Intermittent Fasting

Fasting has been a part of human nature going back to our Neanderthal ancestors.  Without refrigeration or agricultural knowledge, our ancient predecessors had to hunt down their food on a daily basis, sometimes going days without food.  Eventually the human body adapted to utilize alternative fuel sources like body fat to survive.  With modern day refrigeration and agricultural advances, one would think that fasting is all but a dying habit, but it has actually made a great comeback and regardless your opinion of it, chances are you may unintentionally fast yourself.  First off, intermittent fasting is not a typical diet per say, instead you focus more on the timing of your consumption so it is more of an eating pattern that alternates between fasting periods and consumption periods.

Here are some of the most popular methods:

  • 16/8 - The most common method is the 16/8 protocol which fits the entirety of your daily consumption within an 8-hour window and fasting for 16 hours.  Breakfast is generally skipped with this method and if you think about it, it sounds like a typical day for a college student and even most 9-5 workers who “don’t have enough time” to eat breakfast in the morning.  
  • Eat-Stop-Eat - Possibly the most difficult and physically challenging method involves a 24 hour fast one to two times a week.  
  • 5:2 – This final method involves two non-consecutive days of the week capping caloric intake around 500-600 calories with normal consumption the rest of the week.  In my opinion this could arguably be just as difficult if not more so than the eat-stop-eat method because anytime I get a small bit of food in my empty stomach, it seems to trigger a black hole that is rarely satiated. 

So why should we try fasting?

The human body is an anomaly that continually adapts to survive.  In the absence of nutrients, many changes will occur not just in our stomachs but all the way down to a cellular level. 

Some changes that occur during fasting:

  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH which promotes lean muscle growth, increased bone density and the loss of adipose tissue, fat, skyrockets almost 5-fold when in a fasted state.
  • Insulin Sensitivity: Insulin sensitivity increases which will decrease overall blood insulin concentration allowing for greater fat oxidation.
  • Cellular Repair: In a fasted state, cells will begin to degrade old and damaged cells, notably mitochondria, to recycle and reuse vital proteins.  This cellular repair will also activate stem cells into a self-renewal state improving our immune systems.

By eating fewer meals, it becomes much easier to restrict caloric intake without having to constantly track food and drinks, however this is not full proof.  If you proceed to eat fast food and absurd amounts of food during your consumption periods then no progress may be seen.  Fasting can also save you time throughout the day that you can dedicate towards exercise because of the extra time available from not having to cook and clean up after three or so meals per day. 

In addition to an increase in HGH production, norepinephrine production increases as well which stimulates fat burn.  These hormonal changes can increase your metabolic rate by up to 14%.

Things To be Wary of:

There are some pertinent health risks associated with fasting, especially if you have a pre-existing condition like:

  • Diabetes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Underweight
  • History of eating disorders
  • Are pregnant
  • History of amenorrhea
  • Taking medications

If any of these conditions apply to you, please consult your physician with questions and concerns and notify them of your intentions before proceeding to fast.  Women in particular can be negatively affected by fasting, most notably inducing amenorrhea from hormonal imbalances.  

How to Get Started:

Chances are you’ve inadvertently fasted before in your life, most likely the 16/8 method.  If you haven’t, then I suggest trying out this strategy first to see how you feel and if you have no issues, aside from hunger, then continue to proceed to the next level.  I would not automatically recommend the 5:2 strategy of 500-600 calories, instead I would suggest gradually lowering your caloric intake on your two fasting days around 100-200 calories per week to ease your body through the transition and to have a relative gauge for how you feel before jumping in head first.  If you still feel good and energized and want to experiment with the eat-stop-eat strategy, then go ahead but be careful and let at least one person know of your plans so they can keep an eye on you to make sure you do not venture towards an eating disorder.