Experts Tips on Reaping the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
It may be the ideal way to boost sleep, weight loss & overall health
Intermittent fasting has gained a great deal of popularity lately. Celebrities such as Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Aniston have publicly credited the regime for their ability to stay trim. But it’s much more than just not eating for a while and then starting again. There’s some finesse required to do it in a healthy, effective way. Don’t worry, our expert tips will point you down the right path.
If you haven’t tried intermittent fasting yet, you may be asking yourself if you should be doing it. The good news is that you’re already on your way when you really think about it. From the time you head to bed to the moment you wake up and grab breakfast, you’ve fasted. Now, it’s just a question of fine-tuning how long you should fast and when you should eat to maximise the benefits.
Why should you consider intermittent fasting?
First off, let’s consider what intermittent fasting can do for you. Some studies suggest that the practice may strengthen your immune system while reducing your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Type 2 Diabetes. It could also improve mental health. Fasting is also reported to help boost the body’s ability to repair cells during periods of sleep, especially on an empty stomach. The thinking is this: If your body isn’t focused on digestion, it can focus on fixing cellular damage. That’s what has inspired some devotees to stop eating anywhere from two to four hours before bedtime, explains Alysa Boan, a New Jersey-based certified personal trainer. “One of the benefits of intermittent fasting is the flexibility to set your fasting/feeding hours to work for your schedule,” she adds. Another added bonus is that you’ll get deeper sleep when your belly isn’t still full from dinner or those late-night, TV-watching snacks.
Speaking of sleep, intermittent fasting may help you sleep better at night and strengthen your circadian system, which rules your wake and sleep cycle as well as other bodily systems. Along with various types of light, your sleep-wake rhythms are also regulated by food intake. “Adjusting your meals to certain timing can help you improve sleep quality,” notes Alex Savy, a certified sleep coach at SleepingOcean.com. “First, our brain loves patterns, so by creating an eating pattern you’ll reduce the stress impact and anxiety – a common cause of sleep problems. Second, if you reduce the eating window to eight hours, you’ll have 16 hours (including sleep) that will allow your body to heal and repair more effectively, which can also improve your shut-eye.”
If weight loss is high up on your wish list, you’re in luck. Intermittent fasting is thought to curb cravings by slowing metabolism. It also forces the body to burn stored fat for the fuel it needs. For some, restricting the hours when you can eat is an easier way to cut total calorie intake than measuring, weighing and calorie counting.
As Dr. Monique Tello wrote in the Harvard Health Blog, “Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and incredibly effective.” She also says it is just as effective as other diet types, making intermittent fasting a viable option for those looking for alternatives.
How to intermittent fast wisely
Some people find that a good first step to ease into intermittent fasting is delaying breakfast by an hour or two, or skipping it altogether and having your first meal of the day at lunchtime. You can also tweak your breakfast by choosing low carb and sugar-free options. Think veggie omelet, peanut butter with apple slices, and yogurt and fruit smoothies. Erik Levi, a functional nutritional therapy practitioner with HolisticNootropics.com, suggests that intermittent fasters should pay attention to getting adequate levels of good quality fat, avoid sugar and grains, and take supplements like Magnesium and Vitamin C. Don’t skimp on fluids. You’ll want to drink plenty of water (at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses a day) to avoid dehydration.
There isn’t one single way to fast. Nutritionist Lisa Richards, author of The Candida Diet, says that intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years for its weight loss and heart health benefits because it has the efficacy and some science to back it up. “There are three primary types of intermittent fasting: the 5:2 diet, the 16/8 method; and the eat-stop-eat method. The 5:2 approach allows the dieter to take in only 500 to 600 calories per day for two non-consecutive days and eat a regular diet for the other five days. The 16/8 approach requires the dieter to skip breakfast, restrict their calorie intake to 8 consecutive hours only, and fasting for 16 hours. Eat-stop-eat is fasting in the traditional sense where the dieter goes without food for 24 hours.”
Choosing the right fasting method depends on your lifestyle, schedule and eating preferences. It’s also important to note that fasting isn’t right for everyone, especially pregnant women, children, those with compromised immune systems or those with low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia).