So you know, I’ve been fasting. Truthfully you may not actually know but I did post a picture on my socials sharing of how I had been intermittent fasting for the past eight weeks and I can safely say my body is loving me crazy for it. You, my favourite people had a LOT of questions and so in true NK style I knew I needed to pin down a date with my keyboard and tap this out for you, so here we are.
Intermittent Fasting in a nutshell is going for select periods of time without food. I have written about it here before and dived right in, it’s worth taking a read. Maybe if you had asked me just three short years ago my thoughts on fasting, I would have told you it’s a big NO for your hormones. Truthfully though, we are always learning and hit fast forward I’m here today to say, I’m a big fan. Not only have I been trialling it myself, but I’ve also been doing this with my patients for some time too.
With this in mind, I want to answer the questions that have hit my inbox over the past few days – to really help you decide if this is something for you or not.
For all of time, it’s safe to say we haven’t had food at our beck and call. Fasting therefore is a natural process – something we’ve maybe dived into throughout intense periods (i.e. Lent) or in times of famine and we’ve survived to date!
Due to the shear availability and convenience of forever available food, we’ve somewhat disconnected from our body’s signs and signals. We can eat whenever, whatever, taking us further away from our innate state of being. Fasting allows for regeneration and recovery that is essential for health and allows us to somewhat tap back into the body’s natural groove and to really be able to listen to what your body is telling you – without the noise of over consumption.
What happens when you fast?
Most interestingly, fasting steers the body towards using fat rather than sugar as a fuel source. Many foods in our modern diet that are consumed in great quantities (i.e. grains) are quickly converted to glucose and dished out to be used as energy. This takes priority over fuel from fat stores and should there be glucose left unused it is then stored as glycogen in the liver, our muscles or our body fat. Each time we eat, we top up glucose. It’s only once we dip into the fasting state that we use these reserves in our body fat.
You might find it odd that fasting actually influences the hormones that regulate hunger (insulin and leptin). Happy and balanced insulin and leptin means balanced hunger, fat storage and correct signalling of what we actually need nutritionally.
How do you fast?
Research is still working out what’s what, however fasting for as little as a couple of days a week will still have positive effects. For patients I tend to look at their personal situation, however the most common ways to fast include;
+ 5:2 – that is 5 days of normal eating and 2 days of limited intake. I think this works well for those who don’t have small children.
+ Crescendo fasting – this is fasting 2 – 3 non consecutive days per week. If you have obvious hormone imbalance, this may be the pick of the bunch and a great place to start. In this instance you would fast 12 – 16 hours (the majority being overnight).
My favourite is 16 hours overnight. I generally advocate this for my patients because it’s the easiest rather than needing to go 2 days of the week with low calorie intake (500 calories for women 600 for men). You might choose to do as little as 3 days of the week or more. I would encourage you to play around with the idea to find what works best for you. The way I look at this isn’t to focus on the 16 hours without food but focus on the 8 hours that you are eating and make it count.
+ Lee Holmes also advocates for ‘Up Day, Down Day’ fasting. She suggests this works for those who don’t have a regular schedule meaning that every other day you limit your food intake the 8 hour window.
Is it bad for your metabolism?
In the long term, there is no evidence to suggest that it has a negative impact on your metabolism, in fact quite the contrary. The first few weeks of fasting can be a little tricky as you find your groove, and this is where you can feel everything from hungry to jittery, however over the course of 12 months, research shows that insulin sensitivity improves. That is, your cells are more sensitive to insulin immediately after periods of fasting which means you should find your sugar levels are happier in general. This aids in lowering inflammation and improves insulin signalling pathways which is good news for many, including women with PCOS and those with a family history of diabetes.
Can anybody fast?
There are a few ‘camps’ that may avoid fasting for various reasons;
+ teenage girls – as their hormones find their groove. It’s not completely incorrect but since we are all different I’d advocate for calling on the assistance of a health care professional or trying on more gentle fasting like up day-down day. We can also get confused between changing hormones and symptoms that mimic issues like PCOS. It can be beneficial to hold out.
+ expecting and lactating mothers – for obvious reasons. Growing tiny humans and feeding them is a full time job. You need your reserves.
+ depending on your health state and condition if you have a known illness, it would be wise to recruit a doctor to support you – fasting as we’ve seen for example, in the case of diabetes may be wonderful but having the eyes of somebody else on your health is always my best suggestion.
What do you eat?
Food! It’s just limited to whatever time frame you choose. Some people choose to eat as they please on the down time others continue to eat a whole food diet. For me, since fasting I’ve cut out all processed sugars, grains and diary. It’s been a wonderful thing to observe my body and how I feel.
For women trying to balance hormones it is crucial that you continue to eat plenty of good quality fats and protein. Fasting can have a negative impact on your hormone health if you starve yourself – that’s not our aim with intermittent fasting. You’ll know if this is the case because you might find your periods go missing or become irregular. This would be a sure sign you are overdoing it.
There’s a simple solution, include good quality fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, butter, oily fish and my favourite – eggs, frequently. As well as quality meats, fish and of course organic chicken.
I do find I am way more thirsty whilst I am in a fasting period and drink loads of water as my body asks for it.
What are the physical benefits?
So we’ve established better hormone balance which is mostly why I suggest this for women in the clinic, but what comes with fasting is steering the body towards it’s healthy weight, more energy, deeper sleep, balanced sugar levels and better brain function all of which are simply a result of the body not being clouded by two things – the wrong foods and too much of it. When the body can operate from this more natural state, the benefits are quickly noticed.
As always, it all comes back to how we can lead your body to a more homeostatic state of being by removing the stressors that exist from our modern lifestyle. It may be that we’ve never thought about excess food consumption being a stress on the body (add that to the pile alongside other internal stress, external stress factors like your environment as well as your emotional stress!!) We all know I’m mad for ironing out stress creases. Resonating – find out more here.
I’d recommend going slowly at first and really allowing your body to find its own rhythm when it comes to intermittent fasting. We are all different and I’m keen to open the conversation up to fasting and diet. Have you done it? Did you like it? Be sure to take time to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.