BY DR. TARA DUNNE, BS, MA, ND
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Intermittent fasting for women and men is a trendy topic on the web these days and in scientific research. If you’re familiar with the idea, you can agree that the theory behind intermittent fasting definitely goes against what we’ve been told about diet and nutrition for the past 20+ years. For a long time now we have been fed the idea that eating every few hours is mandatory to lose weight and maintain health. As we progress through this article, we will learn that quite the opposite is true.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a way of consuming food based on a 24 hour time frame. In intermittent fasting you are setting up a specific period of time when you fast and also a specific period of time when you feed (or eat!) during a 24 hour period. The theory in short is that setting up fasting periods lasting longer than feeding periods throughout the day can lead to enhanced health. Typically suggested periods for intermittent fasting include 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of feeding time.
What does this look like?
Here’s an example: Let’s say you choose to adopt the 16 hour fast / 8 hour feed time frame. This means that for 16 hours straight you don’t eat a single thing (fast) and then for 8 hours following the fast you eat as many calories as you would normally eat in a day during that 8 hours. This is a good time to point out that intermittent fasting is not the same as calorie restriction. It is simply by definition eating whatever you would normally eat in a day during a smaller window of time. The main theory does not include cutting back on calories over a 24 hour period; rather you are just eating them in a more condensed time frame. Back to the example - if you choose the 8 hour feeding window, you could have your breakfast at 10 am and finish eating all your food for the day by 6pm. Sleeping time is considered fasting time. Or you can start eating at 11am and finish at 7pm, etc. You can play around with the time frame for fasting / feeding as much as you want.
To go back to my point above, this theory of intermittent fasting goes against what we’ve been told about diet and nutrition for the past 20+ years because we’ve had the idea that “ANY starvation (including hunger) is bad” pounded into our heads for this many years. How many of us have followed the theory of eating every few hours so that, “our blood sugar didn’t drop too low” or so “we kept our metabolism revved up”. The funny thing is, it's that habit of drawing out your eating throughout a long day that is actually what slows your metabolism down. Being in a constantly fed state does anything but help to rev us up.
Let me also suggest that this style of constantly feeding is not at all beneficial to us. Let’s look at the data. And by data, I mean just look around. We are in an obesity and chronic illness crisis in North America today. If we were right about feeding all the time leading to general health and fat loss, I doubt we’d see the health crises we see today.
Our bodies, and specifically our cells, need fasting time. We need an element of “starvation” for our cells to function properly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating prolonged or long term starvation here in any sense. In fact, if you struggle with or have struggled in the past with any kind of eating disorder, it might be worth speaking to your doctor or counselor before experimenting with intermittent fasting. For our cells to function properly they need a time out from constantly processing food. They need a chance to clean up and reboot in a sense. Constantly feeding your cells doesn’t offer a time for them to repair any problems happening or remove waste that’s building up inside. This is of course very simply stated, but it’s a great way of explaining what our cells need – daily rejuvenation!
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
So what are some of the benefits of intermittent fasting? When your cells get this chance to rejuvenate, MANY health benefits can happen.
Hormones in particular seem to benefit greatly from intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting leads to insulin levels dropping. Insulin is one of the biggest aggressors in our bodies today, specifically when it stays constantly at elevated levels. So many devastating diseases that we see in the health care world are now being linked back to chronically high insulin levels. If we are constantly feeding all day, we will have consistently high insulin levels, with no chance of them ever really dropping. When insulin has a chance to drop, the other hormones have a chance to respond appropriately. They can reach a balance again, leading to a change in a vast number of symptoms and diseases.
Mental Health / Brain Health
When the body goes into fasting mode, it stimulates a specific gene called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) to make proteins. These proteins are incredibly beneficial for neurons (nerve cells) as it plays an important role in helping them grow, mature, and function. Intermittent fasting has been shown to boost levels of BDNF, enhancing the overall health and function of your brain. Many people report a decrease or total disappearance of “brain fog” when they adopt the intermittent fasting lifestyle. It’s no surprise given the health benefits of increasing BDNF levels. Additionally, many people report enhanced mood or changes to their depression/anxiety levels. Again, elevating the levels of BDNF in your brain can help to modify the nervous system and in turn really change for the better your mental health.
Anti-aging / Mitochondrial Function
If you’re into health, you’re into mitochondria, that’s just how it is. The mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell – the true power generators keeping your cells alive. If you have a problem with your mitochondria, you’ll have problems with your health. And if you have problems with your mitochondria, you will begin to break down their communication networks which leads to accelerated aging. Intermittent fasting has been shown to stabilize and enhance mitochondrial networks. This amplifies the health and wellness of your cells as well as significantly slows down the aging of those cells (and therefore your body!).
Fat loss is a common benefit to intermittent fasting, particularly fat around the abdomen and mid-section. How ideal! You still get to eat all you want and lose weight! Well, don’t get too carried away. This can happen for some people. But if you truly want the added benefit of weight loss as part of your intermittent fasting journey, make wise decisions. Like I mentioned above, lowering your carbohydrate intake / going keto is probably your best bet for finding weight loss success with intermittent fasting. If you increase your caloric intake during your feed time compared to normal, you probably won’t notice much change with respect to fat loss. Intermittent fasting isn’t a free pass to eat like a prisoner on death row. Make wise nutrition decisions as often as you can, intermittent fasting or not.
There are truly a slew of other health benefits to intermittent fasting that have come out of recent clinical research. Search the web if you’re looking for more, there are many to be found. I highlighted a few in this article, but I encourage you to see if intermittent fasting can be a really helpful fit for you.
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About the author
Dr. Tara Dunne is a licensed naturopathic doctor who received her degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. She also holds a master’s degree in Health and Wellness and a bachelor’s degree in Biology. She is passionate about natural wellness and helping people achieve optimal health.
Her special medical interests include atypical neurodevelopment, pediatrics and biochemistry. Tara spent several years training under some of the world leaders in these specific topics, and she now uses that training coupled with natural therapies to help people overcome illness and achieve optimal health. She is dedicated to making sure the best possible care, outcomes and information is available to everyone. In a world of health information overload, she's committed to helping people navigate their own personal health journeys. Her other interests include caring for her family, triathlon training and fitness, volunteering for people living with special needs, major league baseball, and cooking.