I recently sat down to read a Fortune magazine article about a new smart drug start-up called Nootrobox. The article was about an interesting company-wide culture they have adopted - starving themselves! They fast up to 36 hours a week to increase productivity. The company co-founder Geoffery Woo says, “It’s hard at first” but they claim they are literally more focused at work and productive.
This new way of eating is referred to as intermittent fasting or IF. IF refers to going 12-16 hours at a time without eating. I have eaten this way for years, long before I knew there was a word for this eating practice or anything about the science to back the large amount of health benefits of this eating behavior. Scientific American recently published work with clinical data to support the IF way of eating and that it can help you not only live longer, but be happier and have better cognitive brain function while you are enjoying your extra years. Learn more here.
You may be thinking I am the world’s worst nutritional consultant for even admitting that I often fast throughout the day, much less write about it as a topic to think about including in your regime. It’s common knowledge that eating breakfast every day is super important to your metabolism and energy levels, and snacking throughout the day keeps your blood sugar stable and can even keep your weight down. In fact, it is a way of eating that I promote and recommend all the time. Three square meals a day and snacking is a good practice for SOME people. But here’s the deal - we aren’t all the same. One size does not fit all. Fun fact about me: I adopt plans, behaviors, and practices into my life that feel right first….I typically do the research later. Listening to my body’s needs has served me well, in fact it has saved my life a few times.
After years of trying to stuff down breakfasts or snack throughout the day, I gave up. I gave up because I felt bloated, full, and sluggish all the time. I couldn’t stand eating another handful of almonds or sucking down a baby food pouch (this is something I kept with me for convenience and to keep on a schedule) and although this way of eating was supposed to help you lose or maintain weight, it just didn’t work for me. It was so complicated to pack up food all the time and eat snacks that were cold, mushy, or stale by the time I got around to eating them. Most importantly, it just seemed really unnatural for me to try and eat all the time when I simply wasn’t hungry.
I came to learn later that intermittent fasting is an actual way of eating that a lot of people use as a behavior. It is not a diet because you don’t have to necessarily cut calories or eat anything different than you would normally. You just suspend eating for periods of time anywhere from 12-24 hours. Your meals might be bigger depending on how hungry you are. The people adopting this behavior as a standard way of eating usually do it for weight loss, hormone balance and training.
Read more about IF for women in Breaking Muscle.
Read more about IF for men in Men's Journal.
IF is said to help people lose weight and build muscle mass. I personally did it because it was just the way my body wants to eat 85% of the time. The other 15% of the time I eat more traditionally. I want to stress that I personally struggle with blood sugar issues as do a lot of people. There is scientific proof that supports the insulin stabilizing benefits of both eating behaviors. So for that reason alone, it is proof that all body mechanisms work differently and respond differently to certain eating habits. In fact, as you age, grow, adopt different training goals and encounter various stressors in your life, your nutritional needs will change. Adapting with that is key. If I am hungry I eat; if I am lightheaded I eat. I don’t eat this way for weight loss (although I basically weigh what I weighed in high school 20 years ago – so no real problem there) and I don’t do it for training or body mass (although I am very active and almost always training for something - so this does not effect my performance). This way of eating keeps me mentally sharp and supports my lifestyle in a healthy way.
Here are some common benefits of the IF diet:
· Weight loss - This is the most common reason people try this way of eating. By eating fewer times a day, you can automatically reduce calorie intake. Additionally, IF facilities hormone changes that can increase your metabolism.
The following stats are taken from https://authoritynutrition.com/intermittent-fasting-guide/
· Insulin resistance: Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar by 3-6% and fasting insulin levels by 20-31% (1). This should protect against type 2 diabetes.
· Inflammation: Some studies show reductions in markers of inflammation, a key driver of many chronic diseases (17, 18, 19).
· Heart Health: Intermittent fasting may reduce LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin resistance. These are all risk factors for heart disease (1, 20, 21).
· Cancer: Animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting may help prevent cancer (22, 23, 24, 25).
· Brain Health: Intermittent fasting increases a brain hormone called BDNF, and may aid the growth of new nerve cells (26, 27, 28). It may also protect against Alzheimer’s disease (29).
· Anti-aging: Intermittent fasting can extend lifespan in rats. Studies showed that fasted rats live as much as 36-83% longer (30, 31).
To learn more about IF and how you could best benefit from this way of eating check out these articles:
I am a definite fan of this way of eating. Moving from eating fewer times a day makes my day easier because I am not constantly grazing and carrying food around with me everywhere. But remember this way of eating might not be for you. If you require snacks throughout the day and feel better eating more often then do that. The best plan and way of eating is the one that works best for YOUR body and the one that you will ultimately stick to.