Have you been hearing about intermittent fasting and are curious of giving it a try, but are scared of being hungry during the fasting phase? If so, I can relate. I was right there with you. However, I was ready to make a change in my lifestyle to lose a little baby weight and to improve my overall health, so I picked up the book “Life in the Fasting Lane” by Dr. Jason Fung to learn more about intermittent fasting, how it can help in weight loss, and how it can improve your health in other significant ways.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a schedule of voluntary fasting, paired with a time frame for eating. The most common meal time schedule is 16:8, where 16 hours of the day you fast, and the remaining 8 hours in the day you consume your meals.
Why Is Intermittent Fasting Important?
Intermittent fasting aids in weight loss by retraining your body to utilize your own stores of fat and energy through fasting versus finding energy through eating throughout the day. In Dr. Fung’s book, he talks right away about the importance of hunger and how hunger can recalibrate our hormones, help us lose weight, and improve our health conditions.
I know it’s scary thinking about being hungry. But, it’s OK that you have hunger pangs because you’re…wait for it… not going to die.
Shocking, I know.
Scary? Maybe at first, yes.
Dr. Jason Fung is a nephrologist (kidney doctor) and he treats a lot of patients who have diabetes since diabetes- at the end stage- will break your kidneys. He had a mission of trying to reverse diabetes and chronic diseases and began making the association between the influence of sugar and release of insulin in your body and the downstream effects it can have.
Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas- an organ that lies behind your stomach and small intestine. Insulin helps to bring the sugar in in your blood stream down for tight control.
In order to do this, it has to store the sugar somewhere. It chooses to store this energy (as fat) in your liver, muscles, and fat cells.
The interesting thing about fat cells is that they are active. They actually secrete hormones (which are chemical messengers that travel in our bloodstream)!
Estrogen is a common female hormone that is secreted by fat cells.
Therefore- especially for women- if you carry more weight, you have more fat cells, and secrete higher levels of estrogen in your body. This is why there is a link between estrogen responsive cancers (ie: breast, ovarian, and uterine) and obesity in women!
How Does Intermittent Fasting Improve Your Health?
Dr. Fung highlights the importance of weight loss and subsequent improvements in cancer risk and other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), and more!
It’s evident that sugar is a major player in spiking insulin and therefore gaining weight.
Here’s the simple of it: If you eat all the time, your body learns that you don’t need to use what you have stored (as fat) because you’re always providing it with calories. Fasting switches this around and allows your body to be hungry and use up what it has.
Your hunger hormones kick in and tell your body that food is not going to be coming in so it’s time to use your own stores of energy (fat) for fuel!
Yes, that means you’ll have hunger pangs.
In my program, we do an experiment where we actually record how long our hunger pangs linger for. For myself, the longest my hunger pangs lasted for was 4-5 minutes!
You feel like it’s going to be this long time that you’re hungry for, but in reality, it’s not that long after all. All it takes is a bit of distraction. You can do non-food based things such as hobbies where you find yourself in a natural state of “flow”.
After a few minutes, you no longer are hungry because your body is mobilizing the sugar that’s stored in your liver and your muscles and your fat cells and it’s using that energy to squash your hunger pangs.
The results over time?
Weight loss, improvement in your health conditions, reduction in cancer risk, and autophagy!
What Is Autophagy?
Autophagy is an interesting concept that happens during an extended fasting phase (day long fasts).
Autophagy is like “cleaning out the garage.” It is the process of spring cleaning, getting rid of the old junk (cells) that are old, broken, and just taking up space, and keeping your body fine tuned.
This process is very important in improving your overall health and longevity. Fasting encourages this work on your cells.
My Approach To Intermittent Fasting
In my own personal approach to fasting, I’ve really enjoyed starting slow and steady with a 14:10 fasting window; 14 hours of fasting, 10 hours feasting. Typically, I wrap up the last thing I eat or drink at night around 9pm and therefore allow myself to fast until 11am+.
Are You Allowed To Drink While Fasting?
Other beverages? It depends on how strict you want to be with your fast.
For myself- in the morning- I stick to black coffee and water with lemon until it’s time to eat. The key is not having anything with sugar in it since this will cause your insulin to spike- breaking your fast.
However, if you’re not interested in being super strict, I’ve heard about doing “dirty” fasts where you can have up to 50 calories in your fasting window. I fall more into this category some mornings when I’m craving an (unsweetened) almond milk latte with cocoa powder, or a Spindrift (which has a few grams of sugar from the natural fruit juice in the carbonated water).
I’ve started seeing results even with this less strict version of the 16:8 fast.
Results are also likely due to the food I choose to eat during my feasting window as well.
As you may already know, I’m a big proponent of eating a diet rich in whole foods that are minimally processed. I enjoy tracking my foods in My Fitness Pal (app), but calorie counting is not required for you to still see results.
Simply, listen to your body, eat until you’re full, prioritize protein first, and choose foods that make you feel good. Don’t overthink it or stress too much about it.
After starting intermittent fasting, I feel like I have more energy and stamina throughout the day. I’m looking forward to the mental clarity boost that also comes with fasting. I also want the benefits of:
- Mental sharpness
- Cancer prevention
- And preventing chronic diseases
The cool thing is- you don’t feel super deprived (or starving- like I feared!) while doing intermittent fasting.
How Long Does It Take To See Results With Intermittent Fasting?
I have been doing a “dirty” 14:10 intermittent fasting window for about a month now, and have lost 1% body fat and 4 lbs. Granted, I’m 3 months postpartum, breastfeeding, and also spent an entire week this past month on a vacation in St. Thomas US Virgin Islands (highly recommend!!).
If I can still have significant results with these confounding variables, YOU absolutely can! Give it a shot.
If you’re ready to give intermittent fasting a try, pick a fasting window that you feel comfortable with and be sure to prioritize clean and minimally processed foods during your eating window. Minimize soda, juice, alcohol, and other sugar-sweetened beverages during your fasting time frame (and also in your feasting time frame!!) since these are big culprits in weight gain. Otherwise, eat the rainbow of vegetables, pick foods with ingredients you can read and pronounce, and don’t stress too much about it. Just get started and try it out (consistently)!
For more information, I encourage you to read the book Life in the Fasting Lane by Dr. Jason Fung for more detailed information.