Fasting has become another very popular health trend over the last few years, but it's actually been used for spiritual and health practices worldwide for centuries. I was formally introduced to intermittent fasting when I tried out the Bulletproof diet early last summer and I really liked it. I was never a big breakfast eater and always prefered to work out in the morning on an empty stomach (not for everyone but works for me), so it was a pretty natural transition. I find intermittent fasting is a useful tool for managing my gut issues and really helps give my digestion a break. I have lots of energy and honestly don’t have any cravings while I’m fasting.
But before we dig any deeper, there are a few things I want to make VERY clear:
1) Fasting is NOT about calorie restriction. In fact, the reason I think it works so well for me is because I eat a lot of fats which contain more calories. Fats keep you fuller longer and we burn them more slowly. If you are eating a low-fat, carb-heavy diet, fasting may be very difficult and unproductive.
2) You still have to eat REAL, CLEAN foods. Intermittent fasting is not about skipping meals and then hitting up the fast-food drive-thru. You want to fill your plate with quality fats, clean protein and lots of vegetables.
3) Intermittent fasting is NOT for everyone. If you have any past issues with disordered eating, I would highly recommend working with a professional. I would also not recommend intermittent fasting for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Fasting has been used in religious or spiritual practices dating back hundreds of years, but it's recently become very popular in the health world, so what’s the hype all about? The basic theory is that our body’s weren’t made for constant feeding. Instead, our ancestors would have gone long periods of time with little to no food and then feast when food was available. Intermittent fasting has been said to provide mental clarity, can be helpful for blood sugar issues and insulin resistance, improve gut health and digestion issues, decrease inflammation, improve detoxification, decrease the signs of aging and aid in weight loss and weight management. When we fast we are allowing our bodies to fully digest our food and can free up more energy and time for other bodily processes and actions, like detoxification.
It's All in the Details
There are a lot of different fasting methods, each claiming to be the most effective or best. General intermittent fasting guidelines are to fast for 16-18hrs which allows for an eating window of 6-8hrs. Other approaches include: 24hrs liquid-fasting, one meal/day fasting, Bulletproof coffee or butter coffee fasting, alternate day fasting, and so on. But there is no one-size-fits-all best approach, it varies from person to person and even day to day. Often women find they need a shorter fasting window (more like 14hrs fasting :10hrs eating) than men. It can also depend on what you are wanting to accomplish with fasting. If you are looking to manage blood sugar and insulin levels, aid weight loss, or reduce inflammation, the main idea is to eliminate an insulin response in the body. Since certain foods, specifically fats, don’t generally cause an insulin response, they are considered ‘okay’ to consume while fasting. Adding some fat while you fast (mct oil, ghee, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, etc.) may in fact help extend your fast and keep you energized and fueled for longer. If you are just looking to give your digestive system a break, consuming broths and teas while fasting is okay too. On the other hand, if you are fasting for deep cleansing, cellular regeneration and anti-aging benefits, food must be avoided altogether to allow for autophagy to take place. Autophagy (self-digestion) clears waste and toxins out of our cells and improves cell regeneration and longevity. This is obviously a much more strict fast and I wouldn't recommend doing it consecutively.
Let me be clear, the best approach is the one that WORKS FOR YOU. It is so important for us to listen to our bodies and respond appropriately. For me, flexibility is the most important factor with fasting. When I first started with Bulletproof fasting, I was pretty rigid: bulletproof coffee in the morning, breakfast/lunch between 2:00-3:00pm and done eating by 8:00pm. While I was fine in the mornings, I did struggle to hit that 2:00pm mark to break my fast. Looking back, I think it’s because I wasn’t totally fat-adapted at that point - I was still burning mainly carbs for energy and transitioning to burning fat/ketones for energy instead. Once, that happened, I found it much easier to fast for longer periods of time. My approach hasn’t changed too much since then, but I’m not strict with it. Instead, I let my hunger tell me when I need to eat. Some mornings I can get up, workout, get to work and still not even be hungry by 2:00pm. Other days, I wake up and need to eat - so I do and that’s completely fine. For the most part, I usually fast after dinner through till midday, however some people prefer to fast after lunch and then eat breakfast in the morning - again, just a different approach.
When I fast, I typically make a Bulletproof coffee or coconut butter matcha latte with mct oil and collagen peptides (for protein) in the morning. This definitely helps to keep me fueled and focused. It is important to note, that for some caffeine CAN cause an insulin response, so you might want to avoid any caffeine during your fast and stick to herbal teas or broths instead. Now, I always break my fast with a quality fat first - an avocado, a spoonful of coconut butter, or a tablespoon of mct oil (if I’m in a pinch) and then have a balanced meal filled with veggies and clean protein. Since I’ve been satiated with that fat first, I don’t find the need to binge or overeat later on. I wouldn’t recommend breaking your fast with something sweet or too carb-heavy, unless you want to ride the blood sugar/hunger rollercoaster. I eat normally for the rest of the day and I tend to finish eating by 8:00pm-9:00pm (but I’m not a stickler with that either). The following day, I see how I feel and evaluate my hunger levels.
Fasting can put unnecessary stress on the body and for women that can mean negatively impacting our hormones and our menstrual cycles. So it’s really important to listen to your body, and respect the signals it’s sending. Fasting can be very beneficial, but it’s not for everyone and that’s OKAY. If you are interested in learning more or want to check out some research, I highly recommend reading Mark Sission's series here.
If you have any questions or want to get started, I’m here to help so feel free to send me a message!