The physiology of the human body has not changed since our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which is a physiology that is set up for times of abundance and times of scarcity. We live in a time where food is always in abundance and the worst foods available are often the cheapest and easiest to come by.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a way of making your body burn your own fat for energy instead of always relying on carbohydrates. There are several ways of doing IF, but the one I find most achievable and easy to incorporate into a busy life is the 14-16 hour fast.
Turn your body into a fat burning machine
The body prefers to use glycogen, which is the stored form of carbohydrates, as fuel and since we tend to eat a diet high in carbohydrates and eat frequent meals, glycogen stores are hardly ever depleted and therefore the body is never forced to switch to fat burning for energy. We need to almost re-train the body how to become a fat burning machine.
The brain doesn’t only rely on glucose to function as many have been told, as a matter of fact, it works more efficiently on ketones than on carbohydrates. Ketones are produced by the liver from fatty acids (your own fat if fasting) and have shown to enhance brain function.
When fasting for 14-16 hours overnight and into the morning, you will give the body a chance to break down your own fat stores for energy.
If you have been relying on carbohydrates for energy for a long time, the body will not be very efficient at burning fat, and introducing fasting too quickly would leave you feeling tired, possibly hungry, moody and suffering from a banging headache. However, if you introduce it slowly and add in some of the hacks we will outline below, you are more likely to succeed, and as you incorporate this into your life you'll never look back, because the benefits you will reap from this are endless.
Benefits of intermittent fasting
What are the other benefits of fasting besides weight maintenance and weight loss? There are numerous studies on IF, majority on animals but more human studies are emerging.
- According to research IF has the potential to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and is protective against heart disease.
- When you fast you increase a bacteria in the gut called Akkermansia. In one study overweight mice were fed Akkermansia, the mice lost weight and stopped developing type 2 diabetes.IF improves insulin sensitivity, which can help prevent or reverse diabetes.
- Because IF reduces the overall insulin load on the body, it has an immense anti-aging effect.
- Studies have shown that IF Increases Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Which is important in preventing aging by increasing lean body mass and decreasing fat.
- IF improves cell turnover (autophagy) and takes your body into a state of repair mode, which prevents disease and has an anti-aging effect.
- IF seems to delay the aging process and reduce neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s).
- Reducing oxidative stress: Fasting decreases the accumulation of oxidative radicals in the cell, and thereby prevents oxidative damage to cellular proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids associated with aging and disease
Intermittent fasting has an anti-aging and disease preventative effect. It is a great tool in weight loss and preventing diabetes or other metabolic syndromes. I prefer IF to restricting calories, which has similar positive effects on health, because I find it tortuous to limit my calories. Doing intermittent fasting, on the other hand, allows me to eat large fulfilling meals during my feasting time.
Who shouldn’t do it?
Diabetics, people with blood sugar issues, breastfeeding and pregnant women. People on medication should consult with their physician before fasting.
How to get started with an intermittent fasting plan
- Spend 2-3 days prior to fasting, eating more fat and less carbs; make it simple and even monotonous.
- For example, have scrambled eggs with fried kale and maybe some feta cheese every day for breakfast
- salad with protein and fat for lunch (add carbs here if you want)
- protein, vegetables and fat for dinner; i.e. steak with cauliflower rice cooked in coconut oil with garlic and onion and seeds with mayonnaise on top or cheese
- after 2-3 days start adding an hour of fasting. If you had dinner at 7pm try eat breakfast at 8am (13 hour fast)
- When you feel comfortable doing this add another hour; if you are having dinner at 7pm, eat breakfast at 9am (14hours fast). Men can increase the fast to 16 hours (dinner at 7 and breakfast at 11). Some men find this doable but others feel they have to eat after 14-15 hours, which is fine as they will still have reaped the benefits of fasting. You have to do what works for you and your life.
- Training in the morning: If you are training early say at 630, you should try and eat dinner at 6 in order for you to be able to eat breakfast after training, so this way you will eat dinner at 6pm and breakfast at 8am. If training while fasting is not for you, having a long black with butter and/or coconut/brain fuel will get you through the work out and you will stay in the fat burning zone as there are no carbs in this drink.
Can you eat what you want when not fasting?
Eating puts a lot of stress on the body, which is why reducing the amount of calories will extend your life, but only if you ensure that the calories you do consume are nutrient dense, meaning full of all that you need for cell repair and growth.
Practicing intermittent fasting does not allow for junk food, and although some say you can eat whatever you want during the non-fasting period, I do not agree with this. In a non-fasting state, it is important to eat to stabilise the blood sugar levels and to fill yourself with fuel that will enhance your overall health.
Fat is ok. Fat will leave you feeling full and add great flavour to your meal, leaving you feeling satiated and content after a meal. Eating fat with every meal is important and should take priority over carbohydrates. Make sure you include healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, coconut oil and full fat cheeses if you allow dairy
Protein is important for building and repairing tissues. Eat protein the size and thickness of your palm (without the fingers) with every meal. Protein also helps you feel full after a meal, reduce cravings and enable you to go longer between meals.
Eat as many vegetables as you like. Aim to eat vegetables with every meal. Limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnip and beetroot.
Eat carbohydrates in the form of rice, pasta and bread in small amounts or leave out to achieve increased weight loss or if you follow a grain free diet. If you are including grains, try to soak them for a few hours prior to cooking to reduce phytates, which can decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.