It took me a while to get my head around this one, especially since I was such an avid snacker that the concept of not eating for an extended period shocked me.
Intermittent fasting is the idea of choosing not to eat for a specific period of time. It’s about control. It’s the voluntary abstention from eating for whatever reason, be it for health, spiritual or other reasons.
Is it starvation?
Nope! It is different from starvation in that starvation is the involuntary abstention from eating, i.e. there is no food to be eaten. With fasting, there is access to food, but there is a decision made not to eat it for whatever period of time.
Fasting and starving are not interchangeable terms, and as Dr. Jason Fung puts it,
“Fasting and starving live on opposite sides of the world. It is the difference between recreational running and running because a lion in chasing you.”
As humans, we fast every single day, particularly when we are asleep. During this time, our bodies are not taking in any calories, yet are functioning perfectly fine. In the morning, most of us take part in something know as breaking the fast, or breakfast.
Making it personal:
Getting my head around fasting was tough, because I’d trained myself to believe that I needed to eat every three hours. If I didn’t have a snack planned, I would go into a panic. If I was going somewhere for the day, I’d be sure to pack an apple or two or some energy bars to keep me going. I was tired of being so critically dependent on this constant snacking, that the idea of fasting seemed like an oasis to me.
The idea of intermittent fasting is to extend this period of not eating for as long as you are comfortable with.
I am following the 16:8 fasting lifestyle, where I do not consume anything with calories for 16 hours of the day, and allow myself an 8 hour period in which to eat. I usually eat my first meal around 11am or noon, and my last meal by either 7 or 8pm. I have learned to combine this new eating plan with a ketogenic diet, in order to remain more satiated throughout the day. I found that eating a more carb-based diet was leaving me feeling precariously close to crashing, and the energy is provided me with was not enough.
How intermittent fasting works:
When we eat, we consume more energy that can be used up immediately. This is stored away for later use. Insulin is the key hormone involved in storing this food energy, and this insulin rises when we eat.
Insulin has two main functions. Firstly, it allows the body to immediately start using food energy. Secondly, it helps to store excess energy. This energy is stored in two ways – glycogen (long chains of glucose molecules) is stored in the liver, however there is a limit to how much can be stored. Once the limit is reached, the body starts to turn the glucose into fat in a process called de novo lipogenesis (“making fat from new”). There is no limit to the amount of fat that can be created (Have you ever watched ‘My 600 -lb life’?).
Essentially we have two complementary food energy storage systems in our bodies. One is easily accessible but has limited storage space (glycogen) and the other is more difficult to access but has unlimited storage space (body fat).
The body exists in two states:
1 – the fed (high-insulin) state
2 – the fasted (low-insulin) state
We are either storing food energy or burning it. With our modern lifestyles of constant eating, we are spending more time storing food energy which leads to weigh gain (and a whole host of other issues). Fasting allows the body to begin burning fat instead of glucose.
What happens when we fast?
When we fast, we reverse the process of using and storing food energy. Our insulin levels drop, which signals to the body to start burning stored energy. The most accessible energy source is the glycogen stored in our livers. After we’ve burned through that, the body starts to break down stored fat for energy. It’s as simple as that.
Fasting is a natural and normal process, where the source of fuel is changed in the body.
The first and most obvious benefit is weight loss. I lost 4kg (nearly 9lbs) in my first month of fasting.
Some of the purported physical benefits of fasting:
- improved mental clarity and concentration
- improved fat burning
- weight and body fat loss
- lowered blood insulin and sugar levels
- reversal of type 2 diabetes
- increased growth hormone
- lowered blood cholesterol
- potential prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
- Activation of cellular cleansing (potential) by stimulating autophagy (a discovery that was awarded the 2016 Nobel prize in medicine)
- reduction of inflammation
How it affects me:
So there you go! More benefits than I could have imagined, all for something as simple as eating less and less frequently.
I am only two months into my fasting eating plan, and the results are amazing so far.
I feel less hungry, I don’t fixate about eating and food is not the center of my day.
I have lost centimeters around my waist. I feel slimmer and fit into my clothes better.
I have more energy and often start my mornings with a 2 hour hike.
I sleep better and longer.
For something that’s free and sort of easy, I totally recommend it.
- Check out The Complete Guide to Fasting by Jason Fung, MD for more sciency stuff
UP NEXT: A PREVIEW INTO MY FIRST WEEK OF FASTING (IT’S FUNNY!)