Inside scoop: The pros and cons of intermittent fasting explained.
This article was submitted by Samantha Lee Guyatt, Registered Holistic Nutritionist.
What is intermittent fasting? Where is the best place to start? Is it really worth a try?
Since our bodies are dynamic and everyone is different, what benefits one, may not benefit the other. After an introduction to intermittent fasting, check out the pros and cons of intermittent fasting explained below.
INTERMITTENT FASTING EXPLAINED:
Fasting is a part of traditional beliefs, it is cherished, celebrated and regarded as one of the most effective ways to cleanse and renew the body.
But lately one of the hottest ‘diet’ trends is called INTERMITTENT FASTING (IF). It is a rhythm of eating that alternates times of ‘feasting’ (times of eating) versus ‘fasting’ (times of obtaining from calorie).
Alternate day fasting: feasting one day and fasting the next.
Time restricted eating: (the 12-15hour fast)- feasting all day until 8pm and then abstaining from food until 11am the next day, repeat.
5:2: where 5 days of the week feast and 2 (non consecutive days) fast except for one large, hearty meal.
SO, WHAT’S THE POINT?
The removal of waste from our body (detoxification) is essential to function optimally. Our body naturally contains lingering waste, referred to as ‘ama’ in Ayurvedic Indian medicine.
A build-up of ama is said to be one of the major contributing factors of disease. One of the first steps to refresh the body is to give a break from eating to force the evacuation of ama from the digestive system. Once the body has nothing left to digest, it will have more time to focus on other processes that may need fixing and repair.
This same concept can be applied to IF. Many people I have spoken to report a boost in energy, mental clarity, weight-loss, less stress, and lower blood pressure due to intermittent fasting. Just by Googling the topic countless studies find relation to a decrease in immune disorders, cancer, heart disease, stroke… the list goes on.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
During times of fasting many people still drink lemon water, coffee and/or tea- but, skip the milk and sugar. However, in order for intermittent fasting to be successful the body must receive enough calories and nutrients during feasting times to fuel it through the upcoming fast and remain in a balanced state (referring to blood sugar balance).
I remember one of the coolest facts I learned in nutrition school was during my sport physiology class: one pound of fat contains around 3500 calories.
As long as the body is in a relaxed state it will choose to burn fat versus protein. But bodies that have a tendency to go into “starvation mode” or to easily slip into a stressful state have higher levels of cortisol circulating in their body and will have more difficulty reaping the positive benefits of intermittent fasting. That is because cortisol (a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands) signals the body to break down protein as a source of energy, and doing a mild fast can cause stress on the body, which isn’t the best idea if your body is already experiencing increased stress levels.
FEEL LIKE GIVING IT A TRY? INTERMITTENT FASTING EXPLAINED IN A PROS AND CONS LIST:
1. PRO- “Easy diet’
Fasting can be a much more lenient way of training your body to learn control. Because the ‘diet’ does not dictate what you should or shouldn’t eat, but rather the times at which you should eat, it can be a great tool for those who need to find some control in their diet and lifestyle.
CON- “Restriction and binging”
On the other hand this ‘easy diet’ can still be referred to as a ‘diet’, and that means it may trigger people who have an addictive psychological tendency to control and restrict.
It can be hard to pinpoint how different diets may be affecting your energy levels, focus, digestion and overall well-being, you can download the below Food & Mood Diary to keep track on how IF or any other diet affects how you feel.
2. PRO- Improved body composition / weight-loss
Training the body to burn fat for fuel is like tapping into an unlimited fuel source. When our body is in a relaxed state it will choose to use aerobic metabolism, which is the production of fuel through carbohydrate and fat with oxygen. Have you noticed the trend of yoga, deep breathing, mediation and gentle movement activity? Saturating the body with oxygen, lowering cortisol (stress hormones) and relaxing the mind is the best way to encourage fat breakdown! Try this during fasting times.
CON- Starvation mode & weight-gain
On the other hand, a body that is not saturated with oxygen/ in a relaxed state may find muscle breakdown and weight-gain. The body is ‘stressed’ when there is irregular blood sugar. When the body reaches low blood sugar, the adrenal glands are stimulated releasing cortisol to initiate muscle protein catabolism (the breakdown of muscle protein for energy).
When our blood sugar is low we crave sweets and simple foods to bring it back up. Sugar, white flour and processed foods have less nutrients to signal our senses and to stop consumption. A spike in blood sugar will signal excess glucose to be packaged into fat cells. Instead of weight-loss during fasting and feasting times, the body will be bouncing back and fourth between protein breakdown and fat-gain.
One way to ensure this does not happen is to balance blood sugar levels and ensure adequate carbohydrate and fuel is provided after stressful days and/or physical activity. Meals are best wholesome, well balanced, inclusive of all food groups and optimally prepared fresh. There are some great ideas in the 10 Blood Sugar Balancing Meals here.
3. PRO- Improved energy & function
As we leave more time in-between meals for efficient digestion, there is improved utilization of nutrients and this increases overall body functioning. Some studies on intermittent fasting report a boost in metabolism by 14%. An easy way to think about it is to picture an overcast sky lift into clear blue- rushed diet choices and sugar build-up brain fog and ama like discussed above.
A sudden change in meal size, lack of time given to meal times, imbalanced food choices and lack of movement can all contribute to indigestion. Generally IF meals are large- and larger meals take longer to digest. They involve more enzymes, more energy and require more patience to consume. One way to ensure indigestion does not occur is to leave adequate time for consumption of meals and to ensure they are wholesome, well-planned out/inclusive of all food groups. Also, consume coffee, tea, alcohol, pop and sweet beverages away from meals.
There isn’t only one IF method, so if you’ve weighed out the pros and cons and find that you may be able to find a fasting method that fits your lifestyle, by all means. You can start slow, or play around with the fasting variations. But always, figure out what your needs are and where your lifestyle fits in the pros and cons listed above.
Have you tried it already? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’re looking for more articles on healthy weight loss techniques, be sure to check out one of our favourite posts, 6 Things You Must Learn To Master To Lose Weight In A Healthy Way.
Don’t forget to download the free Food & Mood Diary below so you can track how different diets or foods make you feel.