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Intermittent fasting: is it worth it?

food well-being Sep 26, 2020
 

I’ve received a lot of questions from my clients and followers about time-restricted eating and/or intermittent fasting.  So, I thought I would share my thoughts as well as scientifically researched health benefits to address this new trend in the world of nutrition.

First, let’s differentiate between intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating:

Intermittent fasting: Refraining from food for 24-72 hours. This looks different for each individual.  Some people fast for 24 hours and have one meal per day while others fast for one day and eat normally the following day.

Time-restricted eating: is a form of daily fasting wherein the time of the day during which a person eats is limited, or compressed. People typically restrict their food consumption within an 8-12 hour window and in turn fast during the remaining 12 to 16 hours.

Personally, I am a proponent of time-restricted eating over other intermittent fasting regimens, especially for women. Many of the studies on time-restricted eating—for both men and women.  However, because women are quite sensitive to metabolic distress, fasting can have detrimental effects on women’s hormones. So it can actually have negative implications on overall health. 

Personally, I apply time-restricted eating and do recommend it to clients when appropriate. I have some caveats or warnings to consider. But before I get into that, let me share some reasons why I recommend it:

It leads to weight and fat loss. Studies indicate that it increases your satiety hormones, reduces hunger hormones and in turn leads to loss of weight and fat.
It improves your sleep. Recent studies indicate that the time that you consume food actually impacts your circadian rhythm. In turn, eating your heaviest meals during the day and ending with a light meal improves sleep and daytime energy levels.
It helps improve the body’s detoxification ability. Our liver is a digestive and detox organ. If we can restrict our eating within an 8-hour window, it allows our liver and other detox organs ample time to detoxify our body.
• It supports hormone health. This is one of my top recommendations for those trying to balance their hormones. It does wonders to stabilize your PMS and menopausal symptoms. This isn’t restricted to women! It’s also a simple way for men to boost their testosterone levels.
• It improves metabolic markers.  This study showed that restricting food intake to the morning resulted in an improvement of insulin sensitivity, beta-cell responsiveness, blood pressure, inflammation, oxidative stress, and appetite.
• Finally, this is traditionally how we ate prior to the industrial revolution (before electronics were invented and we weren't able to stay up all hours of the night and snack in order to keep ourselves alert.) Traditionally, we stopped eating when the sun set and tended not to snack after dinner.

What are generally safe and effective practices?

1. Approach it with a positive mindset and one focused on health rather than weight

If you have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, time-restricted eating may be detrimental to your health.  Your health and wellbeing should be the focus of any change you make to your style of eating. If time-restricted eating is going to be a trigger or another new rule to adhere to, then don’t attempt it.  This might be a trigger for you to fall into your old patterns and may actually be detrimental to your health by inducing you into a state of stress.
Women’s hormones are especially sensitive to stress. Cortisol and progesterone are made from the same ingredients in your body.  When women experience states of stress, the body will prioritize making cortisol over producing progesterone.  Therefore prolonged periods of stress can actually lead to hormone imbalances such as estrogen dominance.  Therefore if adding this regimen is going to create stress for you, then forgo it!

2. Approach it gradually and work towards an 8-12 hour eating window

With any change, I recommend going at it slowly.  I generally recommend easing into it by delaying the consumption of breakfast by 30 minutes and ending dinner earlier by 30 minutes. Working towards an 8-12 hour eating window. As you know, I am a proponent of listening to your body.  As you make changes, really connect to your body to assess how you’re responding to the changes. Keeping your health at the forefront of any changes you make will allow you to make the best decisions for yourself.

3. Eat during daytime hours

Many proponents of intermittent fasting don’t discriminate between the hours that food is ingested.  Instead, if we look at available studies, the best results are found when food is eaten during daytime hours.  This has beneficial implications from both a metabolic state as well as regulating your circadian rhythms.

4. Have your largest meals for breakfast and lunch and a lighter dinner

I generally recommend we eat breakfast. If you’ve heard me talk or follow me on social media, I talk a lot about the importance of breakfast and what a balanced breakfast will do for your health.  Studies find that including a healthy, well-balanced breakfast can do wonders for our blood sugar levels, energy, weight, and sleep.  On the other hand, research shows that people who skip breakfast have higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality.

5. Don’t turn this into a “religious” practice

With any change, approach it with balance and grace.  Don’t strive for perfection or an all-or-nothing attitude. This practice does not have to be adhered to religiously 100% of the time.  I eat this way for most of my days. However, if I’m at a function or I feel hungry, I allow room for flexibility. I recommend the same for you.  My golden rule is “listen to your body” and allow your body to guide you. If you’re hungry, you eat.  After all, going to bed with a growling stomach will prevent you from getting a restful night of sleep which won’t benefit you in a positive way.  Also, we should never allow our style of eating or food choices to get in the way of spending time with friends and family. If your food choices or eating schedule is getting in the way of spending time with friends and family, it’s likely not a healthy thing that you’re doing and won’t have lasting effects.

A Few Cautions:

I am always cautious with anything extreme, and especially one that may restrict calories in the development or perpetuation of disordered eating. Sometimes even a ‘healthy’ shift in eating habits can go too far. If watching the timing of your meals is too triggering, is leading to binges, food restriction or food obsessions then this way of eating is definitely NOT for you. Remember, the goal of any change is to positively impact your health.  Long term, sustainable changes to your nutrition and stress management are key to your overall wellbeing. If you find this too challenging to apply in a healthy manner, forgo it. There are numerous other things that can be done to make positive changes to your health.

Remember, I’m always happy to discuss the latest trends in nutrition with you, and to create a personalized nutrition plan that suits your life. You can reach me at [email protected].

 
 
 

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