider implementing an IF protocol into your life:

  1. Hormonal and Genetic Shifts

When you don't eat for a while, several things happen in your body.

Blood levels of insulin drop significantly, which facilitates fat burning. Intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance and lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels

The blood levels of growth hormone may increase as much as 5-times. Higher levels of this hormone support fat burning and muscle gain, along with numerous other benefits.

Cellular repair processes, such as removing waste material from cells are induced.

There are beneficial changes in several genes and molecules related to longevity and protection against disease.

  1. Reduce Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in The Body

Oxidative stress contributes to aging and many chronic diseases.

Studies show that intermittent fasting may enhance the body's resistance to oxidative stress. Intermittent fasting can  also help fight inflammation, another key driver numerous diseases

  1. Heart Health

Heart disease is currently the world's biggest killer. Various health markers are associated with either an increased or decreased risk of heart disease.

IF has been shown to improve numerous different risk factors, including blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers and blood sugar levels.

Many of these have been animal studies and thus the effects on heart health need to be studied further in humans

  1. Induces Cellular Repair

When one fasts, the cells in the body initiate a cellular "waste removal" process called autophagy. This involves the cells breaking down and metabolizing dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells over time.

Increased autophagy may provide protection against several diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

  1. Brain Health

What is good for the body is often good for the brain as well.

Intermittent fasting improves various metabolic features known to be important for brain health including oxidative stress, reduced inflammation and a reduction in blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

Several animal studies have shown that intermittent fasting may increase the growth of new nerve cells, which could have benefits for brain function.

IF increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a hormone that has been implicated in depression and various other cognitive and brain-related concerns.

Studies in animals suggest that intermittent fasting may be protective against neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease.

Precautions: Who Should Not Try IF

Although intermittent fasting benefits many different aspects of health, it may not be ideal for everyone and some people may actually want to avoid fasting altogether:

  • If you suffer from clinical low blood sugar, fasting for extended periods of time may lead to dangerous drops in blood sugar causing symptoms like shakiness, heart palpitations and fatigue. If you have diabetes, it’s best to work with your doctor to determine if intermittent fasting is right for you.
  • IF should be avoided if you are pregnant or nursing.
  • If you have a history of eating disorders, this may also not be ideal for you as it may encourage unhealthy behaviors and trigger symptoms.
  • If you are a child or teenager and still growing, intermittent fasting is not recommended either.
  • Those who are ill may also want to reconsider intermittent fasting as it can deprive your body of the steady stream of nutrients that it needs to heal and repair.
  • Those who are pregnant should also avoid intermittent fasting and focus instead on a nutritious diet rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Certain women may encounter hormonal issues if they intermittent fast for extended periods and may benefit from a less aggressive protocol – or avoiding the practice altogether.
  • People struggling with gallstone disease may actually increase the risk of gallbladder problems and IF should be avoided.
  • Studies show that fasting may alter the levels of thyroid hormones. If you suffer from any thyroid concerns, you may want to reconsider intermittent fasting to avoid disruptions and alterations in these important hormones.
  • If you are physically active, intermittent fasting and working out is okay. While you can exercise during fast days, it is best not to over-exert yourself and hydrate well. If you are fasting for longer than 72 hours, however, it’s advisable to limit physical activity.

Final Thoughts

You might have thought that depriving yourself of food, even for a mere 16 hours, seemed like be too much of a hardship. That may be true if you look at it from the perspective of deprivation. Reframe the situation and see it instead as taking a break from eating. Now you no longer have to worry about what to eat. Think of it as a rest, taking a break.

If you’re looking for a way to burn extra body fat while also getting some bonus benefits for your health, intermittent fasting may be right for you. In addition, benefits of fasting include regulating blood sugar, protecting your brain, keeping your heart healthy and reducing inflammation. As long as IF is a good fit for you, give it a try, you may even find that it’s not all that challenging and after all!

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