Food for intermittent fasting
Photo by Brooke Lark

Intermittent fasting, what do these two words have to do with one another? And why are they all of a sudden the talk of the newest health blogs and trends? I recently stumbled upon intermittent fasting and completely dismissed it. Why would I eat all of my calories in an 8 hour period? And then fast for 16? What is this schedule?! However, I found myself intrigued by this new “trend” and decided to look into it. It turns out, there are can be a lot of benefits to intermittent fasting. After combing through several IF (intermittent fasting) sites, I found they all have a few things in common.

Note: I write “trend” because as Lee From America pointed out, people have been fasting for centuries. Many religious beliefs and ceremonies require fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting

Let’s start with the basics. Intermittent fasting is when one follows an eating pattern where food is restricted for a certain amount of time, and daily calories are consumed in a smaller window. This pattern allows the body to rest during the fasting periods as it’s not working to digest previously consumed food. It turns out that digestion is a very energy-consuming activity for the body. Crazy, right?

The Basics of Intermittent Fasting

What’s the point? Good question! According to Lee From America and Healthline, intermittent fasting is widely used to promote a plethora of health benefits. A plethora you say?! Tell me more.

Some benefits include:
Improved digestion
Regulated energy levels
Better skin
Decreased insulin levels
Lower blood pressure
Weight loss
Lower risk of heart disease and diabetes
Increased human growth hormone

What are the Negative Impacts to Intermittent Fasting?

Many have probably heard that skipping meals negatively impacts blood sugar levels. However, researchers of intermittent fasting have found that IF can actually stabilize blood sugar levels as it adjusts to a consistent eating and fasting pattern. This means that hunger shouldn’t be a problem during the fast.

As human beings, we like consistent schedules. This is no different when it comes to food, we want to eat when we believe we should eat. Often times skipping a meal leads to a ravenous hunger and desire to make up for the calories missed by binging.  Binging then spikes blood sugar before it drops again. This unhealthy pattern is something IF participants have to consider during their fast. Believe it or not, it’s okay to be a little hungry between meals. It doesn’t mean we’re starving. Often times our brains will signal hunger to us when we are stressed, emotionally upset, or bored. We give in to the conditioning we’ve received, since birth, that we need food while watching tv, at the movies, or at 9 p.m. before bed. All of this isn’t always true! There’s no die-hard right or wrong way to eat. There are just differing views, options, and patterns. We have to find what works best for us.

A Quick Detour…

I have always been a huge believer in the breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day phenomenon. Let’s think of all the times an adult scolded us as children for not eating breakfast or a teacher told us to load up on early morning comida to endure the entire school day. We’ve been conditioned this way. Think commercials for sugary breakfast cereals that preach the importance of a healthy mañana meal. Thank you to the 1960s advertising era that cluttered our screens with miscellaneous information (says the strategic communications major). I’m not saying this phenomenon is false. There are studies out there that stress the importance of breakfast to jump-start the brain, energy levels, and metabolism. However, I never stopped to think about why breakfast is the most important meal. I just always accepted it when I felt those early morning hunger pains.

How to Intermittently Fast

There are different ways to fast intermittently. There are 3 common schedules that people typically follow, according to Healthline.

16/8: This method seems to be the most common. It involves fasting for 16 hours and then consuming daily food in an 8 hour period. This can be done by skipping breakfast and eating lunch and dinner in an 8 hour time frame (11-6, 12-7, etc). 

Eat-Stop-Eat: This method involves fasting for 24 hours. The most common execution is to fast from dinner one night until dinner the next night. This is usually done once or twice a week.

5:2: This method calls for food to be heavily restricted for 2 days a week, with normal eating patterns the other 5 days.

I haven’t tried intermittent fasting at this point in time. However, I do wonder how it would affect my digestive system. Many people use IF to maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage weight.

Potential Side Effects

Possible side effects of IF include tiredness and hunger. Other symptoms will vary from person to person, but naturally one will feel tired and hungry at the beginning of a restricted food schedule. The body will adjust to new schedules and soon the benefits will kick in! According to Lee From America, the morning hunger will start to subside and be replaced with increased energy and balanced insulin levels. 

IF is still new in the health-world and being researched. There are positives and negatives to any kind of eating pattern. There are also people who should be careful about trying IF. For example, people with diabetes or pregnant women should talk to a doctor before starting an IF pattern.

Women with amenorrhea and underweight individuals should be careful about IF. If you suffer from anemia (like I do) you should do your research before starting IF. This isn’t to say anemic individuals can’t partake, but they should make sure they are healthy enough to do so. Iron-rich foods during an IF pattern may be totally acceptable for anemic patients. I know my iron levels are low for various reasons, one of which is that I don’t eat a lot of meat. Dietary changes and/or iron supplements can help alleviate anemic symptoms.

The TLDR

Overall, I’m curious about IF. Maybe it would improve my digestion, any little bit helps. I plan to continue to research before I commit to a specific eating pattern. The more knowledgeable, the better. I think it’s important to note that there are many many studies on IF and other dietary phenomena. It’s hard to say what’s right or not. That’s because, surprise, there is no one right way. It will vary from person to person and everyone needs to do what works best for their mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s all about listening to your own body. It will tell you what works and what doesn’t.

Intermittent Fasting Isn’t for Everyone

*It’s extremely important to specify that people who have a history of eating disorders, currently suffer from an eating disorder or have received treatment for one should be very careful with IF. IF could trigger eating disorder patterns/abuse or cause mental, emotional, and physical distress. IF is a stressor in its own right. It takes time and patience to adjust to a schedule like IF and there will be side effects or discomfort from dramatically changing one’s eating pattern.

Eating disorders are an area of interest for me, so stay tuned for a post about eating disorders and my opinions about body image, societal pressures, and more! Peace and love.

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