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What's the Deal with Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IMF) - A term that you’ve likely been hearing everywhere you turn! Whether it’s from a family member, a colleague, or your friend on social media bolstering that since they began IMF, they’ve shed 20 pounds, gained an abundance of energy, and wrote an 800 page synopsis of their life…(okay, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly…)

Regardless of where you heard about it, or from which extraordinary success story you had your interest peaked from, IMF has become a hot health topic that has shown to produce great health benefits for many, and at the same time, continues to be shrouded in mystery and uncertainty.
Allow me to break it down for you! In the coming blurbs, I will deconstruct the topic of IMF, discussing what this practice is all about, why it may produce some health benefits, and the fear surrounding the practice of “fasting”.

What is Intermittent Fasting? 

Intermittent fasting is a sub-category of “fasting”, where one part-takes in periods of eating and not eating.

Typically, everyone fasts overnight. When we finish eating for the night, we stop eating and go to bed, many for 6-8 hours, and begin eating again the next morning. Put simply, IMF extends these hours of not eating.

Commonly, IMF involves putting 12-16 hours between your last meal of the day, and your first meal of the next day. For example, if I ate my dinner at 7pm, during IMF, I would eat breakfast anywhere from 7am-11am. This also usually involves a “window” of eating. Using the example above, if I ate my breakfast 7am, and wanted to finish eating at 7pm, that would be my window of opportunity to eat for the day.

Besides the 12-16 hour style of IMF, other styles of this practice involve eating regularly for a day, and then fasting for a whole day, and repeating this cycle again, or choosing two days a week to restrain from food, or choosing to skip a meal here or there on any particular day.

The Potential Health Benefits of IMF

While IMF has become a widely accepted and practiced style of eating, there still remains missing data on how exactly this practice could lead to positive health outcomes, however, below are some of the main inferences: 

       IMF Supports Weight Loss:

This is likely the reason why most are attracted to IMF. The simplicity of this claim is that, when you are in a fasting state, your body’s production and release of the hormone insulin decreases. Since insulin is responsible for pushing sugar into your cells for energy, once levels of this hormone decline, the body acts to find other ways to get fuel to your cells. 

Luckily, your liver converts extra sugars (glucose) into a storage form of glucose called glycogen, to be used for when fuel is not readily available. This fasting state triggers the release of glycogen for energy use. When this glycogen eventually runs low, your body must find other means of energy, and this is usually when the body begins using stored body fat for fuel, thus supporting weight loss.

       IMF Helps with Energy Levels:

Yes, it is most noticeable that IMF surges one’s energy levels. This is in part due to the process described above.

When you are fasting, your body is in a burning state, burning the body’s fuel for energy. This, like any other process that provides the body with an energy source, thus makes us feel energized!

I feel as though another side to this increase in energy is due in part to our bodies being “lighter” in a way. Think about it, when we consume food, it could take anywhere from 12-24 hours for that food to go from our mouth’s, all the way to our colon’s, and we tend to eat all day! This is a very energy consuming process, and sometimes, just the fact that there is food sitting in our system can make us feel weighed down!

       IMF Helps Reduce Inflammation and Oxidative Stress:

It is becoming more and more understood that inflammation and oxidative stress could play a role in every disease process known to man.

Oxidative stress is a process by which free radical molecules steal energy from/and damages the body’s cells and linings. A free radical is a molecule with an unpaired electron, thus it scavenges the body for another electron, usually stealing this from a cell or body lining, thus creating damage.

Inflammation is a normal healing process in the body, however when inflammation becomes chronic, it could lead to cellular impairment/damage, as well as negatively impacting the body’s normal processes.

Studies have begun showing that IMF can reduce markers of oxidative stress and inflammation!

       IMF Improves Digestive Health:

Over the last decade, health professionals have stated that people should eat every 2 hours to keep their blood sugar stable. However if you think about this, the digestive system is always being bombarded by food, never being able to take a break from processing.

Our digestive tract contains a system known as the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC). The role of the MMC is to essentially “refresh” the digestive system. The catch here is that the MMC is only activated when there is no food present in the digestive system!

When we’re eating all the time, the MMC never gets activated, meaning the digestive system never gets a refresh! IMF gives the digestive system a break, allowing it to take the time it needs to reset!

You May be Fearful of Fasting…

Of course! It’s a completely rational idea that one may be fearful around the notion of fasting, because for our whole lives, we’ve been taught that food gives us life, as does the sun, the land, water, and sleep!

It is important to keep in mind here that the practice of fasting is NOT for everyone! I make sure all of my clients who are interested in fasting of any sort understand that if they are dealing with any major active disease, are on medications, or considering ones past medical history/age and overall health status, that fasting may not be right for them!

For one’s who can fast, it is also important to know what is right for YOU! Never begin your fasting journey with an extremely lengthy fast, because you have no idea how your body will handle this! This is exactly why IMF is great to start with, as you can begin with short windows of not eating, and because most of this takes place over night, it is usually a lot more sustainable.

It is also important to note that fasting and starving are two different things. Starvation involves the absence of food through involuntary means. Fasting is a controlled act in which you voluntarily decide to omit food for a certain healthy length of time, in order to reap positive health/spiritual benefits.

In Conclusion…

IMF is still a practice shrouded in mystery, but one that is growing in popularity and seems to provide some pretty hefty health benefits!
With this being said, if you’re considering IMF or any form of fasting, ensure that this is right for you, making sure to consider your specific health picture and life circumstances first.
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Keep on living holistic, 

Michael Sharp, CNP, NNCP. 


DISCLAIMER: The information listed above is for educational purposes and discussion of general health information only. The information, opinions, ideas, and suggestions listed above are in no way intended to diagnose disease/health issues or act as a treatment for disease/health issues and is not to act as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor. Before taking part in any natural or alternative approach to health, these approaches should be reviewed by your doctor for approval especially if there are existing health conditions and if prescribed and or pharmaceutical medication is being taken due to the potential for interactions between medications and any natural approaches to health.