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Is intermittent fasting right for you? Read on to find out!
If you pay attention to what’s trending in the diet and nutrition world, you’ve likely been hearing some buzz about intermittent fasting.
It’s a popular “new” method of eating that’s touted to stimulate fat loss, improve cognitive function, extend lifespan, and more. Most health blogs make it sounds like it’s the holy grail of healthy eating.
Fasting as a practice isn’t a new trend. It’s actually thousands of years old and has been used by various religious and cultural traditions for generations.
But with all the chatter about fasting, you might be wondering if it’s something you should try.
Like with any other health trend, intermittent fasting has both benefits and drawbacks. Women especially, with our delicate balance of hormones, can’t just jump blindly on every new diet bandwagon we see.
Fasting for men, and even fasting in the hunter-gatherer era where it originated, is completely different than for women in the 21st century.
Hormonal balance, stress levels, and our mindset around food and our own body can all impact whether or not fasting is right for us.
Fasting is used as a tool to help promote optimal health and wellness. But only when it’s done from a perspective of self-care and acceptance. And only if your body is in an optimal state to handle the stresses and strains of fasting.
Fasting isn’t for everyone. But it can be beneficial in certain health situations.
In this blog post, I’ll teach you about the benefits and drawbacks of fasting, and how to know if intermittent fasting is a good fit for YOU!
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
Before we dive into the details about fasting, I wanted to share some of my own experiences.
I’ve tried a variety of styles of fasting. This includes the typical 16-8 style of fasting promoted by the Perfect Health Diet, as well as a Daniel Fast that I attempted a few years ago with my church.
And with all of this fasting experience I’ve gained, I’ve learned that my body does NOT do well with this style of eating.
Not eating for extended periods during the day typically causes me to undereat. And fasting for too long generally just makes me feel lethargic and foggy-headed. I can skip breakfast every now and then with no problem, but generally I feel my best when I’m eating 3 square meals a day.
Besides the physical ramifications of fasting, I was mentally consumed by thoughts of food all the time. I was always thinking about what my next meal was going to be and when I was going to get it.
This constant obsession over food along with not feeling my best physically was all I needed as proof that intermittent fasting was not right for me.
So I hope that as you read all of the facts and science behind intermittent fasting, or even attempt it yourself, that you’re able to take some time to reflect as I did.
Checking in with yourself after you make any sort of life change is critical to ensure you’re remaining on the path that will lead to your best physical, mental, and spiritual health.
And if you find that the change you’ve made is no longer serving you, you have complete permission to stop and shift directions. There is no shame in “quitting” when it comes to making the right choices for you and your body!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting is called “intermittent fasting” when you choose certain days or times to intermittently abstain from food. It’s simply an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and not eating.
Generally, a fasting protocol will not prescribe foods that you can and cannot eat. But rather it will dictate what times you should be eating and when you should be fasting. (Although some fasting protocols, like the Daniel Fast, do prescribe certain foods that should be avoided.)
The practice of fasting wasn’t invented by 21st-century health and nutrition communities. It was just a way of life for the vast majority of human history, particularly in hunter-gatherer societies.
In these more primitive societies, food had to be hunted and gathered regularly. And if there were no animals to hunt, or plants to be gathered, then people were forced to fast.
Today, with food readily available at the drop of a hat, people don’t need to fast in order to survive. Instead, many have chosen to incorporate it into their lives for a variety of different reasons.
You could say that humans were designed to alternate between a fed and fasted state. Not to be grazing all the time, as we tend to do with the copious amount of food readily available to us today.
The goal of intermittent fasting is to recreate this natural state of periods of non-consumption in a world where food is constantly available.
For most people, some amount of fasting is healthy and often well tolerated. But, like anything in the health and wellness world, regular fasting isn’t optimal for many different types of people.
Common Fasting Methods
Fasting can be as simple as avoiding food for a certain period of time. Or as complicated as scheduling out your fasting and feeding windows.
There are several popular fasting templates that you can use as guidelines for your fasting practice.
Most of the fasting templates out there will get you the same results. It’s important that you pick a style of fasting that will work with your lifestyle.
You won’t see any of the benefits of fasting if you choose a method that you can’t fully commit to. So ignore what everyone else at your gym or in your family is doing. Chose a method that works for you!
- 16/8 Fasting: involves 16-hours of fasting with an 8-hour feeding window. This method of fasting can be as simple as skipping breakfast and then consuming two larger meals between the hours of 12 pm and 8 pm, for example.
- Bulletproof Fasting: uses the same feeding-fasting window as 16/8 Fasting, but includes a cup of “Bulletproof” coffee in the morning. This coffee utilizes MCT oil and grass-fed butter to give you more energy to sustain your morning fast.
- Warrior Diet: involves an all-day fast with one huge meal at night. With all of your calories consumed in one sitting, this method of fasting can be extremely hard on your digestive system.
- The 5:2 Diet: where you choose two non-consecutive days to eat around 500-600 calories. On the other five days of the week, you eat normally without any food restrictions.
These are only a handful of the fasting methods out there.
Download my free guide to intermittent fasting if you’re interested in learning more about the various intermittent fasting methods.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Fasting can be an effective tool for improving or maintaining health. Especially when it’s done correctly and when you’re in tune with the needs of your body.
I’ve seen many clients benefit from implementing a fasting protocol, both mentally and physically.
Here are just a few ways that fasting can be beneficial.
If you’ve tried every diet known to (wo)man and still aren’t seeing the scale move as much as you’d like, intermittent fasting might be a good next step.
Fasting inherently restricts your feeding window, leading to a more effortless caloric restriction compared to traditional calorie reducing diets.
If you’re tired of counting calories and macros and cutting out entire food groups with the goal of losing weight, fasting can be a much simpler way to lose weight.
The cyclical nature of fasting can provide a huge mental reprieve from continuous dieting. This break from a constant diet mentality can oftentimes be all that’s needed to kickstart weight loss again after you’ve reached a plateau.
Research has even shown that intermittent fasting can accelerate weight loss compared to a traditional calorie-restricted diet.
The periods of large calorie consumption interspersed with no calorie intake may even keep your metabolism running smoothly. Standard low-calorie diets can result in a slower metabolism. This can actually keep you from losing weight, despite cutting calories.
With intermittent fasting, your body is getting periods of large caloric intake. So your metabolism is more likely to remain functioning at optimal levels, boosting your ability to lose weight.
And if you want to learn more about fasting, click here to download your free guide to intermittent fasting.
When we’re not eating, our gut is busy at work cleaning up from our last meal. The Migrating Motor Complex (MMC) is responsible for this intestinal “housekeeping.” The MMC sweeps out debris from the small intestine using a pattern of smooth muscle activity when we’re not eating.
These cleansing waves only occur when we’re in a fasted state, usually four hours after a meal. So when we’re constantly snacking throughout the day, we never allow time for our gut to perform this necessary cleaning.
When the MMC isn’t working, undigested food particles can remain in the small intestine for too long.
This can lead to fermentation and stagnation in the gut, producing some not so pleasant symptoms like bloating and gas. This is a big problem for people with conditions like IBS and even SIBO.
When fasting, however, the MMC has ample opportunity to move any residual material from the small intestine. This allows for better, more complete digestion.
Can Fasting Benefit Your Gut Bacteria?
Our gut is home to trillions of beneficial gut bacteria. These friendly gut bugs work together with our bodies to improve not only the health of our gut, but the health of our immune system, mental state, and much more.
When our gut bacteria are healthy, we’re more likely to be healthy as well.
Fasting has been shown to help improve both the quantity and diversity of our beneficial gut bacteria.
Granted, most of these studies on the impacts of fasting on gut bacteria have been completed in animals. But the results are promising. There are likely potential benefits to our gut bacteria from implementing a healthy fasting practice.
Learn more about the benefits of fasting: click here to download your free guide to intermittent fasting.
“Biohacking” With Fasting
If the idea of “biohacking” gets you excited, you’re going to be a fan of intermittent fasting.
With biohacking, you focus on changing the environment in and around your body to optimize your own biology for optimal health.
Intermittent fasting is one common method of biohacking. Some of the greatest benefits of fasting cannot be seen by the naked eye. Fasting is actually changing your body for the better down to the cellular level.
Intermittent fasting helps to initiate autophagy, your body’s natural process for cellular repair. This process replaces damaged cellular components with healthy ones.
The benefits of autophagy are widespread, and include:
- Boosting the immune system
- Protecting against heart disease
- Stabilizing DNA
- Encouraging growth of brain and nerve cells
Intermittent fasting also helps to encourage metabolic flexibility. When you’re metabolically flexible, your body is easily able to switch between burning glucose and fat for fuel.
This ability of the body to adapt easily to changing fuel sources enables us to better control blood sugar after eating, burn fat while fasting, and respond easily to changes in energy supply and demand.
Pushing your body a little outside its comfort zone by fasting, in turn, makes it more flexible and adaptable to any changes it might encounter in the future.
But pushing your body too far outside its comfort zone can make fasting detrimental to your health.
Always remember to listen to your body’s cues. Don’t be afraid to alter your fasting protocol accordingly if your body is telling you it needs a break.
Risks of Intermittent Fasting
Fasting is not for everyone. Women especially, need to be keenly aware of the potential risks of following an overly strict intermittent fasting protocol.
The following are just a few of the risks of inappropriate intermittent fasting.
Potential for Undereating
Decreasing your feeding window makes it so much easier to consume fewer calories than what your body actually needs. You may see a spontaneous 20-30% calorie reduction just by cutting out one meal a day. This can be helpful in the short term for fat loss, but isn’t healthy do be done for a long period of time.
This type of caloric deficit, when continued for too long, can lead to some significant health problems due to long term undereating.
Symptoms of undereating include:
- Low energy
- Depression or anxiety
- Mood swings
- Hair loss
- Feeling cold all the time
- Loss of menstrual cycle (amenorrhea)
- Low sex drive
- Food cravings
- Irregular blood sugar
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, fasting may not be right for you. Especially if you’re struggling to eat enough during your feeding window.
Undereating usually doesn’t happen on purpose. But it can be an unconscious result of our mindset around food, fitness, and our bodies. Practicing intermittent fasting can, unfortunately, be a way that unconsciously encourages us to not properly nourish our body.
If you think you might be undereating, I’d highly recommend checking out my eBook: Overcoming Undereating for more encouragement and tips for how to properly fuel your body!
Impaired Hunger Cues
Fasting can also impair your body’s hunger cues. This is another way in which fasting can easily lead to undereating and increased health concerns.
I’m all for listening to your body and it’s cues that tell you when you’re hungry or full. I believe that this practice of intuitive eating is one that offers great physical and mental benefits.
But, when we can’t rely on our hunger signals to let us know when to eat and when to stop, eating intuitively becomes a challenge.
Ignoring strong hunger signals when fasting can throw off our hunger and satiety hormones. These hormones, ghrelin, and leptin are responsible for letting us know that our bodies need more food, and then subsequently that we’ve had enough to eat.
But ghrelin has actually been shown to decrease over periods of extended fasting.
This means that it’s possible that you’ll be far less hungry after fasting for an extended time than you would be if you ate three meals a day. (Even though you ate fewer calories when you were fasting.)
A perfect storm for undereating.
Without these ever-important hunger cues, our ability to know when to eat becomes severely diminished. And when paired with a style of eating that requires you to ignore hunger, this can create an unhealthy appetite response system.
MAY Trigger Disordered Eating Tendencies
If you have a history of disordered eating or have an unhealthy relationship with food, you should not try intermittent fasting.
There are two reasons for this. One is that many intermittent fasting protocols are strict about when you can and can’t eat, and these types of rules are inappropriate for someone struggling with disordered eating behaviors.
Second, the sheer fact that fasting frequently leads to unintentional (or intentional) caloric restriction means that someone recovering from disordered eating should not test it out.
In order to fully recover from an eating disorder, you must be able to fully nourish your body with adequate food, all while honoring your hunger and satiety signals.
Unfortunately, intermittent fasting inherently limits our ability to eat intuitively and be in tune with our bodies needs.
Eating on a strict schedule can be beneficial for some people and certain health conditions. But I highly discourage anyone who has a strained relationship with food from participating in intermittent fasting.
Who MAY Benefit from Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can be a great way to help achieve many health and fitness goals without having to drastically alter what you eat.
With that being said, always check with a trusted medical professional before making any drastic dietary changes like fasting.
Here are a few situations where implementing a fasting protocol could prove beneficial.
IF WEIGHT LOSS WOULD BENEFIT YOUR HEALTH
Fasting is one of the best ways to shed body fat for people who would benefit from sustainable weight loss. Research shows that fasting can help improve the health of obese women over just calorie-restricted diets alone.
Standard calorie-restricted diets are mentally challenging and have a high rate of failure. But, when you’re fasting, you have the opportunity to consume a large number of calories at one time. This can help fight those feelings of restriction that often accompany traditional diets and can help you stick to your plan.
Implementing an intermittent fasting practice alone isn’t going to be the holy grail for weight loss.
Many other factors, like food quality, exercise, mindset, and hormone health play a role in whether or not you’ll be able to lose weight successfully. Fasting is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to healthy, sustainable weight loss.
And if you want to learn more about if fasting is right for you, click here to download your free guide to intermittent fasting.
If You’re At Risk for Cardiovascular Disease
Intermittent fasting can be beneficial for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Regular periods of fasting, specifically restricting caloric intake for periods of 24-hours, has been shown to improve your risk factors related to cardiovascular health.
Fasting serves your body’s metabolism in a variety of health-promoting ways.
Going for extended periods without eating can lower your levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), improve glucose metabolism, and decrease triglyceride levels. All of which help decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Utilizing a healthy fasting practice along with appropriate diet, exercise, and lifestyle shifts can be a great combination to support heart health and longevity.
If You Struggle with Chronic Inflammation
If you struggle with inflammation-related health conditions, fasting might also be a good option for you.
Conditions like Autoimmune Disease, PCOS, and even asthma are driven by chronic inflammation.
Studies have shown that intermittent periods of fasting can significantly decrease common markers of inflammation.
In response to fasting, the body produces beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). This compound has been shown to directly inhibit a series of proteins (called NLRP3) that drive the inflammatory response.
BHB is actually a ketone metabolite that’s produced when the body shifts into ketosis. So, it’s likely that the production of ketones drive much of the anti-inflammatory benefits you see from fasting.
Intermittent fasting can provide some anti-inflammatory benefits. But you still need to be cautious of your body’s needs and your own health situation.
Someone with PCOS may benefit from shorter periods of fasting coupled with a diet that supports inflammation reduction. The hormonal imbalances that also accompany PCOS can make feeling your best while fasting more difficult.
As always, fasting is only going to be beneficial for you if your body is able to deal with the continuous periods of calorie restriction.
More fasting doesn’t always mean more health benefits. Listen to your body and check with a trained medical professional whenever you attempt a dietary change like fasting.
Who Should Avoid Intermittent Fasting
Despite all of the proposed benefits of fasting, there are certain health conditions that are simply not conducive to fasting.
And in these situations, fasting can actually do more harm than good.
If you have started a fasting practice and notice that you’re feeling worse – not better – that’s a sign that fasting just isn’t what your body needs right now.
There’s no shame in extending your feeding window or stopping fasting altogether.
What’s important is that your body feels safe and well-nourished. And if that involves eating three meals a day plus snacks, that’s completely fine.
So, here are a few situations in which fasting is likely not going to be the best choice.
Learn more about fasting: click here to download your free guide to intermittent fasting.
If You Have Hormonal Imbalances
Hormones are extremely delicate. And they can respond negatively to any minor change or stressor that pops up in our lives.
Like it or not, fasting is inherently stressful on our body.
You’re asking your body to manufacture its own energy during fasting periods. And when there are no health conditions present, this can (sometimes) be something your body can handle.
But if you have a history of irregular or missing periods, cortisol dysregulation, and/or thyroid hormone imbalances, fasting is not going to be right for you.
Skipping meals and inadequate calorie intake can be a trigger for hormonal dysregulation, even the healthiest individuals.
Plus, if you’ve ever lost your period, your body is more sensitive to calorie deficits. Even the slightest deficit can start to mess with your cycle.
Calorie deficits, in general, can shut down ovulation. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a 24-hour calorie deficit. Just skipping breakfast and being in a deficit for a few hours in the beginning of the day can trigger this phenomenon.
So if you’re susceptible to amenorrhea, or any other hormonal imbalances, going for too long without eating is not the best idea.
If You’re Pregnant or Breastfeeding
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are two seasons of a woman’s life where she’s not only supplying her own body with energy, but she’s responsible for supplying another body with energy as well.
For this reason alone, I do not recommend any sort of protocol that restricts a woman’s feeding window during these stages of life.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding should be a time where you’re using your intuition (and even those cravings) to guide your food choices and meal frequency.
Your caloric and nutrient needs are significantly higher during this time. Extended periods of fasting just cannot provide everything you need to support you and a growing baby.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, skip the fasting protocol. And instead focus on nourishing your body with real, nutrient-dense foods and effective self-care practices.
If You Have a History of Disordered Eating
The practice of fasting can too closely mimic the impaired relationship with food that often accompanies disordered eating.
Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, fasting can be a mask for continued disordered eating practices.
It’s easy to make yourself believe that you’re practicing intermittent fasting for the health benefits. When the true underlying motivation behind fasting is the desire to skip meals and consume fewer calories.
So, if you have a history of any sort of disordered relationship with food, fasting is not appropriate.
This style of eating and the restrictions it puts around food is in no way going to lead you on a path to health.
Focusing on viewing food as nourishment, not as a means to control your appearance or your emotions, is a non-negotiable when it comes to eating disorder recovery. And fasting is only going to get in the way of this goal.
My Recommendations for Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can provide a variety of benefits depending on your state of health and your goals.
If you do decide that fasting is right for you, do your best to keep the dogma and strict rules out of your practice.
Fasting is only going to be as beneficial as you let it. If skipping meals on a strict schedule has you feeling stressed and anxious, don’t become a slave to your diet.
Let yourself have the freedom to explore what style of eating works best for you. Nothing should hold you accountable to your fasting protocol other than your intuition, health, and mental wellbeing.
And if any of those factors are giving you the signal that fasting just isn’t working, you need to listen.
If you haven’t found success using a certain method of fasting, it doesn’t mean that you have to completely give up the practice altogether. Maybe the style of fasting that works best for you is one that is guided by your intuition, not a specific protocol.
If you just feel like skipping breakfast one day, go for it. Or if you think your body could benefit from a fasted workout one morning, try it out. Fasting is going to work best and offer you the most benefits when it fits into your life, not the other way around.
And if you want to learn more about fasting, click here to download your free guide to intermittent fasting.
Have you tried intermittent fasting before? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts in the comments below!