Hello Week 12! Today we’re talking about a healthy habit that Carla and I have made a way of life: intermittent fasting. But before we jump to the good stuff, let’s begin with a word of caution.
Although intermittent fasting is a great choice for many, there are some people who definitely shouldn’t do it. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, intermittent fasting isn’t for you. If you are really small and have very low body fat, you might not be able to fast. While some bowel disorders are helped with intermittent fasting, others are hurt by it. If you’ve never tried a fasting protocol, please check with your doctor and make sure it’s okay before you start.
We’ve been using intermittent fasting for years and have seen (and felt!) great results with it. It works really well for Carla and me. But, as with all the tips we share, YOU are the scientist, and your body is the science experiment. We’re going to share what has worked for us. Then, you get to figure out what works for YOU.
Throughout history, intermittent fasting was a way of life. Before every home had a fridge and freezer, our ancestors frequently fasted out of necessity. At times, food was plentiful. Other times, especially during the winter, it was difficult to find. Intermittent fasting was unavoidable. Our bodies are built to reap the benefits of those ‘feast or famine’ times. However, due to modern advancements in technology and agriculture, we tend to eat much more than we need to and all too often.
Dr. Mark Hyman says it well: “Fasting is a great way to optimize your health, and it’s more approachable than you might think. It is a free tool that activates all the systems in your body to protect you, heal you, and help you live longer. Fasting can help to reduce inflammation, brain fog, and insulin resistance. It can also increase energy and bone density and activate autophagy, which is the process of cleaning out damaged cells.”
(There is lots of additional helpful information on the benefits of intermittent fasting available in Dr. Hyman’s podcast episode on intermittent fasting for weight loss and better health.)
Intermittent Fasting and Cell Renewal
Let’s talk a bit more about that autophagy, which may be an unfamiliar term. Neuronal autophagy is how intermittent fasting actually improves brain function. Autophagy is the intentional and healthy self-destruction of aging neurons, which makes room for new, healthy cells. When this process is restricted, it’s associated with neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
So what restricts neuronal autophagy? Frequent feeding. When we eat frequently throughout the day – especially when it’s sugars and proteins – this causes a reduction of the autophagy processes. Intermittent fasting, especially fasts that are between 16-24 hours long, significantly increases the brain’s ability to engage in this crucial process of cell renewal.
When you’re fasting, the body starts looking for things that aren’t working so well. Good cells are protected. Cells that exhibit ‘bad behaviors,’ such as cancer cells and aging cells, are targeted. That’s a pretty amazing benefit to intermittent fasting!
(You can read more about this in Ben Greenfield’s book about health and defying aging, Boundless.)
Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss
One of the perks of fasting is weight loss without any reduction of caloric intake. I know, it sounds too good to be true! But the science is pretty compelling.
Consider this study from the Salk Institute. Researchers divided mice into four groups. Each group ate the same amount of calories. But some ate calories that were high in fat. Some were high in glucose. Some were high in fat and glucose. Some ate mouse kibble.
In addition, the four groups of mice had different feeding times. One group ate all day long, with unlimited exposure to their set amount of calories. The other groups were restricted into 9, 12, and 15-hour feedings.
By the end of the 28-week trial, the only obese group was the group that had been able to eat all day long, no matter which food they ate from. All the other mice were lean and fit!
Salk’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory reported that mice limited to eating during an 8-hour period are healthier than mice that eat freely throughout the day, regardless of the quality and content of their diet. They concluded that extended daily fasting overrides the harmful effects of a high-fat diet.
Intermittent fasting works by cycling between periods of eating and fasting. Fasting can put your body into ketosis, which makes you feel less hungry, helps you to burn fat, and helps to retain muscle. That’s because the body uses ketones instead of glucose.
Our brains use two fuels: glucose and ketones. Our mitochondria, the little helpers that power energy production in our cells, use a lot less energy when they’re powered by ketones. As Dr. Gundry says, “They can basically extract more energy from fewer resources. The result is that your brain cells are far more efficient at using fuel.”
Studies show that this switching between glucose and ketones made our ancestors better equipped to survive. If you could hunt successfully when you were hungry you lived longer. Science also says that switching between glucose and ketones supports brain function.
(You can read more about what Dr. Gundry says about intermittent fasting here.)
A full-body reset
Intermittent fasting is shown to reduce inflammation in the body and brain. It seems to function almost as a ‘reset button’ for our organs, and it helps the organs to be younger and healthier. Additional research involving mice showed that those on recurrent fasting diets reduced their weight, lived longer, and developed fewer tumors and less gray fur than normal. Clinical trials on humans have shown that fasting reduces risk factors for multiple age-related diseases.
You’ll even sleep better!
As if these benefits weren’t enough, we’ve found that intermittent fasting has helped improve our sleep, too. At More Than Healthy, we believe that sleep is the foundation of good health. You simply can’t exercise or eat your way to health if you aren’t getting restorative sleep.
When you improve the quality of your sleep, you improve a lot of functions in your body. That’s because your body is going into the ‘repair shop’ during sleep. This is especially true of the brain. Because the brain doesn’t have a lymphatic system, it actually shrinks a little and the toxins get removed as you sleep.
Carla and I try to end our eating window by 5 or 6:00 pm each night. We go to bed at 10:00, which gives our body a 4-5 hour window to process our food. It is much harder to sleep while the stomach is digesting. Since incorporating this practice into my life, my sleep score has improved dramatically.
With my increased REM and deep sleep time, my body has more time to repair and restore itself. Intermittent fasting has helped improve my sleep, which in turn improves many other areas of my health.
So how do you do it?
There are many different intermittent fasting methods. There is a plethora of resources available on this topic (I’ve included links to several of our favorites in this article). Here is what works for us and how we’ve done it. Try it and see if it works for you.
We like the method of a 16-hour fast, 5 days a week. We take weekends off. At least 1-2 times a month we do a 24-hour fast. If you’ve never fasted before, start with a 12-hour fast. If you last ate at 7:00 pm, don’t eat again until 7:00 am. A 12-hour fast is very healthy and works for most people.
Then, work your way up. If you stop eating at 7:00 pm, extend your fasting window by an hour until 8:00 am. Then slowly increase your fasting window. We stop eating by 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, and don’t eat again until 10:00 or 11:00 the next morning. We eat all of our calories within that window of time. We usually break our fast with a healthy smoothie. This works really well for us.
When you do a 24-hour fast, you eat one meal in a day. You can drink non-caloric beverages, mostly water, throughout the day, but limit your food intake to one meal in the 24-hour period. There are many benefits to the brain and body if you are able to do a 24-hour fast.
Increased energy through intermittent fasting
Carla and I are both avid athletes. We love playing competitive pickleball, skiing together, and working out regularly. I’m also a cyclist, and I just registered to do four days of cycling events at the Huntsman Senior Games. I have found that I have increased energy and better athletic performance since I’ve begun using intermittent fasting. This has been an important part of my journey to optimal health.
We hope you’ll find a way to safely try intermittent fasting on your own health journey. There are many programs out there. Find one that works for you, and let us know how it goes!
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Each month we have a free More Than Healthy coaching call. To register, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895. We’ll send you a link to join us every month. And, every Monday we’ll share our weekly More Than Healthy tip on all of our social media pages. Hope to see you there!