Fasting has always been a controversial practice. It has recorded roots dating back to ancient Greece and throughout the centuries it’s been used as a tool for self-improvement, religious aspirations and political statements.
Modern-day fasting diets are sometimes labelled as a fad. And while the amount of hype surrounding them is a bit overwhelming, I can’t ignore the benefits that have been associated with fasting since the early days of recorded human history. Opinions are divided but many experts insist that an intermittent fasting diet (if done properly), may be a path to optimal health for adults of all ages.
I recently undertook a four-week fasting diet myself. Overall, it was a positive experience; I saw physical and mental improvements over the four-week period. I undertook the fast as a scientific experiment, but found myself struggling to stay focused on the facts of what I was doing. That’s my main concern when it comes to intermittent fasting: hype has a tendency to cloud judgement. And I think it’s crucial for anyone considering a new diet to look beyond the short-term benefits and work towards long-term wellness.
So, what is fasting and why would you do it?
When you fast, you restrict caloric intake over an extended period of hours, days or even weeks. One of the most common goals for someone undertaking a new diet is weight loss and intermittent fasting is no different. With supporters of intermittent fasting claiming that the practice can increase your metabolic rate by 3.6-14 per cent₁, it’s no wonder those looking to lose a few pounds want to give it a try.
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Another study shows that intermittent fasting can reduce blood sugar levels by 3-6 per cent₂. These findings are particularly exciting as optimal blood sugar levels are vital for long-term health. When there’s more sugar (glucose) in the blood than your body can process on a regular basis, it can build up and potentially result in permanent damage to major organs.
But what happens when your blood sugar is low and your body has used up all the glucose in the blood? This is one of the biochemical effects that fasting can bring on. When your body has used up all the glucose in your blood, insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) levels go down. This process is called ketosis and some call it the body’s ‘survival mode’.
This is relevant to weight loss as during ketosis, your body taps into fat stores, burning body fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. What we’re most interested in is the implications this biochemical process has for long-term wellness. During ketosis, the body begins to heal itself as a primary function. Research indicates that fasting can lead to many forms of healing within your body, from an increased rate of regeneration in brain cells₃ to autophagy, which is the body’s highly-efficient ‘housekeeping’ process₄.
Lifestyle change trumps trend every time
Fasting does have benefits and research proves it. But in the interest of long-term wellness, let’s look at strategies for turning it into a lifestyle rather than a burst of effort. Furthermore, let’s build on those strategies with tips for getting the most out of that lifestyle.
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First, the format. There are many ways to structure an intermittent fasting diet, but two in particular are considered to be the most accessible and sustainable. The first, the 16:8, entails a 16-hour period of fasting and an eight-hour window for eating every 24 hours. For example, if you finish dinner at 6pm, you won’t eat until 10am the following day. It’s considered a fairly effortless fasting method that simply means an early dinner and/or a delayed breakfast. The second is the 5:2. In this program, you eat normally for five days each week and fast for two days. Those two days are not a full fast, however; most advocates of the diet recommend consuming 500-600 calories on those fasting days.
Second, a lifestyle change can’t be limited to diet. Movement is another cornerstone of health and experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days to see improvements in overall health₆. Those with weight loss goals will be happy to hear that research shows “when it comes to losing weight and body fat, diet and exercise are most effective when done together as compared to either strategy alone₅.” Keep in mind that exercise doesn’t have to be intensely aerobic; data indicates that yoga is one of the fastest-growing forms of exercise in the world and people are opting for lower-pace activities like jogging or walking.
Third, we recommend focusing on what you do put into your body rather than fixating on what you don’t put into your body through a fasting diet. Your body has basic nutritional needs and complex uses for the micronutrients and co-factors found in wholefoods. If you do decide to incorporate an intermittent fasting diet into your lifestyle, remember to optimize the physiological processes that the fasting will bring on. Calorie restriction will cut out many of the macronutrients, but your body can use micronutrients to enhance healing. This optimization may be as easy as supplementing with a natural multivitamin such as Daily Superfood by Activated Nutrients.
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The one-size-fits-one approach
If you decide to give intermittent fasting a go, please consult with your doctor before beginning. And remember that lifestyle is a very personal thing – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness. If you find that a new diet or routine is making you unhappy, it might not be the right fit. Peace of mind is a crucial part of overall wellness, so it’s important that your lifestyle has a positive effect on your mental health. Visit www.activatednutrinets.com for more information.
Have you ever tried fasting? What are your thoughts on dieting?
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2. Adrienne R. Barnosky, Kristin K. Hoddy, Terry G. Unterman, Krista A. Varady. “Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings”. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S193152441400200X
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6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2005 Dec 2;54(47):1208-12. Adult participation in recommended levels of physical activity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16319815