So, what is Intermittent Fasting?!
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a method of fasting that concentrates all of your eating within a specified hourly period of a 24 hour cycle and fasting for the alternative portion of the cycle. A typical example is an 8/16 fast where you consume food within an 8 hour window and fast for the other 16 hours. Usually this means only having to skip one meal, normally breakfast. .
How does it work?
When you are not eating (i.e. fasting) the bodies’ insulin levels drop and as a result, lipolysis increases. Lipolysis is the process where the body starts to breakdown adipose tissue (fat cells) in order to sustain the biological processes that require the burning of fuel to function. Because the body is not receiving replenished blood sugar during fasting nearly all of the cellular energy required is generated from the burning of fatty acids, resulting in an increase in fat loss during this time.
But there’s a catch (obviously – its never that simple!). Your body only starts burning fat as a fuel once your glycogen stores have been depleted (stored glucose in your liver and muscles). Depleting your glycogen stores can take anywhere from 6 to 16 hours depending on what you’ve eaten leading up to the fasting period. The higher the carbohydrate intake the more glycogen stored and the longer it takes to get into a ‘fat loss’ state. A low carb diet and exercising at a high intensity will help get you there quicker, because they will a) leave you with less glycogen stores, or b) help you burn through your glycogen stores more quickly).
Intermittent fasting and Autopaghy
Once glycogen stores have been depleted our body not only starts to utilize fat as energy, it switches into what is called Autophagy, a built in survival mechanism where our cells go into ‘recycle and repair’ mode. Cells effectively recycle defective and damaged parts, intracellular pathogens (microbes, fungi, candida, viruses) and misfolded proteins. Without Autopaghy pathogens, waste products and damaged parts can build up and cellular function falters.
All sounds very ‘New Age’
Whilst this might all sound strange and scientific, it is only really our understanding of it that is new, our bodies have been functioning this way (very effectively) since time immemorial. The thing is that over time we’ve increasingly interfered with our bodies’ environment. We get less sleep, altering our circadian rhythms through exposure to artificial light; we eat ‘continuously’ because we now can; and eat a diet which is higher in processed foods. All of this has contributed to our bodies being given less chance to go into the Autopaghy state. Without this fasted state the body is less efficient at removing damaged cells and cellular function eventually falters.
Other Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
IF generally improves gut health by giving your (usually) over worked digestive system a break, allowing the lining of your gut to repair and heal and your liver the time it needs to complete its full detoxification cycle.
IF has the ability to balance the immune system by recycling damaged immune cells and regenerating healthy immune cells. Not only this but it reduces inflammation and has anti-bacterial and anti-pathogenic functions through autopaghy.
IF has the added benefit of increasing the secretion of Growth Hormone (GH),. This is because the bodies’ production of GH works conversely with its production of insulin (a hormone that is released when you eat to assist the body in regulating blood sugar levels). Through eating less frequently you give your body more time to produce that GH good stuff. Some of the benefits of GH include stimulating collagen synthesis and improved muscle strength.
IF is also anti-aging! This is an incredible benefit not only for you skin but in preventing age related diseases. It slows down the aging process, by improving cellular repair, decreasing insulin, improving quality of sleep, and enhancing liver function.
How Often Should You Intermittent Fast?
The good news is, you may only need to fast for a 12 to 16 hour period 2 to 3 times a week to experience the benefits. For women consistent fasting (every day) is not recommended, as they are more sensitive to hunger hormones that if ignored for too long can interfere with hormone balance. There are a few ways to get around this: 1) ensure you are eating enough in the “eating” period; 2) eat a fat only breakfast or drink a bulletproof coffee (coffee blitzed with butter or coconut oil) to get you through the last few hours; 3) only perform light exercise on the days that you fast.
Most importantly though, listen to your body and figure out what works for you.