Intermittent fasting has started to get more traction become a fundamental part of people’s lifestyles. It’s conflicting for many since there’s lots of news out there telling you that you should eat 6 times a day to prevent muscle wasting, keep your metabolism running and ensure you have energy. The truth is, you’re far more likely to revolutionise your health by implementing intermittent fasting into your lifestyle instead of eating 6 times a day (including snacks).
The Power Of Intermittent Fasting
In this article when I refer to intermittent fasting, I’m generally talking about time restricted feeding where you go 12 to 24 hours or so without food. The most popular version of intermittent fasting is the 16:8 method where you go 16 hours without food and allow yourself to eat within an 8 hour eating window.
Why Does Intermittent Fasting Make Sense?
4 billion years ago, us homo-sapiens would not have had readily available food on hand like we do now. We couldn’t just pop into a supermarket and buy a ready to eat cereal bar. Heck, we wouldn’t even eat wheat since we didn’t have the knowledge or technology to process it into something that was edible. The two main options for food were animals or plants.
The preferred source of food was likely animals since you could obtain a far greater amount of calories for the amount of effort by killing one deer versus scavenging for plants which would require a lot more effort. Furthermore, we didn’t need to worry about toxins in animals like we do in plants.
It’s also likely that since we didn’t have easy access to food (and we had to work for it by hunting or foraging) that we would have gone throughout periods of time where we had limited to no food. If a deer was killed, we probably would’ve brought it back to our tribe and had a massive feast that night rather than portioning the deer into 3 meals a day. Then we would’ve run our bodies on that single meal until we could obtain our next meal, which hopefully would be the following day.
Intermittent fasting helps to mimic this, keeping us in tune with our genetic roots. Furthermore, intermittent fasting comes with a whole host of health benefits, allowing your body to repair and rejuvenate simply by giving it a break from eating.
Think Less About Food And Focus More
One great benefit of intermittent fasting is that you think less about food. It seems counterintuitive, but by eating food less frequently, your mind goes to food less than normal. This allows you to spend less time focusing on food and more time focusing on other things that matter such as exercise, quality time with friends and family and work. Most of the time when you start snacking, you get hungry. For many, fasting means you snack less and stimulate hunger less frequently.
Studies have found that intermittent fasting helps improve spatial, associative, working and verbal memory in adults. Many also report having enhanced focus during their fasting period where they find it easier to concentrate on any work that they’re doing. From an evolutionary standpoint, it actually makes sense that focus increases when we are without food. If we got foggy brains when we didn’t have access to food for 16 hours then we would struggle to hunt effectively.
In this scenario, enhanced focus would’ve allowed us to be more alert and spend more time carefully tracking our prey and hunting it down. Nowadays, we don’t need to hunt in the same way, but we still get the enhanced focus that comes with intermittent fasting. I don’t know about you, but if you’ve tried intermittent fasting, I know that I certainly feel exceptionally focused in the mornings before I have my first meal.
Increased Fat Burning
The body stores sugar in the form of glycogen. About 100g can be stored in the liver and up to around 400 – 500g in the muscles. As a number of calories, this means your body can store about 2,000 – 2,400 calories worth of carbohydrates. Liver glycogen stores will deplete quickly within the 14 – 18 hours of abstaining from eating any food. As a result insulin and blood glucose drop as there are no nutrients coming into the body.
When blood glucose is low, the hormone glucagon is secreted. Think of glucagon like the counterpart of insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone. Glucagon is a ‘liberating’ hormone. It converts glycogen in the liver to glucose. Then when the glycogen is used up, the body starts to do two things. It produces ketone body from fat cells and also begins to break down fats into glycerol molecules and free fatty acids in a process called lipolysis. This is where the ‘fat burning’ begins.
The body metabolises the glycerol produced from lipolysis to create the energy your body requires to function. The free fatty acids can be used by the rest of the body for energy (except the brain) and can also be converted into ketones to be used by the brain if needed.
By keeping insulin and blood glucose levels low, intermittent fasting can also have a tremendous effect on reversing insulin resistance.
As a bonus, leptin production from fat tissue is also reduced. Leptin is another hormone which stimulates hunger. By producing less leptin, you’re likely to be less hungry and thus eat less food. All of this together makes intermittent fasting great for losing body fat.
Increased Insulin Sensitivity
When your insulin levels drop for a prolonged period, your insulin receptors become more responsive to insulin. That means that when you consume food and nutrients, your body will uptake the nutrients more readily. Exercise gives a similar effect. This is great since it means your body is able to utilise nutrients more efficiently. It’s one reason why it’s great to break your fast after exercising shortly beforehand. Not only do you have a healthy appetite, but your body is able to quickly use those nutrients to focus on the growth and repair of muscles.
When you give your body a break from eating you allow your body to rest and recover. You give your digestive system a break. This reduces inflammation in the digestive tract. Since fasting as also been shown to reduce risk factors such as coronary heart disease, it’s highly likely that intermittent fasting helps to reduce inflammation throughout the whole body, including the arteries and adipose (fat) tissue. The mechanism by which this works is that during fasting, your body releases fewer pro-inflammatory cells known as monocytes into the bloodstream. During periods of fasting, these cells have also been shown to go into ‘sleep mode’ are less inflammatory than in those who are fed. Whilst monocytes are immune cells, they’re also highly inflammatory and can cause lots of tissue damage.
A process known as autophagy also occurs. Autophagy stands for ‘self-eating’. Whilst this sounds bad, during this process, since there is a lack of nutrients coming in, the healthy cells start to engulf the weak or dead cells in the body to survive. It’s a bit like survival of the fittest. We see the effects of autophagy manifest in the form of reduced oxidative damage and increased cellular resistance.
Intermittent fasting has also been linked to longevity, as well as having the potential to help prevent and treat diseases. It’s likely this is due to the reduced inflammation and increased cellular resistance induced by intermittent fasting.
Afraid Of Muscle Wasting? Well, Growth Hormone Skyrockets
One little known secret about fasting is that it increases growth hormone levels significantly. We’re talking between 1300 – 2000%! Many people think that intermittent fasting will cause muscle to waste away since you’re not intaking any nutrients for typically over 16 hours. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If this was the case, we would’ve died as hunter-gatherers since there’s no way we would’ve had access to food in such a way that we would’ve been able to eat 3 meals a day (or more). Furthermore, we would’ve needed to keep the muscle on our body to stay as physically active as we were and to keep hunting.
During fasting, human growth hormone skyrockets helping to preserve muscle tissue. In addition, testosterone levels also increase dramatically. It’s becoming more mainstream as athletes such as Rich Froning swear by intermittent fasting and have reported seeing great benefits and increased testosterone by adhering to it.
Where To Start?
If you want to try intermittent fasting but you’re unsure if you can cope with 16 hours of fasting a day try fasting for a minimum of 12 hours each day to start with. This should be a lot easier since hopefully, you’re getting around 8 hours of sleep which means you only have 4 hours left to go without food. A good way to start is to try finishing dinner by 7 pm and allowing yourself to start eating again the next morning at 7 am. Gradually, you can try and extend the length of time you go without food until you can manage 16 hours, perhaps even 20 hours with little effort.
I definitely think everyone should give it a go!
Thanks for reading! If you found this article informative, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could share it with others interested in intermittent fasting!
People To Check Out Regarding Intermittent Fasting:
- Dr Peter Attia
- Mike Mutzel
- Dr Rhonda Patrick
- Dr Jason Fung