Why Intermittent Fasting is Not Just about Losing Weight

Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular methods to lose weight and improve health. When you do “intermittent fasting,” you eat only within a certain period of time of the day. 

I heard about it from my doctor while I was with her for my annual health checkup. I was not able to attend the workshop she was doing, so I did my own research about its benefits and the keys to make it successful. I found most of the information is very useful even if you are not doing intermittent fasting. This article is a little longer than our usual articles–please grab a cup of tea, and read on to discover the depth of this trendy health regimen.

Is Intermittent Fasting starvation?

“Fasting” reminds us of “starvation.” The major factor that differentiates Intermittent fasting from starvation is “a sense of control,” says Dr. Jason Fung, a leading expert of intermittent fasting. “Food is easily available, but you choose not to eat.“ Understanding the changes the body experiences while fasting will help you to decide whether and how to do intermittent fasting.

Another difference is the abundant colorful nutrition you are encouraged to take while you are not fasting. As a matter of fact, the quality of food you intake will enhance the efficiency of the fasting.

What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

Losing weight is an obvious possible result from intermittent fasting as you are likely eating less. As our body is a dynamic holistic system, the outcome from intermittent fasting can be dynamic and go beyond just losing weight.

Numerous studies show intermittent fasting benefits include:

  • Lower blood sugar and insulin, which helps fat burning

  • Initiation of cellular repair process

  • Stimulate genes related to longevity and protection against diseases

  • Increase metabolism 3.6-14% due to lower insulin levels, higher growth hormone levels, and increased amounts of norepinephrine (noradrenaline)

  • May reduce risk of type 2 diabetes

  • May reduce inflammation in the body

  • May help prevent Alzheimer’s disease

When it comes to health, we tend to think about what to put into our body. What is the most nutritious food to improve such and such? What are the best foods to prevent such and such? 

Normally, we take hunger or empty stomach as “negative” or “deprived.” Quality nutritious foods are important; but studies on intermittent fasting are revealing that all kinds of fascinating changes are happening when we are not eating as well. Optimal health can be reached when “eating” and “fasting” are in a good balance.

When you do intermittent fasting right, it is not only a healthy way to lose weight, but also is a healthy lifestyle, especially when it’s combined with quality colorful balanced meals, exercise, and stress management. 

7 tips for you to get the most out of intermittent fasting

Tip #1  Set the hours that work for you

Intermittent fasting can be short or long. However, Dr. Fung recommends to seek medical supervision if you are fasting for longer than a few days. Everyone is different so no one method fits all.

Here are some of the popular methods so you can see how it works.

The 16:8 method: Restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Eat-Stop-Eat, or 24 hour fast: This method involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week. For example, you do not eat from dinner one day until dinner the next day.

The 5:2 diet: 5:2 involves five regular eating days and two fasting days. However, on these two fasting days, you are allowed to eat 500 calories on each day.

The above methods are just examples. According to Monique Tello, MD, MPH, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, “New research is suggesting that not all IF approaches are the same, and some are actually very reasonable, effective, and sustainable.” One benefit of intermittent fasting is it is flexible and personalizable. For example, if you are used to skipping breakfast, you can set eating period from noon to 8 p.m. The key is to find the eating approach that works for you and that is sustainable to you. 

Tip #2  Use Circadian rhythm

We’ve looked at the positive changes in the body triggered by fasting above. In order to achieve these benefits, you would like to find the most natural way to do it for YOU so it can become part of your lifestyle and be sustainable. Finding your natural cycle, or circadian rhythm, is a great way to establish your best regimen. 

Dr. Deborah Wexler, Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, says, “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective.” 

And here is why:

“We have evolved to be in sync with the day/night cycle, i.e., a circadian rhythm. Our metabolism has adapted to daytime food, nighttime sleep. Nighttime eating is well associated with a higher risk of obesity, as well as diabetes. 

Based on this, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with pre-diabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving.”

Tip #3  Avoid simple carbs to ease hunger

Fasting is not going to be an excuse for you to indulge in junk food. Eating within a certain time frame doesn’t make an exception for a natural law of “quality input generates quality outcome.” One doughnut and a little over 1 oz almonds may give us the same calories, about 190 calories, but the impact on our system is totally different. It is essential to eat quality, colorful, and balanced meals in appropriate portions for you to feel best and perform best.

The side effects from eating simple carbohydrates or foods loaded with sugar is amplifying hunger. The more you eat them, the more you crave for them. And this is why: When you eat, Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps to bring sugar (glucose) into cells as an energy source. Simple carbohydrates or foods loaded with sugar increases insulin dramatically and drops quickly. When the blood sugar levels drop, leptin, a hormone that increases appetite spikes and cause you to eat more. Falling level of insulin also triggers the release of ghrelin, which is a hormone to signal the body to expect food intake. 

Staying hydrated throughout the day will help with hunger cravings, mental focus, mood, and energy. Drinking tea is one of the most effective ways to curb hunger. One of our customers, Jesse, does intermittent fasting. He uses Edible Green(R) tea. “I do intermittent fasting and when I do it, this is the only thing I take. I get the best benefit from this tea, Edible Green tea, rather than from anything else.”

Tip #4  Be mindful of your emotions 

Emotional state affects your appetite. Research suggests that negative emotions and stress can fool you to eat more sugary, salty, and fatty foods. 

Incorporating simple skills to manage stress may be a game changer even for successful intermittent fasting. We talked about the breathing technique to reduce stress instantly. That can be done anytime, anywhere–even when you are in a waiting line for a check out of grocery shopping. 

Another technique to get calmness is meditation. There are all kinds of methods and techniques out there, but the core of meditation is simple two things: to be “right at the present moment” and “be grateful.” 

Try to focus your energy to your 5 senses–not the jumble in your head. You will find it is very hard to do for even just 10 seconds. Within a few seconds, my mind starts to talk to “me” and wondering about all different things like today’s schedule, the payment I have to make, blah blah blah. It is hard, but when you are paying attention to your own 5 senses, the things in your head become silent. If you haven’t tried it, please try and experience it yourself.

I’ve found this “energy shift” is easier with a cup of green tea, which offers you a natural relaxant called L-theanine. This amino acid increases alpha waves in the brain without causing drowsiness. Studies show green tea decreases risk of depression and enhances the sense of well-being. Reach for a cup of your favorite tea. That cup of tea is a powerful tool to remind you to be mindful.

After this simple but challenging energy shift, list up 5 grateful things you can think about. Your mind cannot stay negative when you are grateful.

Tip #5  How not to lose muscle while losing weight

Intermittent fasting facilitates fat burning because

  1. Glucose, easily accessible energy source and easily stored as fat, is absent, and

  2. Hormonal changes triggered by fasting make fat more accessible as an energy source.

It’s great to lose pounds but we do not want that want to happen from loss of muscles. Muscles are degraded and rebuilt all the time as are the other cells in the body. The rebuilding process facilitates by motion and weight along with quality protein intake. Thus, weight training is an effective way to ensure the weight loss comes from fat, not from precious muscles. 

Muscles are not just for cosmetic–muscles generate body heat to maintain body temperature optimal for the strong immune system by burning calories, and releases hormones to send messages to the body for optimal health. 

Hard core aerobic exercise is not recommended while you are in the middle of fasting period. Eat before exercise for the best performance and in order to prevent accidents or injury caused by weakness.

Tip #6  Get quality sleep

Science is becoming more and more aware of holistic nature of our health and wellness. One healthy habit is not going to make up for the lack of other essential elements. Sleep quality is one of the essential puzzle pieces for your health, and affects your eating decisions and hormones that influence metabolism. Eating just before bedtime make your blood sugar high when you sleep and disturb your sleep quality. 

Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, explains deeper insight of the benefit from intermittent fasting on quality of sleep:

 “Time restricted eating also can strengthen our 24-hour circadian clocks, which exert a dominating influence on our sleep. A stronger, more synchronized circadian clock means an easier time falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking feeling refreshed on a regular basis. That combination of consistency and quality in a sleep routine is what we all want, to help us feel and function at our best, and to protect our health over time, and with age.”

Staying hydrated will also help you sleep more soundly at night. Even minor dehydration can cause restless sleep, and increase your risk of snoring due to a dry mouth, nose, and throat. 

 Choose decaffeinated if you would like to enjoy a cup of soothing green tea before bedtime.

Tip #7  Intermittent fasting is not for everybody

Lastly, we need to remember every individual is different and no “diet” fits everybody. Dr. Fung warns you should NOT fast if you are:

  • Underweight (BMI < 18.5) or have an eating disorder like anorexia.

  • Pregnant – you need extra nutrients for your child.

  • Breastfeeding – you need extra nutrients for your child.

  • A child under 18 – you need extra nutrients to grow.

You can probably fast, but may need medical supervision, under these conditions:

  • If you have diabetes mellitus – type 1 or type 2. 

  • If you take prescription medication.

  • If you have gout or high uric acid.

  • If you have any serious medical conditions, such as liver disease, kidney disease, or heart disease.

  • If you are hypoglycemic. Watch out for dizziness, or even losing consciousness.