It's time for all of us to make a (late) New Year's Resolution: 2017 is the year we take intermittent fasting mainstream! It's time for us to all rise up together and let the world know that we are NOT crazy, and we are actually on the forefront of a great health and wellness movement that should be sweeping the world! It's time to educate our friends and family about the benefits of intermittent fasting!
We may feel like early-adopters, which is far from the truth; fasting has been around for all of human history. Even though people have been quietly fasting for years (the practice has been around for decades, centuries, and even thousands of years), we still have a lot of work to do to convince the modern world that intermittent fasting is safe, and actually a very healthy practice. So, let's get started!
Whether you are an experienced or new intermittent faster, you've gotten the speeches from well-meaning friends and family members:
"You are putting yourself in starvation mode!"
"Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!"
"You must eat 6 small meals per day to keep your metabolism from shutting down!"
And then your well-meaning friend tells you about the fantastic new diet plan that is guaranteed to work, and all you need to do is eat seaweed before every meal, or do a superfruit juice cleanse known only to the lost tribe of the rainforest, or some other nonsense.
Because of all of the push-back, many intermittent fasters are hesitant to share their lifestyles with anyone. Some people even allow themselves to be talked out of trying it, because it can be really hard to stand up for what you believe in the face of criticism. That stops today!
I promise you this: it's a lot easier to live an intermittent fasting lifestyle if you can do so openly, and when you don't feel like you need to hide it from others.
The important first step is to educate yourself on the benefits of intermittent fasting, because if you have any nagging doubts, you won't be able to defend the practice. Read, read, and read some more, until you are confident. Watch videos. Listen to podcasts. The information is out there, if you look for it. Of course, I think you should read Delay, Don't Deny, and also encourage your friends to read it; but there are many other sources of information that can teach you about the health, metabolic, and weight loss benefits related to intermittent fasting.
So, let's get educated!
Many of us begin intermittent fasting for weight loss, but IF is about so much more than just weight management. Even if you never lost a pound, I am convinced that IF is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body. Over the past year, the biggest news in the intermittent fasting world was without a doubt the announcement of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine. As written in the press release, Yoshinori Ohsumi "discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components." What stimulates autophagy? Fasting, of course!
Rather than try to explain all of the benefits of autophagy myself, I am going to share some links that will take you to videos and/or well-written and easy to understand discussions about autophagy, so you can learn about it yourself. Click here to view a video that explains the process and benefits of autophagy, even though it is a bit dry and science-y. The article available here explains many of the benefits of autophagy in straightfoward terms, and this is a powerful quote from that article: "Autophagy is a process of cellular recycling that effectively removes old, damaged, and faulty equipment in our body, potentially stopping cancer, insulin resistance, diabetes, infections, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, inflammation, and even aging." WOW. Who wouldn't want those benefits? With a list like that, I think you would have to be crazy NOT to try intermittent fasting, personally. You can read Dr. Fung's take on autophagy here, on his blog at Intensive Dietary Management. (His explanations are always my favorite.) Dr. Mercola discusses autophagy here, and there is also a short video with his article about the process.
Notice that I led with the health benefits of intermittent fasting, because I want you to have that first and foremost in your mind. IF is healthy, and fasting has powerful anti-cancer, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging benefits. Even if you never lost a pound, it is worth doing for the health benefits alone. BUT--is it crashing your metabolism, as critics warn? Are you putting yourself in danger of slowing your metabolic rate, resulting in long-term damage to your metabolism and eventual weight gain? Fortunately, the answer is NO.
This study is often cited by intermittent fasting experts, and I included it in Delay, Don't Deny, as well. From the study: "Resting metabolic rate (kJ/min) was significantly increased after 36 h of starvation...but was not significantly different from the 12 h value after 72 h." Don't be alarmed by the use of the word "starvation" in that quote, because they are referring to periods of intermittent fasting from 12 to 72 hours in length. Nobody ever starved to death in 12-72 hours (though my cat often thinks he is going to starve to death if he can see the bottom of the cat food bowl.) When you analyze that quote from the study, you see that they found that metabolic rate INCREASED after 36 hours of fasting, and at 72 hours, the metabolic rate wasn't lower than the metabolic rate measured after 12 hours. Metabolic shutdown? Clearly not! On the contrary--at the 36 hour mark, metabolic rate was UP. Take that, "you're going to shut down your metabolism" naysayers!
This article does a nice job summarizing much of the thinking surrounding intermittent fasting and metabolism. Of course, as usual, the most entertaining analysis of intermittent fasting and metabolism can be found on Dr. Fung's blog at Intensive Dietary Management. His classic post is found here (with an accompanying photo of George Constanza, in all of his glory), and Dr. Fung explains how IF not only protects your metabolism, but it can also help reverse metabolic damage brought on by following calorie-restricted diets in the past. This is really important to understand: not only are you NOT tanking your metabolism through IF, you can actually repair damage brought on through other dietary approaches. Keep in mind--this isn't always a fast process (fasting pun, right there...) If you have been following a restrictive diet long-term prior to starting an IF regimen, expect weight loss to be slow or nonexistent for awhile. You could even gain weight at first, until your body has a chance to heal metabolically. No one wants to hear that, but you should be aware of the possibility if you are a long-term dieter.
1. Fasting is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body! As we discussed, fasting stimulates autophagy. This is how your body naturally takes out the cellular trash, and the more I read about it, the more I believe that it's one of the most powerful things you can do for your health.
2. Intermittent fasting is great for your body metabolically. Rather than slowing your metabolism, which we find in diets that promote long-term calorie restriction, IF has metabolic benefits you miss out on when you follow typical diet recommendations. (I'm looking at YOU, "eat less/move more"...) You can even repair metabolic damage brought about by long term restrictive dieting through fasting, though it takes time.
It's important for you to realize that intermittent fasting is not some radical new fad diet that is here today, and gone tomorrow. It's an ancient practice that is seen all around the world and in every major religion. In intermittent fasting, you're not being asked to go 40 days and 40 nights without food; with most intermittent fasting plans, you are eating until you are satisfied every day, and most people find that it's a lot more enjoyable than trying to eat tiny meals spread throughout the day. Once you adjust, it's actually easier than typical diet plans. This is one of those things that most people don't believe until they try it for themselves.
Now that you understand how many benefits are associated with intermittent fasting, you should be confident in your lifestyle choice. Once you are confident, you shouldn't hesitate to share it with others. I genuinely believe that we owe it to our loved ones to let them in on our secret, so they can experience the benefits of intermittent fasting for themselves. Direct them to this blog post, or to Delay, Don't Deny. Together, we can spread the word and make 2017 the year that intermittent fasting goes mainstream!
There are lists in my book, Delay, Don't Deny, that are quite specific about things you should and shouldn't have while fasting. Black coffee, plain water, unflavored sparkling water, plain teas...all are safe. Anything that tastes sweet is NOT safe. But would it surprise you to know that there is a grey area in the middle? This blog post is about the "Maybe..." section that we call the grey area.
The issue is that we are all different, and our bodies may not all release insulin in response to the exact same things. Some items are never a good idea: anything that tastes sweet is an immediate no-no. We know that we should avoid all artificial sweeteners, and even "natural" sweeteners that proclaim that they are "GREAT FOR DIABETICS!" or "Low-glycemic!" or "Won't raise blood sugar!" (Remember: we are worried about raising insulin, not blood sugar. That confuses a lot of people. Sweet tastes raise insulin levels, not blood sugar. In fact, if your body releases insulin, you would actually expect to see your blood sugar go DOWN as insulin does its job--which is to lower your blood sugar. I have had many people argue that a particular artificial sweetener is fine for them because they tested their blood sugar after consuming it and their blood sugar didn't go up. Of course it didn't! Insulin lowers blood sugar. It also stops the fat burning process, which is why we want to avoid it during the fast.)
The items in the grey area include these things:
Here is how you can be absolutely sure about what works for you and what doesn't, specifically when talking about herbal teas, peppermint oil, and vitamins/supplements. First, you need to fast "clean" for awhile. By fasting "clean", I mean nothing but plain black coffee, plain water, plain sparkling water, and plain black or green tea during your daily fasting time. This is explained here, in my blog post, Does a "Clean Fast" Really Matter. Give yourself several weeks to see how your body feels during the daily fast (6 weeks to 2 months would be even better...the goal is to really know how your body feels during the clean fast, and it can take 6-8 weeks for your body to adjust). At the end of that time period, you will be familiar with how your body feels during the day while fasting, including your daily levels of hunger. (And NO, I do not mean that you should fast nonstop for 6 to 8 weeks straight..I'm an intermittent faster, NOT an extended faster. What I mean is that you should follow your preferred intermittent fasting routine for at least 6 weeks, fasting clean during the fast and then enjoying your eating window each day. That should be enough time for you to know how your body feels during the fasted part of the day.)
At that point, try whatever it is from the grey area that you are questioning.
If the item is okay for you, you won't notice any difference in hunger or energy levels. You'll feel the same as you did when fasting clean. If that happens, congratulations! That item is fine for you.
If the item is not okay, you will know very soon. You'll feel shaky or hungry within about an hour (if not sooner), and it will be harder to fast. This is why it is so important to fast clean for enough time first. When your body is used to fasting clean, you can tell when something doesn't work for you because you are in-tune with your body.
Once, I had a very noticeable reaction to some strawberry flavored mineral water. The only ingredients were mineral water and "natural strawberry flavor." Within an hour, I was shaky and STARVING. I knew right then that my body is very sensitive to fruit flavors, and I have avoided them ever since.
The moral of the story is: when it comes to items in the grey area, no one can tell you 100% what will work for YOU during the fast. You have to learn that for yourself.
And NO--this is not an excuse to try to work in your favorite Diet Soda or other items from the "no" list.
Gin Stephens lives in Augusta, Georgia, where she has been following an intermittent fasting lifestyle since 2014. In addition to writing the #1 Amazon best-seller Delay, Don't Deny and the follow-up book Feast Without Fear, Gin is host of the Intermittent Fasting Stories podcast and co-host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast, along with fellow intermittent faster and author, Melanie Avalon. Check out www.intermittentfastingstories.com and www.ifpodcast.com or search for the podcasts through your favorite podcast app.