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  • Faith Joy Solum

The Power of Intermittent Fasting: Transform Your Health One (Skipped) Meal at a Time

Updated: Apr 17

In a world inundated with fad diets and quick fixes, intermittent fasting emerges as a beacon of hope—a sustainable, science-backed approach to weight management and overall well-being. But what exactly is intermittent fasting, and how can it revolutionize your health journey? Let's explore the ins and outs of this transformative eating plan.

Intermittent fasting isn't just another diet—it's a lifestyle. Unlike conventional weight loss regimens that dictate what foods to eat, intermittent fasting focuses on when to eat. This strategic approach allows your body to tap into its innate ability to thrive during periods of fasting. By alternating between eating and fasting, you unlock a multitude of health benefits that go beyond mere weight loss. For beginners, the concept can seem daunting and complex.

First, let me say that I'm not a doctor. While I've used intermittent fasting for years as a way to improve my physical and mental health, I'm not telling you to stop everything you're doing and start fasting right away. You should always consult a health professional before making drastic lifestyle changes (then trust yourself to make the choice that you feel is right for you). Now, let's break it down and explore how intermittent fasting works, its benefits, different fasting plans, and essential tips for getting started.

Understanding Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting revolves around the timing of your meals rather than the content. Instead of focusing on what to eat, it's all about when you eat. This eating pattern involves alternating between periods of fasting and eating on a regular schedule.

Our bodies have evolved to withstand periods of fasting. In prehistoric times, humans often went extended periods without food, relying on their fat stores for energy. However, modern lifestyles, with constant access to food and sedentary behaviors, have disrupted this natural cycle, leading to health issues like obesity and diabetes.

How It Works

During periods of fasting, typically ranging from 12 to 24 hours, the body exhausts its sugar stores and begins burning fat for fuel. This metabolic switch, as described by Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson, is the essence of intermittent fasting.

By prolonging the fasting period, intermittent fasting allows the body to tap into its fat reserves, promoting weight loss and triggering various health benefits. It's important to note that intermittent fasting is not about starving yourself but rather about establishing a structured eating pattern.

Intermittent Fasting Plans

There are several intermittent fasting plans to choose from, catering to different preferences and lifestyles. The most common ones include:

  1. 16/8 Method: This involves fasting for 16 hours each day and restricting your eating window to 8 hours. For example, you might eat between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm and fast for the remaining 16 hours.

  2. 5:2 Diet: With this approach, you eat normally for five days of the week and restrict calorie intake to 500-600 calories on the remaining two days.

  3. Alternate-Day Fasting: As the name suggests, you alternate between days of regular eating and fasting. On fasting days, calorie intake is either severely restricted or completely avoided.

  4. Early Time-Restricted Feeding: This method involves consuming all meals within an early time frame, such as between 7:00 am and 3:00 pm, followed by an extended fasting period until the next day.

Out of these four plans, I gravitate towards 1 and 4, depending on my schedule and activities I have planned. Again, it's not a fad diet, but a way to change your lifestyle. Be flexible and play around with what works for you - and don't feel like you have to stick to one thing.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Research has shown that intermittent fasting offers a myriad of health benefits beyond just releasing excess weight:

  • Improved metabolic health, including better insulin sensitivity and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. I have seen an increase in sustained energy because I'm no longer getting sugar spikes and crashes.

  • Enhanced cognitive function and protection against age-related neurodegenerative diseases. My ability to focus has improved - as an adult with ADHD, that's a huge plus for me! I've recently read research about ADHD being linked to our gut health...more for another time.

  • Heart health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. For some reason, I've always been told my cholesterol is high. It has improved with intermittent fasting.

  • Potential for extending lifespan and reducing the risk of chronic diseases like cancer. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to living longer!

  • Increase your speed - Losing ten pounds could potentially shave off about 20 seconds per mile, translating to a full minute of time saved in a 5K race. For the marathon distance, this could mean nearly nine minutes off your finishing time!

Safety Considerations

Intermittent fasting is considered safe for many people but, as I mentioned before, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting. Some individuals may have underlying health conditions, and you should be careful if you are pregnant. Children, teenagers, and individuals with a history of eating disorders should generally avoid intermittent fasting.

Tips for Beginners

  1. Start Slow: Begin with a less restrictive fasting plan, such as the 16/8 method, and gradually increase fasting duration as your body adjusts.

  2. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water during fasting periods to stay hydrated and curb hunger. I also chew gum when I really need to.

  3. Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods: Focus on whole, nutritious foods during eating windows to support overall health and well-being.

  4. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to hunger cues and adjust your fasting schedule accordingly. It's okay to modify your approach based on how you feel (this is a lifestyle adjustment, NOT a fad diet).

  5. Be Patient: Give your body time to adapt to intermittent fasting. It may take a few weeks for your body to fully adjust to the new eating pattern.

Intermittent fasting is a flexible and sustainable approach to eating that offers numerous health benefits beyond releasing excess body weight. I've given you some great tips to start understanding the principles of intermittent fasting and implementing it gradually into your lifestyle, so you can harness its potential to optimize your health and well-being. Remember to prioritize consistency, listen to your body, and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns. For a deeper dive, check out these great books: I'm So Effing Tired by Dr. Amy Shah and The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung.

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