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Diets 101: Intermittent Fasting

"Okay, so maybe this first entry isn't exactly a diet, however it is a great place to start if you're someone who wants to make lifestyle changes that can alter the way you think and act with regards to food.

Enter Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting (IF) can be accomplished in a few different ways but the beauty of this dietary practice is in it's simplicity. There is no fancy food list to follow, no complicated recipes to cook up, and no consumption of time to do it... in fact, it gives you more free time in the day. All you need to do is not eat. No meal prep, no cook time, nothing complicated, just do no eat anything for a period of time. I'll admit that this doesn't sound too great, but I promise it gets better, just stick with me.

How long and how often you decide to fast is totally up to you and your comfort level with going for extended periods of time with no food.

The first method is fasting on alternate days. One day you eat, one day you don't. This method sounds a bit extreme to me personally and I don't know how realistic it would be to follow long term.

Another method is the 8 hour eating period per day. You basically allow yourself an 8 hour period each day where you are allowed to consume food, and once that time is up you fast for 16 hours until you've reached your next 8 hour period. An example of this would be only allowing yourself to eat between the hours of 10am-6pm each day. This method could be easier for some, and many people may actually already be doing this without knowing when they skip breakfast and don't eat until noon (mind you, coffee with a bunch of sugar and milk first thing in the morning is not consistent with IF!).

The final method may be the easiest of the three and will still offer tremendous benefits. The one day fast is all about selecting a day of the week where you will choose not to eat for a certain period of time. I like to aim for 18 hours, but this can range from 14-24 hours in length.

**During these times of fasting it is important and helpful to remember that you can drink as much water or tea as you desire. Coffee is acceptable as well as long as no sugars, milks or creams are added!

These all seem like very long times to go without food, but the trick is to time it out properly so that you hardly notice you've fasted. Let's say one night you finish dinner by 6pm and choose to begin your fast from this point on. You're in bed by 11pm and wake up for 7am the next day. At this point you've already made it 13 hours without having to do much at all. If you can just make it until noon you will have reached that 18 hour time and can start eating once again. And remember, this would only be one time a week. What is very important to remember when breaking the fast though, is to eat like you normally would at the time at which you decide to end it. The first few times you do this you will be very hungry and it will be extremely tempting to just eat everything you can get your hands on but you should just return back to eating normally. Have lunch if it's lunch time or a snack if you're somewhere in between meals, just remember to eat slowly and allow yourself some time to digest so that your brain can recognize that your stomach has received some food and you can avoid going overboard.

At this point you may be asking yourself, "But why?", and I do have reasons to back this up. IF has been shown to reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, protect cells from damage, and optimize energy metabolism. With that comes it's studied effects in chronic degenerative and inflammatory diseases. It's even been shown to reduce signals in the body that are associated with aging! There are proven studies on how IF is even being used in mood disorders with promising results. It's also a simple and effective way to lessen the calorie load for the day and makes maintaining weight that much easier.

The point about affecting moods is an intriguing one for me. My first attempt at IF was an interesting experience. I can tell you with confidence that my mood was not affected in a very positive way initially. At first, all I could do was think about food and fantasize about when I would be able to eat again. Following that came the fatigue which was quickly replaced by irritability. My first attempt at IF was definitely a mental battle, but after having made it through 18 hours without food I noticed a change in myself. I quickly realized how much of an affect food had on me. It seemed for a while that food was in charge, food dictated what I should be doing or how I should be feeling and this for me was the most positive outcome of beginning a weekly IF routine. Willingly being able to withhold yourself from food can change your relationship with it. You really start to be able to tell the difference between when you're actually hungry versus when you're just bored or giving in to cravings. All the scientific evidence aside, this is what I believe to be the most powerful outcome of challenging yourself to fast. You can begin to take control of your health through understanding the dynamic between yourself and what you are eating. You can control cravings and eat for healthy pleasure and not just indulge on pleasure alone. This is why I chose to start my diet series here, with a post about something that isn't quite a diet, but is a great stepping stone to making healthier lifestyle changes that will last and not simply be the next fad.

To summarize, IF is a great practice for your mind and body. Yes, you will be reducing calories because you are not eating so weight maintenance or loss is made easier from that point of view. There will be benefits in terms of decreased inflammation, decreased oxidative damage, improved insulin control and slowing of aging but most of all your relationship with food will change. It's not going to feel great at first, but each time you do it, it will get easier and easier. I challenge you to try it out for yourselves. Start with a shorter fast the first time and build from there. Once a week is my preferred method, but choose one that you think would work best for you. Just remember to consult with your doctor before beginning, especially if you have any illnesses that may affect your bodies ability to fast safely.

Dr. Rob Raponi, 

Naturopathic Doctor, CISSN, B.Kine

Below are some references for those interested in reading more: 1. Longo, Valter D., and Mark P. Mattson. "Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications." Cell metabolism 19.2 (2014): 181-192. 2. Michalsen, Andreas, and Chenying Li. "Fasting therapy for treating and preventing disease-current state of evidence." Forschende Komplementärmedizin/Research in Complementary Medicine 20.6 (2013): 444-453. 3. Hussin, N. M., et al. "Efficacy of fasting and calorie restriction (FCR) on mood and depression among ageing men." The journal of nutrition, health & aging17.8 (2013): 674-680. 4. Klempel, Monica C., et al. "Intermittent fasting combined with calorie restriction is effective for weight loss and cardio-protection in obese women." Nutrition journal 11.1 (2012): 1. 5. Halberg, Nils, et al. "Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin action in healthy men." Journal of Applied Physiology 99.6 (2005): 2128-2136.

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