Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve likely heard of intermittent fasting by now. Long gone are the days where every nutrition expert proclaims in unison that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” or “you need to eat more frequently to boost your metabolism”. While many people still swear by three meals a day, more and more health enthusiasts are jumping on the intermittent fasting train. But, can skipping breakfast actually benefit your health? Here at Ultiself, we want you to know the truth, so we’ve examined the research for you. Let’s explore the science behind intermittent fasting and discover whether intermittent fasting is right for you.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is simple in concept but a little more complex in execution (at least at the beginning). Quite simply, it means refraining from eating intermittently. People who follow fasting schedules will designate certain periods of time for eating and other windows of time for fasting. A popular version is 16:8, where a person refrains from food for 16 hours then consumes their daily calories in an eight-hour feeding window. Others opt for 20:4, entire day fasts, alternate day fasting, two days a week fasting, and many more. Intermittent fasting is a flexible way of eating and you can adapt a schedule that best suits your lifestyle.
What can I consume during a fast?
The most important thing during a fasting window is to avoid food. Experts recommend consuming below 50 calories in order to remain in a fasted state. Depending on the length and timing of your fasting window, you may be fine just consuming water. However, for many people, a little something else might be essential.
Here are six drinks you can consume during your fast:
- Water- water is the holy grail of liquids. Drink still or sparkling water and even add a slice of lemon if you’re feeling sassy. Don’t throw any artificial sweeteners in there as they can interfere with your fast.
- Coffee- black coffee is a favorite for many people who fast. It provides an energy boost and it tastes great. Additionally, research has shown that consuming coffee while fasted may even boost the benefits of fasting by stimulating ketone production.
- Tea- a cup of herbal tea can be a great way to soothe yourself during your fasted state. Various types of tea also offer health benefits, such as antioxidant protection, improved gut health, and green tea may even help with fat loss.
- Apple Cider Vinegar- If you get sick of the taste of water try doing a shot of apple cider vinegar. It won’t interfere with your fast and provides numerous health benefits such as aiding digestion.
- Bone Broth- If your fasting window is 24 hours or more, you may want to incorporate bone broth. Choose a good homemade one (not from a can or cube) and reap the benefits of a delicious cup filled with healthy proteins and minerals.
- Electrolyte Mix- Mixes such as those containing potassium, magnesium, salt, and calcium are safe to consume as long as they do not contain any sugar or sweeteners that break your fast.
You may be wondering why sugar-free sodas aren’t on this list? As it turns out, certain artificial sweeteners may break your fast. Here’s a table showing which artificial sweeteners are ok to have during your fast when your goal is health or weight loss and which ones you should avoid.
|Sweeteners that don’t break a fast||Sweeteners that break a fast|
*You can check out a full list of which sweeteners are fast-friendly here.
Can I Take Supplements During a Fast?
If possible, it’s best to time your supplements during your feeding window. If this is not feasible, it is usually fine to include them as long as they aren’t in gummy form or soaking in vats of oil. For instance, supplements like CBD or fish oil usually contain about 20 calories from fat which does not interfere with insulin levels and should not interrupt the body’s fasted state. One supplement which should be avoided during a fast is Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). BCAAs can stimulate digestion and the amino acid leucine stimulates activity that blocks some health benefits of fasting.
Why Should I Try Intermittent Fasting?
Most people in the modern world walk around in a very fed state. With all of the modern conveniences, it’s pretty easy to acquire food whenever you want it. Not only does overeating contribute to the obesity epidemic, but it also means that we rarely give our bodies an opportunity to be in a fasted state. Why does that matter? When we don’t eat for a little while our bodies turn on some pretty cool biological functions.
What Happens in My Body When I Fast?
When looking at it in simple terms, a fed body is in growth mode and a fasted body is in clean-up, maintenance, and repair mode.
In a fed state, your body receives signals from mTOR and insulin pathways telling cells to grow, divide, and synthesize proteins. This process also causes your body to turn off systems involved with cellular repair, fat metabolism, and stress resistance.
When you fast, your body sends a whole set of different signals. It’s like an alarm goes off inside of you that says “ALERT * FOOD SHORTAGE * ALERT”. Once this alarm is sounded your body turns on an adapted stress response. In short bursts, this stress response can have some excellent health benefits. First of all, fasting activates the AMPK signaling pathway. This pathway inhibits mTOR and tells cells to go into self-protection mode. This means the activation of autophagy and fat breakdown. Autophagy is essentially a cellular clean-up crew, it clears unnecessary or dysfunctional cell parts in order to regenerate healthy cells. Fat breakdown means eating up those love handles for energy.
When you are in a fed state, ketones in your blood are low. Ketones are molecules produced from fat in your liver when there isn’t enough insulin available. Fasting causes a metabolic switch to turn on in your body where it uses ketones for cellular fuel. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, ketones are elevated after about 8-12 hours of fasting. Ketones can accelerate fat loss, reduce inflammation, and can help suppress appetite.
Ketones signal the activity of other proteins and molecules that influence health and aging. For instance, they signal a rise in NAD+. This molecule leads to the activation of sirtuins which have been found to slow the aging process, boost metabolism, and reduce inflammation. Ketone bodies also result in an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which plays a key role in learning, memory, stress-resistance, and growth of new brain cells.
Flipping this metabolic switch results in cellular processes that carry over into the fed state. These processes enhance disease resistance and boost mental and physical performance.
What are the benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Turning on a stress response in your body may sound a little extreme, but the health benefits to fasting are numerous. Here are 10 benefits to intermittent fasting:
- Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight - restricting food intake can help you lose fat in a few different ways. First of all, it gets easier to restrict calories with a regimented eating window. Furthermore, biological mechanisms that are activated during a fast can help burn body fat. Fasting boosts growth hormone which can facilitate muscle burning and fat gain. It also lowers insulin levels which can drive fat loss. Intermittent fasting may result in less muscle loss than conventional diets and has been shown to be a very effective means to lose body fat.
- Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes - Research has shown that intermittent fasting may help better control blood sugar response which reduces the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. An intermittent fasting protocol has even been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to determine whether fasting is a useful measure for preventing type 2 diabetes but animal models show that it results in long-term improvements in insulin sensitivity.
- Intermittent fasting can make you live longer - Intermittent fasting improves key longevity biomarkers such as heart health, blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels. It may also help battle cancer. Additionally, fasting can help target inflammation, free radicals, and oxidative damage through many mechanisms. This means your major organs, including your skin, can reap the benefits.
- Intermittent fasting may protect your heart and other cells - Intermittent fasting reduces inflammation and oxidative stress associated with heart disease and hardening of the arteries. Markers of cardiovascular health have been shown to improve 2 to 4 weeks after beginning a fasting protocol.
- Intermittent fasting may prevent cancer - Animal studies have shown that a fasting protocol can reduce cancerous tumors in aging mammals. Being in a fasted state impairs energy metabolism in cancer cells which can inhibit their growth and make cancer more treatable. Subsequently, research is now being done using fasting as a means to help treat cancer and increase the efficacy of chemotherapy in cancer patients.
- Intermittent fasting is good for your brain - Research has shown that intermittent fasting may lead to improvements in verbal memory, working memory, overall cognition, and executive functions like attention. Fasting has also been shown to elevate feelings of well-being. Furthermore, fasting increases stress-resistance in your brain cells which can help ward off neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Intermittent fasting may help with Multiple Sclerosis, Asthma, or Arthritis - due to the increased anti-inflammatory and restorative activity during fasting, it isn’t surprising that people often experience improvement of symptoms from inflammatory diseases. In addition to the reduction in overall inflammation, intermittent fasting also supports weight loss which further helps ameliorate the impact of diseases like multiple sclerosis, asthma, and arthritis.
- Intermittent fasting can improve athletic performance - Intermittent fasting has been shown to allow people to maintain muscle mass while losing fat. Research has also shown that a fasting schedule may improve endurance, balance, and coordination.
- Intermittent fasting can help you heal like wolverine - Multiple studies have shown that fasting may improve healing by reducing tissue damage and inflammation after injury. For instance, in a study on preoperative patients, researchers found that fasting before surgery reduced the complications and improved healing time of patients. Animal studies have even shown that fasting after brain injuries may prevent further damage and improve healing. This means that fasting after head injuries or stroke may also provide health benefits to humans! More work is needed in this area to determine the potential clinical application.
- Intermittent fasting can help you build a better relationship with food - Many people are endless grazers and snackers. They pick up food out of boredom, habit, or to soothe themselves. Intermittent fasting forces people to explore whether they are actually hungry, retrain old habits, and better learn about the cues their bodies send them about food.
Are there any risks to intermittent fasting?
Some people may find intermittent fasting difficult, especially at first. The best recommendation is to ease yourself into a fasting routine by gradually increasing the fasting window while decreasing the feeding window. It is initially common to experience irritability, hunger, and problems concentrating during a fast. However, these symptoms go away within a month of adopting a fasting routine.
People with a history of disordered eating should avoid fasting unless under the supervision of their healthcare provider. Fasting can trigger problematic behaviors when people become overly fixated on weight or being overly restrictive with food rather than focusing on health benefits.
Should I Try Intermittent Fasting?
It’s always an individual choice whether to try a bio-hack, but some definitely have more perks than others. Intermittent fasting is undoubtedly an excellent way to modify your life slightly in order to gain numerous health benefits.
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