|April 28, 2018||5|
You may have heard about intermittent fasting (IF) and that it offers numerous health benefits but are still unsure what those benefits are and how to do it correctly. In this blog article I’m going to talk about why IF is so beneficial, especially to people with diabetes, and how you can easily incorporate it into your daily and weekly routine.
First… What is it Exactly?
Intermittent fasting involves alternating cycles of fasting and eating. All of us do this naturally anyway. We might eat dinner at 7PM and then not eat again until 7AM the next morning – which is why that meal is traditionally called breakfast or break-fast. The only difference is instead of a normal 12-hour fast, IF typically involves extending the fasting period to between 16 and 24 hours.
“ He who eats until he is sick must fast until he is well.” – English proverb
IF doesn’t tell you what to eat, simply when. And, unlike other diets that can cause you weight loss and gain, studies on intermittent fasting conclude it can cause long-term weight loss, improve metabolic rate, protect against disease, and even help us live longer. [1, 2]
There are several approaches to IF and each splits the day or week into periods of fasting and eating. As I mentioned earlier, we all naturally fast when we sleep at night. Incorporating IF can be as simple as extending that period a little longer by skipping breakfast and eating your first meal at noon and last meal at 8PM.
Maybe you’re surprised or concerned about the idea of skipping breakfast. Haven’t we all been taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Well, technically, you would still eat breakfast, it would just be at noon when most people are having lunch, that’s all.
This approach to IF is called the 16/8 method and gives you a 16 hour fast with an 8-hour window of eating. It’s the simplest and most popular method of incorporating this way of eating into your lifestyle.
You may be thinking there is no way you could go 16 hours without food, but you’d be surprised just how easy it is to do. Many people actually report feeling more alert and energetic on this plan. But those are only a couple of the amazing benefits of this eating pattern. Let’s take a look at some of the others.
“The light of the world will illuminate within you when you fast and purify yourself.” – Mahatma Gandhi
As I mentioned earlier, IF has been proven to be an effective way of losing weight AND keeping it off. But one of the most exciting things about IF is that it helps people lose that dangerous fat around their midsection. No extra fat on the body is good but visceral (abdominal) fat is particularly bad.
Not only does intermittent fasting help you lose weight because you are eating fewer calories each day – unless you are really pigging out during those two meals, which you should NOT be doing – IF enhances hormone function which, in return, facilitates weight loss as well.
This happens because insulin levels are lowered while growth hormone and noradrenaline levels are increased, increasing the breakdown of body fat for energy. IF has been shown to increase your metabolic rate by as much as 14%, helping you burn even more calories. [3, 4]
In other words, IF helps you lose weight in two ways: it reduces the amount of calories in and boost the metabolic rate at the same time. That’s powerful.
“Intermittent fasting (IF) is a term for an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It is currently very popular in the health and fitness community.” – Kris Gunnars, BSc
IF Reduces Insulin Resistance, Lowering the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
The cases of type 2 diabetes are on the rise around the world.  The main feature of type 2 diabetes is high blood glucose levels in the context of insulin resistance. Therefore, any strategy that reduces insulin resistance should help lower blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
In many studies, intermittent fasting has been shown to greatly benefit insulin resistance, resulting in a significant reduction in blood sugar levels. In human studies on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3-6%, while fasting insulin has been reduced by 20-31% 
Reduction of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in The Body
Oxidative stress is what ages the human body and causes many chronic diseases.  Oxidative stress is basically what happens when unstable molecules (AKA free radicals) react with other important molecules in your body, like protein and DNA, and damage them.
Studies have shown the ability of IF to enhance the body’s resistance to oxidative stress. 
IF May Help Prevent Cancer
While more human studies are needed, animal studies suggest fasting has several beneficial effects on metabolism that may reduce the risk of cancer.  There is also some evidence that suggests fasting can potentially reduce the side effects of chemotherapy in human patients. 
Intermittent Fasting is Good for Your Brain
Besides reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, research has suggested IF is good for our brain health as well. Several studies on rats have found that intermittent fasting may increase the growth of new nerve cells, which optimizes brain function. 
IF also increases the level of an important brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) . Decreased levels of this hormone have been linked to depression and other cognitive problems.
The Rules of Intermittent Fasting
I would imagine after hearing only some of the significant health benefits of intermittent fasting that you would like to try it for yourself. As I mentioned, one of the easiest ways to get started is to simply skip “breakfast” and eat only 2 meals a day (your first at noon and second between 6-8pm). Do this once or twice a week to start and see how you feel. If you notice big gains in energy and concentration as well as weight loss, you might want to consider practicing the 16/8 method more frequently.
Some people may benefit more from a full 24-hour fast. Let’s say you eat lunch at 1:00PM, you would not eat again until the following day at 1:00PM. This could be done once or twice a week.
The only hard and fast “rules” of IF are that no food is allowed during a fasting period, but you can and should drink plenty of water. You can also have other non-caloric beverages such as black coffee and tea (no creamer or sugar added) and seltzer water. Alternatively, you may consider using bone broth or making a vegetable broth to replace electrolytes.
Taking supplements is generally allowed while fasting, as long as there are no calories in them.
One final thought: If you are using insulin or oral medication to manage blood sugar because of diabetes, then I strongly recommend discussing intermittent fasting with your doctor or medical professional before making any changes to your diet.
 The Effects of Intermittent Energy Restriction on Indices of Cardiometabolic Health, Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 459119, Research in Endocrinology, 24 pages, DOI: 10.5171/2014.459119 [Research in Endocrinology]
 Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems, J Nutr Biochem 2005 Mar;16(3):129-37 [National Institutes of Health]
 Enhanced thermogenic response to epinephrine after 48-h starvation in humans, Am J Physiol. 1990 Jan;258(1 Pt 2):R87-93 [National Institutes of Health]
 Resting energy expenditure in short-term starvation is increased as a result of an increase in serum norepinephrine, Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jun;71(6):1511-5 [National Institutes of Health]
 Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings, October 2014 Volume 164, Issue 4, Pages 302–311 [The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine]
 Endogenous DNA damage in humans: a review of quantitative data, Mutagenesis 2004 May;19(3):169-85 [National Institutes of Health]
 Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma, Free Radic Biol Med. 2007 Mar 1;42(5):665-74. Epub 2006 Dec 14 [National Institutes of Health]
 Effects of short-term dietary restriction on survival of mammary ascites tumor-bearing rats, Cancer Invest. 1988;6(6):677-80 [National Institutes of Health]
 Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: A case series report, Aging (Albany NY). 2009 Dec 31;1(12):988-1007 [National Institutes of Health]
 Dietary restriction increases the number of newly generated neural cells, and induces BDNF expression, in the dentate gyrus of rats, J Mol Neurosci 2000 Oct;15(2):99-108 [National Institutes of Health]
 Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective, Annu Rev Nutr 2005;25:237-60 [National Institutes of Health]