As I write this, I’m fasting. Am I hungry? Getting there. Do I feel that I need to eat immediately? Not at all. When I first heard about intermittent fasting, I quickly dismissed it as a fad and even if it turned out not to be, it wasn’t for me. After all, everything I’ve ever learned had me believing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What is intermittent fasting exactly? And should you do it yourself? Let me break it down so you can decide.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a schedule of eating that cycles between periods of fasting and periods of eating. Fasting is nothing new. It’s been practiced in religious and spiritual circles for centuries but more recently it’s become a popular way to lose weight and/or maintain weight loss. Research also shows that IF is beneficial for hormone balance, cellular regeneration, weight loss, fat burning, balancing blood sugar and reducing inflammation. The basic idea is that it takes 12 hours for food to fully digest and during the hours thereafter, your body burns fat.
The three types of IF are the 16/8 fast – fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8 hour window, the 5:2 fast – five days of the week are designated as normal eating days and two days of the week are restricted calorie days and Eat Stop Eat – fasting for 24 hours up to two days per week.
I’ve only tried the 16/8 method, which is also the simplest and most popular. I first embarked on it several months ago at the suggestion of my functional doctor and had decided it wasn’t for me, but this time, I’m doing some things differently. First, I’m tracking my fast with the Zero app. I’m also making sure I’m eating enough the day before to support my fast and drinking plenty of water during the fast to carry me through. The second time around, it’s working for me and I can see and feel the benefits. One benefit I really like is that it’s forcing me to close down my kitchen and curb after dinner snacking.
Is this a lifestyle for me? I’m not sure yet because I’m still experimenting.
Why did I do it? As a Health Coach, I’m asked about IF a lot. I like to experiment with different lifestyle habits and ways of eating so I can give personal recommendations and informed opinions.
Should you do it? Only if you want to. If you have a history of eating disorders or an unhealthy relationship with food, I don’t recommend it. Otherwise, fasting isn’t a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle so do what works and feels right for you. Always check with your doctor first. If you decide to try it, easing into it can help. Start with a 14 hour fast or shorter and add 30-minute increments per day. Crescendo fasting may also work for you as a modified approach.
Regardless of what you decide, I recommend waiting a full 12 hours between your last meal of the day and your first so that you can fully and effectively digest your food.