Mainstream media is finally picking up on intermittent fasting (IF) and, frankly, it’s about time. The health benefits of fasting have been scientifically documented…anti-aging, normalized weight, normalized insulin levels, increased life span and decreased risk of some diseases just to name a few. One caveat before I get into this any further…I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. However, what I do know is that intermittent fasting is definitely NOT for diabetics or for pregnant or nursing women. Nor would it be wise to pursue if a person has high cortisol or adrenal fatigue issues. Therefore, if you fall into any of these categories, eating disorders or have any other health concerns, please check with your healthcare practitioner first. That said, if you do bring it up intermittent fasting with your doctor you should be prepared for your doctor to roll his or her eyes at the notion unless they are super forward thinking and open minded. You have to understand that most physicians only spend a nano second in medical school learning about nutrition and sometimes that information is outdated so keep in mind that your doctor will not always be your most cutting edge source for nutritional philosophies. Let’s explore more in detail….
There are various schools of thought on intermittent fasting so in order to understand intermittent fasting, let me explain what it isn’t. Intermittent fasting is not about starvation and deprivation or skipping meals. Actually, let me note that intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is a lifestyle. Simply put, it is narrowing your window of eating rather than eating all day long from wakeup to bedtime. For many people, the notion of not eating first thing in the morning flies in the face of conventional wisdom. After all, we’ve been told that breakfast is the most important part of the day. The word “breakfast” essentially means to “break your fast” but nowhere does it imply that it has to be eaten between the hours of 6-10 a.m. With intermittent fasting you are essentially pushing your first meal of the day, or breaking your fast, to a little later in the day which for some people could be afternoon or even early evening. It is also not a “diet.” The idea is that you are eating what you normally eat within a shorter window. However, this does not mean you should stuff your face with anything and everything during your eating window. If you are eating a crappy diet then you would do well to clean things up first in order to experience the full benefits of intermittent fasting.
There are many ways to incorporate intermittent fasting. I have personally been experimenting off and on with various aspects of intermittent fasting since about 2009 and have read various philosophies on the topic. The approaches have varied from a 4 hour eating window to 24 hour fasts a few days a week to every other day. After much trial and error, I have landed on a way that works well for me and, more importantly, is sustainable. Please note there is some school of thought that suggests women should not do intermittent fasting as it can mess with the hormones and cause irregular periods. I think there is validity to this point if a woman gets too lean and goes too long between meals. However, I still think it can be done in a safe way. But again, this is my own personal experience so all that being said…if you decide to try intermittent fasting and find that you are experiencing any negative effects whatsoever…STOP! I will say that if I fast for too long I start to feel cold and anxious. The basic blueprint of the plan I follow (with a few modifications) can be found in Dave Asprey’s book, “The Bulletproof Diet” and is what works for me without any ill effects.
Here’s how I do it:
6:00 AM – Drink a cup of coffee blended with butter from grass-fed cows, coconut oil and gelatin from grass-fed cows (my version of “Bulletproof coffee” which is a whole other blog topic). In a nutshell, starting my day with this fatty elixir of creamy deliciousness provides a high level of satiety while keeping my insulin levels low and staves off any hunger pangs until I break my fast. The first question that everyone asks is how can I consume all that fat and not get fat. Again, that is a whole other blog topic so for more information on the philosophy of Bulletproof coffee, the recipe, and the science behind it from the creator himself, Dave Asprey, check out this link. Ok, I know there is some dispute about whether drinking coffee with butter is really fasting. Dave explains it like this:
“The problem is not everyone does well with fasting. If you’re a busy entrepreneur or even a student who needs to be in a high performance state all day, dealing with hunger can be a distraction. It’s much worse for those with an impaired metabolism (i.e. the people who need to lose weight). If you have more than 30 pounds of extra fat or if you’re facing diabetes, it can be hard to skip meals and still get things done.”
Somewhere between 10 AM and 1 PM – Break my fast depending on what I have going on with my day. This could be traditional breakfast food such as bacon and eggs or it could be a salad with rotisserie chicken and some fruit.
Between 7 and 8 p.m. – Consume my last meal of the day
So as you can see, my eating window is roughly 7-10 hours. The remaining 14-17 hours are spent in a fasted state which at first glance may sound daunting but it really isn’t when I factor in that I am asleep 7-8 of those hours (well, ideally anyway!) That’s the sweet spot I’ve found works best for me.
The biggest advantage this plan has for me is that is not complicated. There was a time of my life when I subscribed to the bodybuilder method of 5 meals a day eating. However, I found I spent far too much time obsessing about my food spanning from preparing it to how much I was going to eat, when I was going to eat it, and even stressing out if I missed a meal. Being the mother of a pre-schooler, I simply don’t have time to think that much about my food. With intermittent fasting, I don’t have to count calories or carbs and can still enjoy all the foods I like to eat. I do strive to eat well but I don’t stress out as I once did if I want to enjoy a slice or pizza (or two!) or dessert. Intermittent fasting has also reduced my cravings for sugary foods and I am able to easily maintain my weight.
I have been living the intermittent fasting lifestyle for 2 years and while it is impossible for me to say with all certainty that all the claims about intermittent fasting are factual, what I can say with certainty is that at the time of this writing is this: I am just shy of my 49th birthday and in the best shape of my life and I look and feel better than I did in my 20’s. My blood work is spot on (my doc actually said it was the best of any of his patients!) and I am free of any chronic disease. Whether any of this has anything to do with intermittent fasting could be up for debate. Bottom line, nutrition is a bit like religion…you have to find your own truth. For me, intermittent fasting is my truth.
Have you ever experimented with intermittent fasting? If so, how did it work for you? Tell us about it in the comments below!