Intermittent fasting sounds intense. Not eating? On purpose? Somewhat regularly? Not exactly something you want to do on a Sunday morning. But humans already partake in a daily fast — we just call it sleeping. By taking control of our “fasting” and “feeding” periods, we are better able to manage our cravings, and see benefits across our skin and intestinal health. Most important: fasting is not a diet. It is a change in the cadence of your eating.
Fasting has been a element of human life since the beginning of time. Whether responding to religious practices, such as Ramadan, or to busy days of hunting and gathering, or as a response to limited food resources. To best understand how fasting benefits the body, first we should draw out the “fed” vs. the “fasted” states. In a fed state, your body is digesting and absorbing food. The fed state takes up about 3-5 hours of your time, and spikes your insulin levels as your body breaks your food down into sugars, carbohydrates and fats. Because your insulin levels are high, it’s very hard for your body to burn fat. The fasted state doesn’t begin until your body is completely finished processing your food — about 12 hours after finishing said meal. At this time, our bodies are not producing much insulin, and are primed to burn fat. Lowered insulin production also protects us against the development of type 2 diabetes, and the fasted state promotes the production of protective proteins in our brains that improve cognitive connectivity — making us feel smarter and more alert. All in all, our cellular bases are much better able to perform their maintenance duties, leaving us less bloated and inflamed, more ready to carpe diem.
Deciding to take on an intermittent fasting schedule does not mean committing to a daily fast. Every person will respond differently to a fast, and of course, sometimes a fast just isn’t plausible. Some of the more popular models include a 16/8 period (a 16 hour fasting period followed by an eight hour feeding window), the 12/12 (12 hours of fasting followed by a 12 hour feeding window), or simply restricting calorie intake (to between 500 and 800, depending on your doctor’s recommendation) two days a week while eating normally the other five days. The most important element of Intermittent Fasting is to remember that it’s not a diet — it’s a change in your eating schedule. Unlike restricting calories, fasting taps into your body’s natural rhythms and processes, harnessing them to benefit the improved schedule. Intermittent fasting is also sustainable over extended time periods, and doesn’t stymie hormonal production (which can lead to lowered metabolism, depleted growth, muscle loss, and reduced cognitive function) as restricted calorie diets can.
Our bodies are an ongoing experiment. What works for one person may not be best for another. Intermittent fasting is the same as any change to one’s diet, exercise, or bodily routine: it should be approached with curiosity, and the results should be based on how they make you feel rather than some societally-determined factor of success. Whether used as an occasional tool to help clear out the body and refocus the mind, or as a shift in lifestyle, fasting recognizes the inherent pleasure of food. We like that.
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