There seems to be so much talk about intermittent fasting these days. When meeting with a new client I ask them to go over what their day looks like for meals. I would say at least 50% of the clients I speak to are doing some form of intermittent fasting, or at least trying to. My response “is it working for you?” Most of the time I don’t get a resounding “yes”.
So, does this mean that intermittent fasting is not healthy or doesn’t really work. Not at all, done the right way, it’s extremely healing. So lets look at some of the components that make up this type of lifestyle.
First, let’s understand that intermittent fasting may sound like a new trend, but it’s thousands of years old. In my opinion, it’s the way we were designed to eat. Today, we have just put a new name on it. Back in the day when there was no electricity, no one really ate dinner. People were accustomed to a big early breakfast – go work out in the field- then back in for a big lunch – a bit more work in the fields- and as the sun set, maybe a tea and biscuit, then off to bed to rise early. Once the sun went down, no one was in the kitchen cooking or eating, there actually wasn’t much to do when it got dark, except go to bed. So generally, most people fasted from about 3 or 4pm until the morning. Approximately 16 hours of fasting.
It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that electricity was widely used. Today, we don’t even think about it. As the sun starts to set, we flick on the light switch to make dinner or zap it in the microwave to warm it up. Even after we finish eating, electricity has given us wonderful things like TV’s, phones and computers to keep us up late… and of course, turn the kitchen light on to grab some snacks while we are enjoying our late evening entertainment.
Is it any wonder that so many of us are struggling with digestion issues, sleep trouble, high blood sugar, blood pressure and a build of cholesterol among many other health issues? We rarely give our digestive system a break. Fasting can be so healing (which is another blog for another time 😉 ) so the idea of intermittent fasting has some great benefits.
Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years. Mattson says that after hours without food, the body exhausts its sugar stores and starts burning fat. He refers to this as metabolic switching.
Generally speaking, intermittent fasting should allow the body to use fat for fuel. This in-turn doesn’t just promote weight-loss, but also helps to reduce blood sugar, give mental clarity, it can help to rid the body of un-wanted cholesterol, reduce fatty liver, heal digestion issues along with a really long list of other benefits.
Before we get into the RIGHT way to intermittent fast, let’s look at some of the more popular methods of this kind of life-style. According to Amy Richter, RD Nutrition on healthline.com, these are the top 3 methods of Intermittent Fasting (IF):
The 16/8 method: Also called the Leangains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1–9 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.
Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume only 500–600 calories on two nonconsecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.
So if you don’t “over-eat” or eat a lot of junk in the hours you are consuming food, you should find some great benefits according to this article (and most all articles I’ve read on this “style” of eating for that matter). While this proves to have some truth to it, there’s still a great problem, especially with the most popular 16/8 method. This method recommends starting your first meal around 12pm, and the 2nd meal sometime around 7 or 8pm. The fasting then begins until it’s broken around noon the next day. Most studies permit the consumption of coffee, tea or other drinks during the ‘fasting’ time. So what this looks like on a practical level for most people, is that they wake up to a cup of coffee or two, maybe tea and don’t have their first meal until about 12 or 1pm. This could be something healthy, but it’s usually a meal on the run. Their second meal comes in around 7 or 8pm which is usually the larger meal. A protein, carb & veg, then off to bed few hours later as the ‘fasting begins”.
Does The Timing Matter?
As a nutritionist, and the in-depth study I have done on the human body, I see a few problems with these “times” of fasting.
Problem one: Scientifically speaking, our body adapts to the environment we are in. Our circadian rhythm follows the rhythm of the atmosphere. When the sunrises serotonin starts to be produced to make us feel awake and alert. As the sunsets and it gets dark, the body begins to produce melatonin which helps to begin our sleep cycle. Our metabolism also follows much of the same rhythm. In the day-time is when we burn the most calories. Around 4pm, as the sun makes it’s decent, our metabolism naturally slows down. This means that anything you eat after 4pm is going to take that much longer to digest, have more of an opportunity to turn into fat or stored calories, then it would if you ate that same meal before 4pm. The popular schedule of eating where we skip breakfast, eat lunch and then dinner is working against the bodies natural ability to burn calories.
Problem two: Of all the nine major system of the human body, the digestive system requires the most energy. With that being said, not only do you want to consume food when it’s at its optimum, but it’s also healthy to give the body a break from this “energy consumer”. When our body gets rest from digestion, as long as the calories you ate during your “eating-time” are healthy ones, the body can use those nutrients to heal in such a powerful way, because it has more energy to do so. Again, coming back to our circadian rhythm, the most optimum time for healing is not when we are working, at the gym, chasing our children, cleaning up dishes, cooking, partying or cutting the grass, it’s when we are sleeping. So imagine with me for a minute, the body finally shutting down from a busy day, you get into bed for a full nights sleep. Naturally the body system want to go into work to balance our hormones, improve our immune system, detoxify stored toxins and heal damaged cells. “But wait” says the body, “we can’t do that yet… our host just ate dinner. All energy to the digestive system, we will have to work on healing our host later” This may sound a little comical, but it’s actually very real. It’s no wonder most of us wake up exhausted and not hungry, our body has been working all night to digest food.
There are many other issues with this type of intermittent fasting, including the “Eat-stop-Eat” and 5:2 diet that we don’t have time to cover right now. But since this is the most popular, I really wanted to make sure we learn how to do the 16/8 method, the right way.
The Conclusion To The Matter
I’m sure by now you are putting the pieces together. Yes, allowing our digestive system to rest from food for 16 hours is powerful. However, the “when” we do this fast, makes all the difference for our healing. Looking at this through the eyes of science, our hormones are balance after 9pm, our cytokines (immune system secretions to help fight viruses and disease) are produced at night among many other healing processes. If we want these systems to be done properly, we must go to sleep early and empty.
Looks like our fore-fathers had it right after all. A big breakfast, a good lunch and no dinner. Makes sense doesn’t it? The problem is, is that we are a 9-5 generation. It’s no fun to miss dinner and all the wonderful snacks available to us while we catch up on the latest news or sitcom. If we could be real with our fast-paced life, most of us eat and live out of convenience and not out of discipline. We love these new trends that tell us to skip breakfast and eat dinner, that works so well with our daily lives. Unfortunately, it goes against the natural cycle of the human body.
When you can eat and sleep in the way our body was designed, big breakfast, good lunch, just water between, no snacking and only a light dinner, if needed, something amazing happens. The body weight goes to normal, the tummy goes flat, energy increases, disease starts to dissipate and sleep becomes so sweet. You actually wake up rested and hungry. Yes, a bit of a discipline, but now your really healing!
Need more guidance on how to lose weight, drop blood sugar or heal any other health issues? Follow these links to book a consolation with Certified Holistic Nutritionist Carolyn Nichol, CHN:
About The Author
Carolyn Nichol is a Well Me Right Wellness Expert. She is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and a graduate of DHSN. For over 10 years she has been successful in helping to reverse Type 2 Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Digestion issues, heal Psoriasis and even reverse stage 4 cancer among other illnesses. She has worked with the Toronto District School board, Community Centers, small and large corporations as well as many not-for-profit organizations. She has appeared on CP24, CTV and is currently the owner of the Energy Shack Juice Bar in Scarborough with her husband Colin Nicol. Carolyn believes that health is truly the greatest of all human blessings and her desire is to help anyone that wants to improve their health in a natural and affordable way.
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