We all know how diet fads come and go, but the surging trend of Intermittent Fasting (IF) is no fad diet - it's an eating pattern that you can build into your lifestyle in a way that works for you. Today I'm sharing why I started fasting nearly a year ago, how it's made my body feel better and my mind sharper, and how to do it the right way.
Before I go any further I want to note that Intermittent Fasting, as with any dietary style, is not for everyone. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding this is definitely an eating style you want to steer clear of, because it's not going to meet the nutritional and energy needs of you or your growing baby.
Fasting habits are also best avoided if you're trying to conceive, if you've experienced eating disorders in the past, if you're managing chronic stress and anxiety, or if your sleeping patterns are regularly disrupted due to your job or bouts of insomnia.
Now, let's get down to it...
So, what is Intermittent Fasting? In broad terms, it's exactly what it sounds like: an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It's not so much about what you eat or eliminating certain types of foods, it's all about when you eat and giving your body time to reset its systems.
How long does a fast have to be? It can vary, and it really depends on what works best for you. The most common styles for IF are fasting 16 hours every day while maintaining an 8-hour eating window, or fasting for 24 hours twice a week and eating regularly the other five days. I fast twice a week for 24 hours because I've found it works best for my schedule and my body.
Now for a bit about my personal experience with IF...
Why I started Intermittent Fasting. I've always been health conscious; I'm a certified personal trainer so fitness is incredibly important to me, I'm a Psychologist so emotional wellbeing is something I focus on every day, and I grew up eating fresh and natural foods so clean, healthy eating is what I know and love. However, when I launched Baby2Body, life became... busy. Very, very busy. As a startup founder and CEO of a growing business my eating schedules were thrown off due to long meetings, late nights and crazy travel schedules. I still ate healthily, but I knew my eating patterns weren't the best for my body. I wanted to take back control over my diet and find an eating style that worked for me.
I started researching Intermittent Fasting just over a year ago now, as a few of my close friends had positive experiences with it. Fasting is nothing new in the dietary world, and there's loads of research out there on how the human body responds to a fast. The list of benefits that you can get from IF is just incredible, and the biological impacts are what drew me to it. Here's what can happen if you do it right:
- Your body is given the time it needs to remove waste materials from cells, a process called autophagy, so your cells are able to repair more efficiently, helping your body heal and recover faster.
- Blood levels of human growth hormone will rise when you fast, which facilitates fat burning and muscle growth.
- Fasting modifies your insular levels in a healthy way, helping your insulin feedback mechanism regulate itself.
- When consistent with IF you can reduce oxidative stress that leads to signs and symptoms of aging.
- Inflammation in your body will start to lessen, which will help you feel better overall and reduce your likelihood of developing chronic inflammatory diseases.
What a typical IF week looks like for me.
Non-fasting days - Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday: I'll usually do a hard workout on my non-fasting days to take advantage of that extra energy that I get from a normal day of eating. On Sunday and Tuesday (prior to my fasting days) I'll have a light dinner of baked chicken or fish with a side of soup or salad around 7pm.
Fasting days - Monday & Wednesday: I'll start my morning with a small cup of black coffee and then it's water, water, water and a glass or two of green tea all day long. Remember - you can drink water and tea when fasting - and you should! On my fasting days I'll eat a light dinner at home around 8pm, so my fast is usually around 25 hours.
I've probably said it before, but I'm a nut for exercise - it's how I decompress after a long day, so even when I fast I do try to get in a light workout. I repeat, light!! This may be a walk around my neighbourhood or some gentle yoga flows, and only if I'm feeling really good will I do about 30 minutes of light cardio. I'd only recommend this after you've settled into your first month of fasting so you know how your body responds, and only if you're very fit from the start.
Time for some honesty - was it easy to start? No. It definitely took me a few weeks to get used to IF, both mentally and physically. I'd say after getting through the first month or two, if you're staying consistent with it, you'll start finding your rhythm.
Do I always feel good when fasting? Again - not always. On my fasting days I sometimes get a lull around 3pm where I feel tired and a bit light-headed - especially if work is busy or stressful. But when this happens I can recognize it right away, and I'll step aside to take a few minutes for mindfulness while drinking a big glass of water. I always make sure to increase my water intake when I feel this way, and it combats it right away. But any lulls that I get are completely offset by how I feel most of the time. Since I started IF I've had incredible clarity of thought and more sustained energy through the day.
Why I can't see myself stopping Intermittent Fasting. A big part of starting and sticking with IF was reminding myself that if I really want to do something, I can. It makes me feel empowered and I've built a healthier relationship with eating itself. On my fasting days I get the most amazing amount of work done because I'm not focused on what I have do for breakfast, lunch, snacks, or dinner - I'm just focused on me and what I want to achieve that day.
A few final points.
- Intermittent fasting isn't about not eating one day and then eating whatever you want on the next. If you really want to treat your body right and get the most out IF, you want your non-fasting days to be full of nutritious food that is going to give you clean, lasting energy.
- IF is not intended as a quick fix for weight loss. You will lose weight when you do IF because your body will be able to remove waste, burn fat, and build muscle more efficiently. But it's more about developing healthier dietary habits, rather than a method of losing weight alone.
- If you're serious about incorporating Intermittent Fasting into your lifestyle, make sure you're well-versed in how it affects your body, what the precautions are, and how the process works before getting started. As with any lifestyle change, IF takes consistency and gradually building up to the habit.
Interested in the 3-day fast?? Me too! I'm planning a longer-term fast in the near future so stay tuned! I'll be sure to journal my experiences and share with you what 72-hours without food is really like, and what it actually does for the body - and the mind.