The F-Word Everyone's Talking About: Fasting.
More specifically, Intermittent Fasting - or IF.
It's the "trendy" new way of eating (or, not eating) that seems to be the focus of every upcoming podcast, conference, and journal in the health community these days. But what's the scientific evidence behind it? Is it right for everyone - or, anyone?
I myself - being a person who (embarrassingly enough) likes to experiment with "health fads" - started implementing this eating routine into my lifestyle, and have been impressed with the results. With that said, I wasn't necessarily struggling with any particular health issues, and I am proud to say I ate "healthy" before and still eat "healthy" under this new particular regime. Yet my whole life has been simplified; I have more time for "life", as less of my day revolves around eating, which was the main source of attraction for me to this dietary practice.
So what is it exactly that I'm referring to? We all probably know that fasting = not eating, so "IF" is really just an umbrella term for several types of diets that outline restrictions around periods of fasting and non-fasting. Most commonly practiced and the type that I have been implementing into my own meal plan schedule has been Leangains Daily IF, which is basically just a 8-hour feeding period followed by a 16-hour fast (i.e. "8/16" in your everyday "24hr" day). You can start eating your first meal at any time, and from that time you have 8 hours to get in another meal or few - up to you. After that 8-hour period, you stop eating and go into a 16-hour fast. Pretty simple. Most people do a 12-8pm feeding period, but I'm the type of person who wakes up hungry, so I generally opt for eating breakfast around 8am and then stop eating after 4pm.
Now before you roll your eyes, here's some scientific evidence to support IF:
- "Intermittent fasting helps you live longer. Scientists have known for a long time that restricting calories can lengthen life. Intermittent fasting activates many of the same mechanisms for extending life as calorie restriction." - James Clear
- "Cellular repair: The body induces important cellular repair processes, such as removing waste material from cells." - Authority Nutrition
- "Research indicates fasting can have a beneficial effect on patients with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, help reduce cholesterol levels in certain conditions, affect the process of inflammation and even trigger stem cell regeneration." - Cleveland Clinic
All sounds pretty great to me, but as I mentioned before - I took to it literally just to simplify my life! Instead of eating several meals all through-out the day ("grazing" as they sometimes call it), I now eat a nice big satisfying breakfast, lunch, and a snack or two (and/or kombucha!) and the rest of my day is CLEAR to just live and not obsess about food.
I decided to write about here on the Meal Garden blog, because a lot of our users have shared with me that they tend to have quite a bit of anxiety around "what's for dinner" or "fitting in breakfast". The idea of wiping out one of those meals altogether might actually fit quite well for these folks...
While I'm certainly not an expert myself, I chatted with RHN and Meal Expert Maranda Carvell (founder of Propel Wellness) to get her take on IF...
Q: It seems like most people who advocate for IF follow a keto diet (i.e. high fat and strictly reduced carbs) - is this the best/only way to go about it?
A: No, but higher fat keeps you fuller longer - doesn't have to be keto though. I personally eat high fat moderate carbs b/c of my hormone issues and do IF (I do an 8 hour feed window personally). As long as your meals are balanced you won't be hungry which is how you know you're doing it right. I love keto diets but they're not for everyone, all the time.
Q: Can you drink liquids (e.g. kombucha, bone broth, tea, etc.) during the fasting period, or will that break the fast?
A: No, that won't break your fast. And it's a good tip for when you're adjusting to IF too; it can take a little while to get used to not-eating (even if you're not hungry). Some bone broth or a tablespoon of chia in your water is just fine during your fasting window. If you're very hungry, that is a sign you need more food or more fat. It becomes really easy to just cut one meal but not compensate with your other meals and end up under-eating. You shouldn't be crazy hungry doing IF, but if you have that "I could go for a little something something" or just the psychological aspect (habits are hard to change) some bone broth or chia water is perfect to take the edge off . Coffee with a splash of cream/whatever plant milk you like is fine too.
For anyone with a history of chronic dieting, it is tough to adjust (mostly in mindset) but then it becomes liberating b/c you are no longer thinking about food all the time. When you're dieting (which is usually low fat too) you're always thinking "OMG how long until i can eat again?" When you eat high fat and larger meals, you stay full for long periods and you can actually forget to eat. I could eat lunch, or i could wait a couple of hours, no big deal.
One last question! Is IF okay to do on a continual basis? If I wanted to "live" like this, so to speak, is that safe - or should I limit the duration of eating in this pattern?
A: It's fine as a lifestyle, just be aware that for some women (in particular) it can be perceived as a stressor by the body, particularly if they are also under eating. If there are any signs of adrenal fatigue/burn out/hormone imbalance it would be best to pause and/or examine food quality and quantity. For someone who is healthy and feels great, no need to limit it. There is some thought that longer fasting is less appropriate for women, but i think a daily 16/8 window like what you're doing is very natural and not an issue for most people.
So, what's a day in my life of intermittent fasting look like? I've created a day's sample meal plan to give you a sneak peek at a day-in-the-life of a 8/16 IF-er:
Note: I also reached out to two of my favourite and most trusted Naturopathic Doctors, and both had positive things to say on the topic of IF...
Looking for a good resource for digging a little deeper into the world of fasting? Or simply a good jumping-off point? Fasting Talk with Jimmy Moore, Jason Fung MD, and Megan Ramos is an informative and comprehensive podcast that will have you an expert in no time!