What is Intermittent Fasting? A Nurse Practitioner’s Practical Advice

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This blog post is all about the fundamentals of intermittent fasting, a topic that I discuss frequently with clients, as a guest on podcasts, during my live video instructions and honestly, as often as I can.  

Is Intermittent Fasting the key to accelerated fat loss?

Is intermittent fasting ideal for long-term health benefits?

Simplistic answer: in most cases, yes. 

Read on to learn what it is, why you should do it, how to do it, and who it is for.

Intermittent Fasting is a healthful practice and is not a diet.  There are extended periods of time in which you won’t consume calorific foods. You will stay hydrated and it should be an extension of your natural eating habits.  There is no right or wrong way to practice intermittent fasting.  Some prefer a 24 hour fast, some like to fast every other day. Some even try for a super fast.  

Fasting is not a new concept.  It goes back to biblical times and many religions still use fasting in their practices.  

Why would you want to fast? 

Your body has two “systems” it runs on.  There is the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system.  The parasympathetic system is often times referred to as “rest & digest.” The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our “fight or flight” responses. We want our body to kick into the state of “rest & digest” when it is time to refuel and nourish ourselves. It’s important to draw nutrients from our food and allow the body to properly absorb what is needed for optimal function.  When we are resting and giving our digestive system a break from the function of food break-down it can move on to nutrient absorption which is the purpose of eating.

Additionally, there is the obvious effect that when we aren’t consuming food there is a calorie deficit.  I do not believe that all fat loss is derived from calories in and calories out.  But intermittent fasting does make us cognizant of how often we consume calories that we hadn’t even been aware of.  I find this to be a powerful practice in overall reduction of calories.

Intermittent fasting can also be a great time for reflection, meditation and exercise. You will find that fasting is a mind-over-matter practice.  Your brain might trick you into worry, a scarcity mentality or bring up powerful emotions.  Please know that you can start at 12 hours and build up to 16 hours.  If your brain is resistant this might be a sign that emotional eating has been occurring and you can consider a deeper dive into those feelings surrounding food.

While your body is in a fasted state it is also going through a cellular process called “Autophagy.”  Your cells are actually going to be getting rid of a lot of cellular debris that we don’t need.  This is thought to be a great benefit for cancer prevention.  It can help with fat loss and reduction of triglycerides. 

Another positive benefit is that of learned satiety.  Once you have established a fasting routine you will know what true hunger feels like, versus boredom or cravings or emotions.

Blood sugar control and mental clarity are two huge benefits to intermittent fasting as well.

Our bodies were not designed to graze.  If we envision going back to “caveman” times, food could be scarce.  When food sources were available it was time to eat a sizable amount and in between they weren’t searching for another protein bar.  Eating 4-6 meals a day is a pretty antiquated practice within the nutrition community, and hopefully with more education the public and the health industry will start to change.

How to intermittent fast?

Here’s what I recommend: a 16 hour fast and an 8 hour feeding window.  This is not meant to be complicated.  You can easily achieve 16 hours of a fast by eating your last meal by 6pm and “breaking your fast” around 10am.  Some people love to eat earlier in the day and some people prefer to eat later. If that is the case for you, then you would consume your last meal at 8pm and break your fast around noon.  All versions are acceptable. 

For more information on intermittent fasting, I recommend reading, “A Complete Guide to Fasting” by Dr. Jason Fung, you can purchase it here. You can also watch my TEDx Talk “Intermittent Fasting: Transformational Technique” it has gained over a million views. WATCH HERE

What to consume while fasted?

You should consume water, herbal teas, black tea, black coffee.  You do not want anything that will invoke an insulin response.  You can add lemon, lime or apple cider vinegar to your water or tea. I do not recommend stevia or artificial sweetener.  The practice and habit is to get into is FASTED STATE.  It is not a game of “what can I add to my coffee to still be considered fasted.”

Who shouldn’t practice intermittent fasting?

If you have a history of disordered eating or tendencies towards that, you should not try intermittent fasting.  If you have ever been a binge eater, bulimic, anorexic, or have body dysmorphia, intermittent fasting could trigger those tendencies.  

If you have hypoglycemia, or you are a brittle diabetic, if you’re being treated for an acute illness, than it is probably not the right thing for you to try. 

If you have an HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary axis) Dis-regulation, otherwise know as, “adrenal fatigue” you should be very careful because your body could perceive fasting as an additional “stress.”

Simply put, if you have more energy and are mentally clear while fasting then this is a great practice for you.  If you feel lethargy, nausea, or mental fog while fasting, then this isn’t a practice for you and that is absolutely fine.  This is not a one-size-fits-all phenomena.  

Things I like about intermittent fasting:

  1. It’s free
  2. Its adaptable
  3. It’s beneficial to long-term health
  4. It increases fat loss

I would LOVE to hear about your experiences with intermittent fasting. Have you tried it? Did you like it? Have you ever done an extended fast? Let me know in the comments below and if you found this article helpful please share to Facebook, Twittter or Google+ by clicking the icons below.