Extreme fatigue? If you feel like you’re running a little slow like your computer does once in awhile, sometimes it’s necessary to hit your reset button. Intermittent fasting can be a great way to reset yourself to regain your strength, focus, and energy. Read on to determine if you’re a good candidate to do it.
Our ancestors of over 10,000 years ago were hunters and gatherers. This means they likely went without food for 12-16 hours or even had full days where they ate lightly or not all. This type of circumstance helped shape our genes. Because our genes haven’t changed much in the last 10,000 years our genes are hardwired to allow for periods of time where we don’t have to eat (fast).
The type of fasting I recommend for most patients would be intermittent fasting. This is where you alternate periods of fasting and non-fasting. In an alternate-day fast, you eat one day and then you don’t eat the next day, you eat one day, you don’t eat the next day. In a compressed food intake fast, you restrict intake of food to a certain time frame like eight hours. For example, you might only eat from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. This is the type of intermittent fasting I use and recommend to patients because I feel it is the most convenient. To clarify, you would fast for sixteen hours with an eight hour eating window each day. This means you would stop eating around 8 p.m. and then start eating at 12 p.m. noon the next day.
Intermittent fasting can be done anywhere from one day to five days per week depending on each person’s circumstance. You will have to experiment with this yourself or get guidance from a health practitioner that has knowledge in this area. There are circumstances where you shouldn’t fast, and I will discuss these below.
How does fasting help your body and mind?
Intermittent fasting has many benefits:
- it promotes a process called autophagy, which is a process where your cells repair themselves (1, 2, 3)
- it is an effective weight loss tool (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
- it improves insulin sensitivity (diabetes) (7, 8)
- it reduces inflammation (swelling) and oxidative stress (An example of oxidative stress is if you bite into an apple and leave it on your kitchen counter, it will turn brown because oxygen is damaging it). (9)
- it reduces bad small LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (risk factor for cardiovascular disease)(4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)
- it promotes healthy brain function (14)
- it helps optimize a longer life (15)
In terms of detoxing the body, intermittent fasting serves to clean out cells (and their components) that are no longer working properly (autophagy).
Toxins that accumulate in animals, including humans, are stored in fat cells. If we are using intermittent fasting to lose weight, toxins can be released from fat cells and excreted out of our body.
Inflammation and oxidation are major risk factors for chronic illnesses including but not limited to: heart disease and strokes, cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, diabetes, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and depression. (16, 17, 18, 19) Intermittent fasting reduces inflammation and oxidative stress on the body.
Intermittent fasting isn’t always good for you. When you should not fast.
There are circumstances where I would not recommend you practice intermittent fasting. They include:
- During pregnancy. Your child needs a lot of energy to grow and develop and that has to come from nutrient dense whole natural food. It might be okay to occasionally fast, but your focus should be on growing a healthy baby.
- Breastfeeding. Same reason as above. Intermittent fasting will back fire on you if you are breastfeeding. I made this mistake once with a patient when I didn’t know enough about intermittent fasting. It worked well for me, so I assumed it would work well for everyone.
- Being a child or teenager. Kids needs a lot of nutrients and energy to grow, develop, and stay active.
- Having HPA axis dysregulation (HPA-D). Say what? HPA-D stands for Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis Dysregulation. HPA axis is the system in your body that controls your stress tolerance and stress management. If you’re not sleeping well, are really worn out and fatigued, and highly stressed, I would not recommend you intermittent fast. Even though intermittent fasting is a form of positive stress, when your system is already overloaded with too much stress, intermittent fasting can push you over the edge.
- Hypothyroidism. There is evidence that intermittent fasting can help with hypothyroidism, but there is lots of evidence that it makes it worse. Fasting can decrease the conversion of T4 into the active thyroid hormone T3. Decreased T3 would make your hypothyroid symptoms worse.
- Eating disorders. To be safe I would avoid doing any intermittent fasting. You want to make sure you have the eating disorder under control. If you are determined to try it, please work with a health professional who has a good working knowledge about intermittent fasting. Make sure this health professional is working with your other health professionals who have helped you manage and get your eating disorder under control.
Intermittent fasting can be a great strategy to keep you strong, focussed, and energetic. You have to make sure your circumstances allow for its’ benefits. If you are unsure if intermittent fasting would be safe for you to try, talk to a qualified healthcare provider or a nutritionist who is well versed with the practice of intermittent fasting.