Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Intermittent fasting (IF) is the buzzword you may encounter everywhere these days. As a primary care physician who practices and prescribes intermittent fasting as a component of a healthy lifestyle, I get questions about it all the time. Many patients are hesitant to bring this subject up as they are afraid, I would dismiss it as a fad diet. They are usually quite surprised to see me jumping with joy when they express their interest in learning more about it.
Here are a few questions that I answer frequently.
“Isn’t fasting like starving yourself? How is that healthy?”
This is a reasonable question. Here is how I explain the difference.
Intermittent Fasting is repetitive, planned, abstinence from eating for a specific period.
Starvation is suffering or death caused by having nothing to eat or not enough to eat.
Fortunately, for most people reading this, the latter is not the case. It is quite the opposite. Being surrounded by an abundance of calorie-dense, highly palatable, ready to eat food has trained our brains to think that any time is snack time.
Our biology does not work that way though. Most hormones that regulate our metabolism follow the circadian rhythm. Aligning our eating schedule with the circadian rhythm leads to better metabolic health.
"Is it worth it? Why should I fast?"
Fasting has many health benefits.
- Weight loss and weight maintenance
- Improvement in blood glucose (sugar) and insulin levels
- Improvement on cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Improvement in blood pressure
- Diminished inflammation
- Improved focus
- Reduction in risk of dementia
- Improvement in gut microbiome
- Better sleep, calmer mind
- Improved energy level
"How does it even work?"
- Fasting makes it easier to eat less.
- Eating in sync with circadian rhythm helps metabolism.
- Body burns stored fat during fasted state.
- Fasting longer than 12-16 hours kicks in autophagy- a process of cells getting rid of their dysfunctional material.
"Who should not fast?"
- Fasting is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
- If you are taking medications for diabetes or high blood pressure, you should consult with your physician before fasting. You may need to adjust the timing of certain medications or reduce dosage as you see improvement in blood sugars and blood pressure.
"Fasting seems intimidating. I like to eat. How do I start?”
There is not a fixed fasting schedule that everyone needs to follow. Start from where you are. Make small changes. Stay consistent. Build upon them. Here is a step-by-step method that I use with my patients to help them start fasting.
1. Take an inventory of your current eating schedule.
7am: Morning coffee with French Vanilla Creamer
3pm- Afternoon snack
10pm- Bedtime Snack
Based on this schedule, your current overnight fasting duration is 9 hours. (From 10pm- 7am).
2. Try to finish your evening meal/ snack by 6-7pm.
To align your eating schedule with your circadian rhythm, it is best to eat dinner earlier in the evening. If you look at the above schedule, cutting out the bedtime snack increases the fasting to 12 hours. (7pm-7am)
3. Avoid sugar/ calories in your morning coffee/tea.
It is ok to drink water, tea, coffee or other clear beverages while you are fasting. The main purpose of fasting is to avoid insulin spikes which are caused by carbohydrates and to some extent by protein.
Drinking your morning coffee black or even with a splash of heavy cream will continue to keep you in the fasted state.
If you must have some sweetness, you can add stevia.
Eliminating the French vanilla creamer just increased your fasting duration to 13 hours.
4. Delay breakfast by an hour.
Continuing with the above example, if you delay breakfast to 9am, your fasting duration is now 14 hours.
To achieve longer fasting interval, you can gradually delay the breakfast to 10 am and then to brunch at 11-12 pm.
Drink plenty of water and electrolytes while you fast.
So, in a nutshell.........
Start from where you are. Everyone is at a different starting point.
Try to eat dinner by 7pm.
Avoid eating after dinner.
Avoid the fancy sweet creamers in your morning beverages.
Try to follow the schedule as much as you can.
Make concessions for special occasions.
If you get hungry during the fasting period, drink water or coffee.
If you are still hungry, eat whole, healthy food.
Fasting is a lifestyle, not a fad diet.
You Got This!!!!