Is Intermittent Fasting for You?
Okay. I admit it: I’m a True Believer.
I’m all in when it comes to intermittent fasting (IF), and I have been very successful at losing weight and keeping it off (so far), so, naturally, I want to shout it from the mountaintop, to help and educate others who may be struggling with obesity, depression, little nagging health problems, metabolic diseases, and terrible eating habits as I have all my adult life.
As such, I realize that I may sometimes come off as an IF Zombie rounding up the masses until they comply…
Okay, it’s not that bad; it’s not my intention to guilt anyone into doing something they don’t want to do, but a part of me feels responsible to spread the word, so to speak, to consider how I turned my hardcore problem (addiction?) around and became a thinner, happier, and healthier person who has become a more mindful eater, while still enjoying goodies – within limits.
But is IF right for everyone?
* People with Type 1 Diabetes should never fast for long periods of time. In fact, IF could be detrimental and even fatal for people with Type 1, an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin of its own. Unfortunately, these people are at the mercy of a regular diet and insulin injections, so just no.
* Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid IF; making certain that a fetus and a nursing baby are well-nourished should take precedence over fasting, so don’t do it until the baby is born and no longer nursing.
* Anyone under 18 should avoid IF, although an occasional missed meal is no big deal and avoiding snacks after dinner could be recommended for youngsters – our bodies are well-adapted to fasting 10-12 hours a day anyway, which is not really considered IF. But keep in mind that young people are still growing and need regular meals and healthy snacks throughout the day.
* Anyone with a history of eating disorders should avoid IF; unlike most IF’ers who make the most of their eating windows, people with eating disorders tend to undereat during meals, and IF could spark a new crisis for these people, so just NO.
* Underweight people (BMI less than 18.5) should not fast; if an underweight person wishes to fast for health (for example, achieving autophagy) or spiritual reasons, one should gain weight first and bring one’s BMI to at least 20. So NO.
* People who have had gastric bypass surgery/gastric sleeve should not fast without consulting with their physicians and working with them. Part of fasting involves eating larger meals in shorter time frames, at worst, possibly placing patients at risk for complications related to the tearing of the surgical site, at best, stretching the stomach and defeating the purpose of bypass in the first place. The best time to consider IF is before opting for bypass surgery, which should probably be a last-ditch option.
* People with gout and Type 2 Diabetes, mostly a lifestyle disease (although there may be some hereditary aspects to Type 2)**, should consult with their physicians before intermittent fasting, especially for long stretches of time. Unlike Type 1 Diabetes, people with Type 2 Diabetes produce too much insulin, which then becomes resistant to managing blood sugar levels. With careful management of Type 2, many people can intermittent fast successfully, some even bringing their A1C levels within normal ranges and possibly getting rid of insulin injections and medicines altogether.
* If you’re fighting an alcohol or drug addiction, it may be better to work on that area first before embarking on another major life change – that is, unless weight loss is medically and urgently necessary. In that case, consult with your doctor for options.
* If you are generally healthy (albeit overweight) and happy with the way you feel and look, then why poke the bear? Any major life change is difficult, and IF is no exception, no matter what we True Believers might tell you. In that case, perhaps simple changes in diet and exercise could be an option.
If you are clear of the above caveats, should you try intermittent fasting?
Here are some questions that might help you decide if it’s right for you.
1. Do you often skip breakfast or other meal (for example, lunch or dinner)?
2. Do you tend to eat large meals?
3. When you snack, do you seem to feel hungrier instead of satiated?
4. Are you able to go long stretches without food without feeling dizzy, headachy, or lightheaded?
5. Do you seem to need every meal and at least one or two snacks every day?
6. At mealtime, do you fill up fast on very little food, only to feel hungry one or two hours later?
7. Do small snacks satisfy your hunger, at least enough to tide you over until your next meal or bedtime?
8. Do you need to eat often in order to avoid feeling dizzy, headachy, or lightheaded?
If you answered “yes” to questions 1-4, then you might be a good candidate for intermittent fasting.
Meal skippers are great candidates for IF because they have already demonstrated that they can go for long periods of time without having to eat, so adjusting to a daily fast (14 to 16 hours per day) will be much easier for them.
Also, if, like me, you can chow down during meals, then you should be able to eat enough during your eating window (I eat 650-750 calories per meal, two meals per day, with a flexible fasting window, 15-20 hours). Keep in mind that IF is not a starvation diet or even a traditional low-calorie diet – it’s a time-restricted way of eating that helps you manage your insulin levels and allows your body to repair, grow new cells, and regroup during the fasting period. What you eat is up to you: some IF’ers choose Keto; some opt for a low fat, low calorie diet; yet others choose a high protein diet. Others, mostly young people, may simply eat whatever they wish during their eating windows and do just fine, losing tons of weight or maintaining a normal weight. Being of a certain age, I’m not one of them. I need to account for what I eat and limit my amounts – no complaints, just the reality of my life.
My late grandmother once said, “Eating makes me hungry.” At the time (I was a teenager), I just pooh-poohed that notion, but now I understand what she meant. Before IF, I belonged to the three squares a day, plus snacks school. How did that work out for me? At best, I struggled with hunger issues (“The Beast”), at worst, years of overweight or obesity. By spreading out my 1,200 – 1,500 calories over 14-16 hours per day, I was keeping my body in a perpetual state of hunger because my insulin (a notorious fat creating hormone and hunger stoker, by the way) kicked up every time I ate. My insulin levels never had an opportunity to settle down, thus blocking dead cell cleanup, repair, and regeneration. I was under the mistaken notion that a good meal plan included constant eating throughout the day. (Note: some lucky people can nosh all day and remain slim and healthy. I’m obviously not one of them.)
I absolutely cannot snack – that is, not without consequences. Like my grandmother always said, “Eating makes me hungry.” Conversely, large meals do fill me up.
By bunching my calories into two meals a day (some IF’ers eat only one large meal a day), I have solved the constant hunger problem – my meals fill me up, my insulin levels have a limited amount of time to wreak havoc (and actually do what insulin is supposed to do: efficiently managing blood glucose levels), and my appetite remains corrected throughout my fasting period.
When might you take a hard pass at IF?
If you answered “yes” to questions 5-7, then IF may not be for you.
Let’s just say, “It depends.” If you have a medical condition that would preclude fasting in any form, then you should not embark on IF without consulting with your doctor. He or she might prescribe a Keto diet for you, which would allow some of the benefits of fasting without actually fasting.
However, questions 6 and 8 are interesting because a healthy person can train his/her body to go without frequent meals and snacks. I always thought that I needed to “nosh” throughout the day to keep “The Beast” (my appetite) at bay, when, in fact, I was actually stoking it.
Question number 6 is especially fluid: if you aren’t constantly snacking, then you might actually be able to eat larger meals and not feel hungry at other times.
As to question 8: this was me. Although I was eating several times a day, I often felt lightheaded, headachy, and dizzy between meals and snacks. Now I don’t, although my fasting window is long (17-19 hours). This may seem counterintuitive, but, again, this is how insulin functions. Feeding “The Beast” equals stoking up insulin. Now my insulin is actively stoked up only two times a day, instead of five or six times, thus giving it more time to recede like it’s supposed to do. Also, the long fasting period gives my body a chance to do its repair and regenerative work, use excess energy from the previous day for fuel throughout the night, and burn both visceral and cutaneous fat (yes, thin people’s bodies do this as well). To lose weight, this balance of creating fat and losing fat should tip in favor of losing more fat each day than you created, for maintenance, creating and losing equal amounts.
As an aside, I have a relative who nibbles all day and eats very little at meals. She’s been slender all her life, so whatever she’s doing, it works for her. I would never suggest IF for someone like her.
Let’s assume, though, that, like my relative, you are a small eater at meals. However, if you are a nibbler happily noshing throughout the day, on a perpetual diet (albeit without much success), still overweight, and feeling crummy throughout the day, then you might consider giving IF a whirl. It won’t be easy – it’s a major adjustment going from constant eating to not eating for long periods of time, but it’s well worth the effort – short-term pain for long-term rewards.
Intermittent Fasting may be a current fad, but it can also be a healthy way of managing one’s insulin with weight loss as a positive side effect.
In conclusion, most people could benefit from incorporating a modest version of IF into their lives – 14-20 hours fasting time per day.
Longer fasts may not be for everyone and should be approached with great care and under the care of a physician.
** Approximately 85 to 90% of type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese, so many researchers and doctors view type 2 as a lifestyle disease – that obesity leads to pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. (Interesting aside: 10 to 15% of Type 2 Diabetes sufferers are thin, known as “lean diabetics.” From: WebMD.)
Also, conventional wisdom holds that people are obese simply because they overeat, and when they become overweight or obese, they develop metabolic diseases.
However, Dr.Jason Fung, author of The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code, theorizes that it’s actually the opposite: that metabolic diseases can lead to obesity (which may explain, to some extent, the “lean diabetics” mentioned above) and that people often begin overeating because they are already overweight or obese. In other words, Dr. Fung suggests that people do not need to overeat in order to become obese, that obesity itself is a metabolic problem.
In other words, he questions conventional cause and effect.
Also, why do some people develop metabolic diseases/obesity/overweight when others don’t, even if they engage in the same or similar unhealthy lifestyles? Probably the same reason why not every heavy smoker develops lung cancer: heredity.
This is a fascinating area of study that could have monumental positive effects on the treatment of type 2 diabetics and overweight/obese people by viewing these conditions as diseases instead of moral failings.