Intermittent fasting, is it healthy?
The Historical Precedent of Fasting
You might have heard the buzzword of intermittent fasting recently in health and wellness circles. This is just a rebranding of an activity that human beings have been doing for millennia. Many religions incorporate some form of abstaining from food, types of food and drink, and great thinkers from the past have attested to the mental clarity associated with refraining from eating.
“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency” – Plato, the Ancient Greek Philosopher who lived 427 – 347 BC, pivotal figure in the history of Ancient Greece and Western philosophy.
Unhealthy Modern Eating Habits in the USA
In the 1970s, doctors in the US would tell us to eat 3 times a day and exercise with no snacking in between. Since then, our modern sedentary lifestyle and high calorie junk diets with lots of processed foods and sugar has led to the astonishing number of a 42.4% incidence rate of obesity in adults over 20[i]. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survery (NHANES) shows us an upwards trend in the rate of obesity in adults (see fig. 1 below).
Today, most of us eat 3 meals a day and snack all day. This has been proven to cause problems in the long run, even when following a balanced diet. Eating all day long, overtaxes our pancreas and digestive system so that it does not work properly and doesn’t help in absorbing food and nutrients from our food.
Health practitioners used to say exercise more and eat less but modern studies have shown that eating less is not the key, but when to eat and what to eat. Furthermore, there scientific experiments have shown to reduce age-associated diseases and reduce risk factors for a range of health problems, even for as little as five days a month of diets that mimic fasting.[i]
You are When You Eat!
Meal frequency is a big topic of debate in nutrition circles. An important distinction is debate between sugar burners vs. fat burners. Sugar burners are people with a high carbohydrate diet. They tap into glucose as their primary fuel source, which is incredibly inefficient. You can recognize these individuals as they are frequently hungry, irritability (yes feeling ‘h-angry’ is a real thing), have significant dips in energy level, and tend to struggle with their fat loss because their insulin levels are high (your fat-storing hormone). They struggle with weight gain because this means they have more oxidative stress, more inflammation. If any of this sounds familiar, we at Hands of Hope New York invite you to try intermittent fasting and changing your meal timing after consulting you doctor.
In sharp contrast with sugar burners are fat burners who tap into their fat stores for energy. They have sustained energy, are cognitively more clear, age slower, sleep better and it is easier for them to lose weight as they tap into the aforementioned fat stores.
Importance of meal timing
Meal timing and when we eat is crucial. According to Dr. Cynthia Thurlow, 2/3 of women 40-50 years old are overweight and more than half are obese in the United States[iii]. Changing diet and more exercise is the key. Women in their 50s and 60s gain an average of 1.5lbs a year on average – although some of this is attributable to hormonal changes and less lean muscle mass than their male counterparts, sleep and mood disorders – eating strategically can greatly offset this[iv]. Intermittent fasting has been scientifically proven to be a transformational concept for fuelling fat loss, slowing down aging process and preventing disease[v].
Simply put, intermittent fasting is the absence of food in a prescribed time period. Either you’re in a fed or a fasted state. When you eat, insulin is secreted by the pancreas to move sugar into the cells. We store most of our sugar in our liver and skeletal muscle but when we exceed these storage sites, we store them as fats. When we are fasting insulin levels are low and we can tap into fat stores for energy!
If you skip breakfast, you can reduce your caloric intake from 20-40%. A lot of people follow the 16/8 method where you fast for 14-16 hours and restrict your eating window to 2, 3 or more meals. The effects are staggering since it is like ‘Spring cleaning’ for our cells.
Bio-physical benefits of intermittent fasting:
- Fat loss, especially visceral fat around our abdomens and major organs
- Induces autophagy = body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells
- Improves mental clarity because insulin levels are low
- Spikes human growth hormone, which helps us with lean muscle mass
- Lowers blood pressure and improves cholesterol profile
- Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and cardiovascular disease
A word of caution: Please consult your doctor before you start practising intermittent fasting: as transformational as this dieting strategy can be, it is NOT for everyone. If you are a diabetic, a child or above 70 years old it might not be the most suitable strategy for you. Pregnant women, anyone with chronic heart issues, kidney or renal issues this is not the best strategy for you. If you have a history of disordered relationship with food, anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating (can invoke those tendencies since it requires disciplined adherence to eating schedules). Furthermore, If you are frail or recently been hospitalized this is also not for you.
In conclusion, eating your meals during certain windows of time can really help your digestive system and has positive knock-on benefits to your health. But as with most health considerations, it should be accompanied by overall healthy practices such as sleeping well, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet. Bookmark this Hands of Hope NY blog and give us a follow on our Instagram and Facebook pages for tips to boost your overall health and wellness and accelerating your injury recovery!
Evidence Insight: References
- [i] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db360.htm
Craig M. Hales, M.D., Margaret D. Carroll, M.S.P.H., Cheryl D. Fryar, M.S.P.H., and Cynthia L. Ogden, Ph.D.NCHS Data Brief No. 360, February 2020,
- [ii] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/06/short-term-fasting-may-improve-healthMitch Leslie, June 18 2015
- [iii] https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/intermittent-fasting-could-be-beneficial-healthIFL editorial team, January 2019
- [iv] https://news.usc.edu/82959/diet-that-mimics-fasting-appears-to-slow-aging/Robert Perkins, June 18 2015
- [v] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UkZAwKoCP8&ab_channel=TEDxTalks
Why fasting bolsters brain power: Mark Mattson at TEDxJohnsHopkinsUniversity,
uploaded March 18 2014