Damn Good Food

Intermittent Fasting: Is it a Lifestyle Hack you Should Consider?

Curious about Intermittent Fasting? We took a deep dive into the most popular methods, the science behind how it works, as well as the benefits and potential risk involved. If you have ever been curious as to whether this lifestyle strategy would work for you, take a peak!

10 Minutes

Intermittent fasting. What’s the deal?

I am sure you have heard of it by now, but there is so much information out there, that it can be hard to navigate how to do it and whether it’s beneficial or not. I took some time to research this approach to eating and from my learnings, it can be a great tool for weight loss as and research points to additional health benefits, but only if it's sustainable for you. There are also some risks to consider, so continue reading if you want to learn more

According to Harvard Health Publishing article published in February 2020, “there’s a ton of incredibly promising intermittent fasting (IF) research done on fat rats. They lose weight, their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars improve… but they’re rats. Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and incredibly effective, but really no more effective than any other diet. In addition, many people find it difficult to fast.”

I personally have never consciously done intermittent fasting, but outside of being pregnant or breastfeeding, I typically wait to eat breakfast until I feel hungry which is around 10AM (unless I am training for a marathon or again pregnant or breastfeeding) and with my dinner being around 6:30PM, I typically go 15 hours without eating, so intuitively I have done my own version of intermittent fasting.

First, let’s dig into what it is and a few of the most popular methods:

The most known and popular ways to fast, include doing a daily 16 hour fast or a 24 hour fast one time a week. During your fasting period, you can drink water, coffee, and other zero-calorie beverages, but you cannot eat anything. There is some controversary around whether or not you can add MCT oil and butter/ghee to your coffee to make bulletproof coffee and it's typically viewed that if you are doing it for weight loss, since it's high in fat it won't raise your blood sugar and therefore likely won't break your fast.

Since IF doesn’t specify which foods you should eat, it’s not a conventional diet in that sense.  To give you an idea of what this could look like, the 16 hour fast usually just involves skipping breakfast and restricting eating to a 8 hour period. Outside of that 8 hour period, you can't consumer any calories. The 24 hour fast means you would eat dinner one day and not eat until dinner the following day, ensuring you are not consuming any calories for 24 hours. This one seems more extreme, especially if you are an active individual. You should always consider your lifestyle and whether it will fuel you. On the contrary, when you think about it, fasting has been around throughout human evolution. According to Heathline, “Ancient hunter-gatherers didn’t have supermarkets, refrigerators or food available year-round. Sometimes they couldn’t find anything to eat. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. In fact, fasting from time to time is more natural than always eating 3–4 (or more) meals per day.”

As always, we preach that there are no short cuts to your health and even though this approach is structured around when you eat, in our opinion you still must be conscious of what you eat. To create a healthy plate at each meal, you should focus on consuming healthy fats (avocado, grass fed butter or ghee, non-processed oils, and nuts), well sourced and non-processed proteins (poultry, fish, beef), and nutrient dense carbohydrates (squash, brown rice, fruit, beans, etc.). If you fast for 16 or 24 hours, but then decide to binge on pizza, ice cream, and/or foods that have limited nutrients to fuel you and you don't mix in any veggies, complex carbs, or good sources of protein, then IF as a weight loss tool isn't gonna work for you mama.  Weight loss comes down to caloric expenditure and a net loss ultimately, IF is simply a tool to potentially help accomplish this.

Now let’s talk about what happens when you fast and the science behind it:

As I have talked about in our sugar alternatives post, all carbohydrates (simple or complex) are broken down into glucose in your stomach and are released into your bloodstream. Your body then releases insulin to open cell doors and allows the glucose to be used as energy or stored for later use (then called glycogen). Once the glucose is removed from your bloodstream, your blood sugar levels will begin to lower, AKA level back out. If we cut out snacking, our insulin levels will naturally go down for a longer period and our fat cells will then use their stored glycogen for energy (AKA burn stored fat) and you will lose weight! Essentially, if we let our insulin levels go down far enough and for long enough, then we burn fat. It’s as simple as that, whether intermittent fasting or not.

There is a lot of evidence-based research that proves that IF benefits both weight loss and brain, but the bulk of the research has been done on animals, such as mice... not people. Researchers studying fasting have called for more and it is increasing. With this in consideration, results are still promising and include:  

  • Initiates a cellular repair processes and changes the expression of your genes, linked to protection against disease and longevity.  It does this by reducing the oxidative stress and preserves learning and memory functioning, according to Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, part of the US National Institutes of Health. Mattson has investigated the health benefits of intermittent fasting on the cardiovascular system and brain in rodents. This same benefits occurs with intense exercise, so don't think IF is the only way to benefit!
  • Increases the levels of growth hormones in your body dramatically, it can be as high as 5X the average. This aids in muscle gain and fat loss.
  • Lowers insulin levels, making stored fat more accessible. As we talked about in depth above. This is likely the most popular reason that people start IF.

Potential risks to consider:  

There is some research that shows that this approach may not be as beneficial for women. The following study on alternate day fasting, was evidence that it can worsen the blood sugar control in women. Studies on rats have also shown that it can make female rats emaciated, masculinized, infertile and cause them to miss cycles. If you decide to give IF a try, be in tune with your body and keep these potential risks in mind. It also has the tendency to cause extreme eating patterns that are unhealthy, such as binge eating, if you have previous history of an eating disorder this approach may trigger some unhealthy eating patterns, so keep this in mind.

When pregnant or breastfeeding, your body needs more readily available energy so this isn't an approach to consider while either.

To sum it up:

IF is a weight loss tool that has been seen to have some major health benefits, it may be the right tool for certain individuals at the right time in their life, but data in humans is still limited and like any "diet" there are risks to consider. The biggest concern is that it’s hard to sustain and can lead to binge eating. It’s a lifestyle strategy to consider and if it is sustainable for you, great! But paying attention to how you feel is crucial and if your period become irregular/you skip a period, you should go back to eating regularly timed meals. If you already have a high metabolism, this is probably is not the best lifestyle strategy for you, as it can lead to low blood sugar levels and potential mood swings. If you are anything like me, girl needs her breakfast, lunch, and dinner intuitively when I feel hungry. The best protocol is to eat a nutrient dense diet, get daily exercise, sleep for 7+ hours a night, and take care of yourself. I know it's what NO ONE wants to hear, but we are here to share truth, not nonsense to give you false hope. At the end of the day, a calorie deficit diet no matter if it's intermittent fasting or during normal meals will help you lose weight.

If you are still curious and want to learn more, check out a sample meal plan by MindBodyGreen.com here or some additional ways to perform intermittent fasting from Healthline here.