Intermittent Fasting

An Eating Pattern that Can Benefit Your Body and Your Brain

It’s been around and popular for several years. Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a predetermined period of time that an individual purposely doesn’t eat food. When you fast, insulin levels drop and human growth hormone increases. Your cells also initiate important cellular repair processes and change which genes they express. IF can potentially lead to weight loss and can improve health.

Fasting has been in practice throughout human evolution. Hunters and gatherers were not guaranteed they would find food regularly. Humans have been able to function without food (not water) for extended periods of time.

Even 50 years ago it was easier to be healthy weight. There were no computers, TVs shut down for the night and people stopped eating because they went to bed.  Portions were smaller and people spent more time outside and got more exercise.

Fasting has also been practiced for religious or spiritual reasons by Muslims, Christians, Hebrews and Buddhists.

If you don’t want to be bothered with tracking calories and filling out food records and if you don’t want to eat pre-made foods or change what you eat, then intermittent fasting may be for you.

According to Harvard Health, part of the fascination with intermittent fasting arises from research with animals showing that fasting may reduce cancer risk and slow aging. IF works on both sides of the calorie equation. It boosts metabolic rate (increases calories out) and reduces the amount of food you eat (reduces calories in).

IF Benefits

Intermittent fasting can help with weight loss which is the reason why many practice it. According to a 2014 review of scientific literature, IF can cause weight loss of three to eight percent during a 3-24-week period. “I tried IF this past March when COVID hit,” said Mary Backer. “I limited my time to eat from noon to 8, similar to my work schedule.” She found it difficult not eating in the morning. “I was used to eating in the car on my way to work but of course I wasn’t commuting any more. I tried to keep busy – riding my bike when I got hungry. I also drank lots of tea and water.” Mary practiced IF until October and lost about 40 lbs. “I did it every day because I needed the structure and routine. I also needed to lose weight, but I ate whatever I wanted although I tried to make smart choices. I’ve tried most every diet on the planet. IF really works for me.”  Since then she’s kept off all but six pounds which is a normal weight gain after ending any diet.

IF can reduce insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar by 3-6 percent and insulin levels by 20-30 percent. This can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Studies also show it can improve some risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammatory markers.

It may increase the brain hormone BDNF and may aid in the growth of new nerve cells. It can be good for your brain.

Last year, Hill resident Rama Moorthy practiced IF from 9:30 to 5:30. “I suffer from ADHD and dyslexia and I found I can concentrate more.” She lost 15 pounds in less than six weeks. “I found I felt lighter, slept better and felt like I have more energy. My digestion was also better.” She decided IF would continue to be a part of her lifestyle.

Rama said she always has eaten thoughtfully, but never controlled what she ate. Her time is limited and her work intense similar to many Hill residents. She ate two meals – one about 10 and the other around 4. She also discovered that much of her hunger was hydration. “When I drank water my hunger disappeared.”

Who Should Not Fast?

People who are underweight, struggling with weight gain, under 18 years of age, pregnant or breast feeding should not fast because they need sufficient calories on a daily basis for proper development.

People who are diabetic, have acid reflux or low blood pressure also may not benefit from IF. “I tried IF about two years ago,” said Patricia Crosby-Tawfik, a personal trainer. “I did it because I like to experiment with different diets to see if they are appropriate to recommend to clients.” What she found when she tried eating from 10 (she had her regular breakfast) until 6 and then fasted until the next morning that she became dizzy and got a sour stomach. “I have low blood pressure and acid reflux,” she said. “I realized it’s not for me.”

How IF Works

Your fast begins with the last bite of food in the evening. The optimal hours are 16 hours fasting and eight hours eating.

The cycle can be repeated as frequently as you like from just once or twice per week to every day depending on your personal preference. Sixteen/eight is popular among those who want to lose weight but as you begin you can ease your way into it by reducing the gap between the fast and eating times such as 14/10 or 13/11 and gradually work your way up 16/8.

According to some, it’s fine to regularly alter your fasting hours. It’s the 16 hour fast that’s important, not the specific routine.

No food or drink is forbidden during your eight-hour eating time. You can eat carbs through your entire eating window even if your goal is weight loss. Just by the fact that you are reducing the time in which you eat each day you are also reducing the amount of calorie intake as well. However, if you eat ice cream for eight hours and fast for 16 you will be technically practicing IF, but you are not providing your body with much needed nutrients. Eating a balanced diet will sustain you in the long run.

Other IF Methods

The 16/8 method is just one of the ways to practice IF. Eat-Stop-Eat is fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week. Another method is the 5-2 Diet. You consume 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days a week but eat normally the other five. There’s also the one meal a day plan called OMAD which is exactly what it sounds like. You fast for 23 hours and consume your meal during the same one-hour window each day. It is recommended you consume your meal after your most active past of the day.

Apps, Books and a Website

Apps and websites too numerous to name here are available to help you succeed with your IF program. Good Housekeeping.com listed the most popular apps: Zero, BodyFast, Life Fasting Tracker, FastHabit, Window, Fastient and Vora. Most have in-app purchases. Women’s Health also recommends Fastic when you want help eating better and Infasting for extra motivation.

Dofasting.com is a website that will create a program for you for a fee based on your answers to its questionnaire.

On Amazon, books that have recipes and guides for IF are plentiful. Personal Intermittent Fasting Diet Guide and Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Fasting by Becky Gillaspy is one. Another is Intermittent Fasting Cookbook: Fast-Friendly Recipes for Optimal Health, Weight Loss and Results by Nicole Poirier.  I found no less than five books with this title: Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 50.

If you want to try IF it’s best to check with a doctor who knows you, your medications (if any) and your lifestyle. If you’ve never fasted and are not sure how your body will react, it’s a good idea to ease your way into the rhythm starting with a shorter fasting period. You may also want to try a few days of IF to begin and work up to six or seven days.

There is no one ‘correct’ way. The beauty of IF is you decide what works best for you. You monitor how you feel and tweak your program as needed.

Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 20 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy and get well. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: [email protected].