What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting just refers to cycling between periods of eating and fasting. Typically, you will see 16 hours of fasting- sometimes longer- mostly when you are sleeping. That would mean that your “eating window” is around 8 hours. An example would be that you are only eating food between 12pm and 8pm, if you are doing a 16 hour fast. Fasting has been in practice since our ancestors hunted and foraged for food, fasting between hunts for extended periods of time.
Fasting for extended periods of time (16 hours or more) can have great health benefits, including (but not limited to) increased energy (better quality sleep), improved digestion (relief from IBS symptoms), and possibly even weight loss. Let’s take a deeper look into why these benefits occur from intermittent fasting, how you can try it yourself, and what you might experience.
Increased Energy- with IF, you are limiting the time in which you are eating, so you would ideally stop with enough time to get ready for bed. While you are sleeping, your body is busy at work digesting all the food you put into it, so by increasing your fasting window, you are giving your body more time to do this hard work, allowing it to relax a little more in the process. This helps with your quality of sleep, allowing you to be in a less-stressed state while sleeping, making your sleep more efficient.
Improved Digestion- In a fasted state, your body has the opportunity to fully digest all the foods you’ve eaten throughout the day. If you typically feel IBS symptoms and your food hygiene is on point (chewing your food ALL the way, sitting with no distractions while eating), IF might be a great option for you, because it will allow your body the time it needs to get everything processed before you add more fuel to the machine.
Weight Loss- There is no secret here about IF. It’s not magic. With IF, you are limiting the amount of time in the day that you are eating any food at all, which will naturally limit the amount of calories you will eat throughout the day. Less calories = calorie deficit, calorie deficit = weight loss. I will say here, though, that IF can also reduce inflammation in your body (back up to improved digestion) which can also lead to some weight loss, but this is more water weight that your body might be letting go of rather than body fat. But hey, it still might move the scale, and you might feel less “puffy.”
With all of these benefits its hard to say why we WOULDN’T all be doing Intermittent Fasting, right? Well, here’s the thing: some people feel really great in a fasted state. Some people feel really terrible. Like everything else, there is an adjustment period of a week or so for your body to adapt, and then it should be smooth sailing. Once you no longer feel the benefits of something like Intermittent Fasting, or you feel like you’re starting to see adverse effects (less energy, more IBS, etc), it might be a sign from your body telling you to back off and take a break for a little bit.
Just like with any other way of eating, you have to be constantly aware of the signals your body is sending you. This body awareness is key to any plan. Our bodies are constantly giving us feeback on what we are doing- if you ignore it, that’s when you start to see adverse affects (injury, IBS, poor sleep, increased stress, etc). If you are aware and in tune with your body, you can have great success in experimenting with new styles of eating, training, or playing!
If you are interested in implementing Intermittent Fasting into your diet, the best way to do it is to gradually start increasing your fasting window. If you normally have breakfast at 6am, try this week to push it back 1 hr to 7am, and try to get all food and snacks in before 8pm. Next week, try pushing breakfast back another hour to 8am, and so on until your first meal is at 12pm. If that does NOT sound appealing to you, you can go from the other direction as well- say you have a job where you need to be on and functional from 6am, maybe keep breakfast the same, but stop eating at 7pm, then the following week 6pm, etc until your eating window is 6am-2pm. Personally, I think that sounds harder, so it is completely your choice!
Either way, definitely take the route of gradually decreasing your eating window and increasing your fasting window so you allow yourself some time to adjust. Going cold turkey might seem like a good idea now, until you have a meeting at 7am in the middle of the week and you crash halfway through because you decided at the beginning of the week that you were no longer eating breakfast. That's no fun.
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Stay hungry, friends! (For knowledge, of course)