Intermittent fasting (IF) is effective in helping you to lose weight, lower blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, and avoid diabetes and dementia. But what is it? How do you do it? And are there any side effects?
Looking back over history, our ancestors were forced into periods of fasting during times of famine or scarcity of food. They had to burn their fat reserves, which made them stronger and fit enough to chase and catch their prey. In simple terms, once they had caught a woolly mammoth, there was feasting; between those times, it was famine.
In the 1950s and 60s, before the invention of snacks, we used to fast every day for about 14 hours between our 6 o’clock dinner and 8 o’clock breakfast. Today, there is no famine; every day is a feast day. This is why we are storing too much energy as fat. But nature does not accept accumulation, so intermittent fasting is a great opportunity to rest your body to achieve your ideal body weight, slow ageing, and prevent diseases.
Intermittent fasting also restores gut health. It affects the gut lining structure and function and the gut microbiome population, promoting beneficial bacteria that lower inflammation – the hallmark of obesity and metabolic diseases.
Definition and types of intermittent fasting
Fasting is a form of hormeses (severe stress), like extreme heat, cold exposure, or vigorous exercise. Intermittent fasting (IF) focuses on when rather than what we eat.
During time-restricted feeding (TRF), we fast and feed for variable hours. The most popular regime is 16/8 – fasting for 16 hours, with an eating window of 8 hours. Practically, you have breakfast late at 10 am and finish dinner by 6 pm. Or you can skip breakfast for an early lunch at 12 noon and have a late dinner at 8 pm.
Another form of IF is one meal a day (OMAD), alternate day fasting – you eat as normal one day and fast or consume fewer than 500 calories the next day. With ‘5:2’ or ‘6:1’, you eat as normal on 5 or 6 days and fast or consume fewer than 500 calories for 2 or 1 day a week.
IF enhances insulin sensitivity, controlling your appetite due to changes in hormone levels, such as glucagon and insulin. It reduces the hunger hormone (ghrelin) and increases the satiety hormone (leptin.)
It also improves mental clarity, and gives you high and steady energy levels, avoiding afternoon slumps and distressing cravings.
How the process works
The process involves training your body to burn fat (known as ketosis), a state necessary to trigger autophagy – a process to help with almost every area of your physical and mental health.
Energy is stored in our body in two forms – sugar and fat. Sugar is used preferentially. It is like cash in your hand – you can use it as money at any time, but fat is like cheques or bonds, which must go through a process of approval before you can use them. You can use stored body fat, only when you have lowered the fat-storage hormone (insulin) to normal levels.
Sugar is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. The amount of glycogen stored in any person is not more than 2,000 calories, about a day’s energy supply. In about 24 hours of fasting, you will consume all those reserves. Then, within 36 hours, you will consume free amino acids, the smallest protein units. Then, the body will have no option but to burn fat.
In practical terms, you lower insulin levels by reducing the number of times you eat and changing the pattern of your diet.
Every time you eat, your body reacts by mounting an insulin response. This happens not only after eating sugar or carbs but with any food. Frequent meals and snacks result in consecutive insulin responses that pump up your insulin. Hence, reducing the number of times you eat is an excellent intervention to lower insulin levels.
You should also change your diet to real food high in fibre and nutrients. Fibre slows down the absorption of sugar and fat to prevent sugar spikes and crashes. However, if you continue consuming calorie-dense, high-carbs processed food like commercial juices, pasta, pizza, bread, and white rice, you risk filling up your glycogen (sugar) stores in the liver and muscles. This would put you back to square one and increase your risk of breaking down your muscles to make sugar. I’m sure no one really wants to trade their body for energy,
Lowering your carbs intake effectively pushes your body to burn fat; low-carb veggies like celery and cucumber are excellent options to increase the size of your meal and provide you with essential nutrients. You can fill the calorie gap by taking beans, healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds, and small, oily, fish like salmon, mackerel, and herrings.
You need to keep a moderate intake of proteins, as a high-protein diet is harmful. Because there is no protein storage, your body uses protein to build muscles, enzymes, and other body structures. Excess protein is converted to sugar, raising blood sugar and insulin levels.
A healthy ketogenic diet is an excellent shortcut to fat-burning and ketosis. You achieve optimal results on 65% fat, 25% protein, and 10% carbs. This means you stay on low carbs diet of fewer than 50 grams.
When your insulin is down within normal range, you will spontaneously burn stored body fat as fuel. At this stage, you become metabolically flexible – you burn sugar when you have enough of it, and switch to fat burning when your sugar reserve goes too low, just like the hybrid car that switches from electricity to petrol without the driver noticing.
How to prepare yourself for fasting
Some people find IF easy to follow; others find it challenging.
Sugar-dependent people, find that hunger interferes with their work and daily activities. You should start intermittent fasting by gradually increasing the number of hours you fast.
Individuals with high sugar and carb intake may struggle with intermittent fasting. But even then, you can get the benefits and have a more comfortable experience if you replace sugar and processed carbs with fat, protein and a high-fibre diet. Proteins and fats are satiating foods that make you feel full for longer.
Fibre reduces sugar and fat absorption, controls blood sugar, and lowers insulin levels. Nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, will also help you to move from sugar burning to metabolic flexibility. A few people may benefit from switching to fruit sugar, gradually moving to high fibre and a healthy ketogenic diet.
A mixture of high carbs and high-fat diet – like meat, chicken, french fries, or commercial juices is detrimental as it causes insulin resistance raising insulin levels and stopping fat burning.
After fasting, please do not eat simple sugar and refined carbs. These refills your glycogen stores, raise your insulin and stops you from burning fat and going into ketosis, where you reap all the benefits of fasting.
Starting your IF programme without good preparation may put you at risk of symptoms such as hunger, severe cravings, headaches, lethargy, shakiness, anxiety, irritability, palpitations or even muscle loss.
Enjoying adequate restful sleep and good physical activity, drinking less alcohol (high in sugar) and reducing your stress levels will help you to achieve your health goals faster.
Step-by-step action plan
You can either start the process, gradually, as described below or go cold turkey and suffer a few days of keto flu. A patient went into the keto diet for two weeks before he started successful intermittent fasting.
- Initially, replace simple sugars with sugary fruits and refined, processed carbs with starchy vegetables while moving gradually towards low-carb veggies, protein, and fat.
- Reduce snack numbers and calorie content gradually, aiming for three healthy meals and zero snacks daily.
- Convert the middle meal into a healthy snack, aiming for two meals and one snack.
- Eliminate the middle snack and push the two meals closer, reducing the gap between them and aiming for two meals within an 8-hour eating window and 16 hours of fasting.
- Follow intermittent fasting for 2 to 3 days and gradually increase to 6 days weekly.
Early brain fog may be due to low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) if associated with cravings – an indication to reduce your carb intake. Late brain fog is likely due to toxicity – the release of toxins after fat burning – you need proper nutriceutical detox support, eat more brassica vegetables, like broccoli, sprout, kale and cauliflower, and visit your local sauna to sweat toxins.
Benefits of IF
IF renew and repair your body for optimal health and vitality. Besides, fat burning and weight loss, fasting is a downtime during which the body shifts from processing food to muscle building, renewing and repairing cells for a strong and optimally functioning body.
During fasting, low blood sugar (glucose) and protein (amino acids) switch your body to fat burning, a process known as ketosis, which triggers autophagy to get you physically and mentally strong to deal with the expected “famine.”
Ketosis is the metabolic state when your body runs out of sugar and switches to fat burning. Your body initiates ketosis because you cannot burn fat directly. Fat is broken down into the ketone bodies (3 types) in the liver and redistributed for your body cells to use as fuel. Aim for nutritional ketosis between 0.5 to 1.0, optimal ketosis around 2.
Ketosis activates autophagy – a recycling system – to renew and repair your body. “Auto” means self, and “phage” means eat. So, autophagy is the body eating itself and using the same material to build new cells or new cell parts to optimise body function.
Exercising whilst intermittent fasting also speeds up the process of early ketosis and autophagy.
Besides fasting, autophagy also happens during sleep when we are not consuming food for an extended period; resistance and endurance workouts also trigger autophagy.
Autophagy increases metabolic rate, decreases hunger, reduces calorie intake, increases insulin sensitivity and fat burning, and promotes weight loss. Autophagy on a low-carb diet lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, preventing chronic diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and cancer. Studies confirm that autophagy can prolong life span and promote graceful ageing.
Alzheimer’s disease is often described as type three diabetes, occurring when the brain cells run short of glucose as they become less sensitive to insulin. With autophagy, the brain switch to using ketones (fat) as fuel, significantly improving brain function. Autophagy also increases the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), resulting in neuroplasticity (increasing brain cell connections) and improving brain function. This makes IF and autophagy an excellent lifestyle to treat and prevent dementia.
The surge in growth hormone (HGH) during IF preserve and grow muscles, another way to strengthen the body, which increases our ancestors’ survival at times of scarcity.
Stem cells are unclassified cells that circulate around and differentiate to repair various body tissues. Stem cell production increases during fasting, which provide an additional body repair system.
One recent study reported that dry fasting (like Ramadan) triggers deeper autophagy, stabilising electrolytes and helping patients with restless legs. It also increases the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin, positively impacting heart and brain circulation. Compared to water fasting, the study concluded that dry fasting is the quickest way to reset your body.
So, my friends, you can see that intermittent fasting can deliver huge health benefits in lowering many risk markers for serious diseases once you have eased yourself into it. Please share any experiences you may have of fasting, and ask any questions on this subject, and please do subscribe to the newsletter so that you don’t miss further vital information. Thank you!
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