Intermittent fasting is a buzz-worthy health concept, and for good reason. It can help kickstart your metabolism, help your body stabilise it’s blood sugar levels, and encourage cellular repair and detoxification. That’s why, I engaged in intermittent fasting for most of Friday. And no, it’s not because I wanted to punish myself for eating an extra big slice of my mum’s apple pie on Thanksgiving—please trust that I enjoyed every single forkful! Trust me, calorie counting, food deprivation, and “dieting” are so not my style. Sure, I’m a nutritionist, but I’m also a food lover—always have been, always will be.
How to eat what you want
While my plan wasn’t to overstuff my face during our family’s Thanksgiving dinner, it was inevitable that I indulged in some foods that I usually avoid. I’m not saying I piled my plate high with processed sugar and cheese balls, but I did enjoy the tasty food my family prepared together—even if it wasn’t organic and gluten-free and grass-fed and non-GMO.
Throwing your food guidelines out the window for one meal won’t kill you, but it can leave you feeling pretty crappy—the food coma that immediately follows the big meal is real, as is the next-day sugar hangover. I hate feeling like that, but it always seemed to happen to me no matter how careful I was about what I ate and drank while celebrating Turkey Day. Intermittent fasting is the first thing that really helped me feel better the morning after Thanksgiving.
So, what’s intermittent fasting?
The first thing you should know is that you already fast for about eight hours every day while you’re sleeping—bravo! Intermittent fasting is just an extension of that. Basically, instead of waking up and eating breakfast, you continue to cycle your eating for a short period of time—anywhere from 8 to 16 more hours—so you don’t eat anything.
Combined with the eight hours of sleep fasting, you’ll go anywhere from 16 to 24 hours without eating to truly see results from intermittent fasting.
The benefits of intermittent fasting
We’ve been told for ages that we need to eat breakfast first thing in the morning in order to fire up the metabolism and lose weight. Unfortunately, the science doesn’t necessarily live up. Cycling between periods of eating and fasting can actually do way more for your body in terms of weight loss and detoxification.
Short-term fasting, like what you do in intermittent fasting, has been shown to increase metabolic rate by 3.6-14 percent. According to a scientific review completed in 2014, intermittent fasting helped people achieve 3 to 8 percent weight loss over three to 24 weeks—that’s huge. You won’t see these types of results unless you fast daily, but trying it the day after a really heavy meal could help reignite your metabolism and maybe prevent weight gain.
Decreases belly fat
High blood sugar levels lead to insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes. But before it gets to that point, elevated insulin levels trigger your body to store fat in your belly instead of using it for energy. This health double-whammy—insulin resistance and weight gain—is exactly why it’s so important to chill out on sugar. But of course, there’s the pie. Thankfully, intermittent fasting immediately reduces blood sugar levels 3 to 6 percent, and reduces insulin levels by up to 30 percent.
Eating crappy foods can literally poison your body. That’s because they often contain free radicals—unstable molecules which react with other important molecules (like protein and DNA) and damage them. When free radicals do their dirty work, they cause oxidative damage that leads to disease, inflammation, and cell death. Intermittent fasting strengthens the body’s defense mechanism against oxidative stress, and reduces (and sometimes negates!) the damage done by free radicals.
How to do it
Honestly, intermittent fasting is pretty easy. There are tons of different methods, but on the day after a particularly indulgent meal I’ll wake up and go about my day as usual, waiting until around 2 p.m. to eat a meal with protein, greens, and healthy fats. Then I eat normally for the rest of the day (dinner, with snacks if necessary) until I go to bed.
Cycling my fast until right around lunch usually makes me feel clear and energied. I also find that waiting a little longer to eat the day after a big meal helps me get my appetite back (usually because I’m still full from dinner when I wake up in the morning!) and also helps me fall asleep more quickly the next day.
It’s not for everyone, though, so if you feel light-headed or sick when you try fasting you should probably avoid it; same goes for those with pre-existing medical conditions, who should check with their doctor before starting a fasting regimen.