Intermittent fasting is the practice of limiting the hours that you eat during the day. Most people that practice intermittent fasting limit their eating to 8-10 hours and fast for the rest fifteen hours, frequently through the night.
Nowadays, your refrigerator or the drive-through is always within your reach. An abundance of food is accessible on the shelves of grocerery shops. But your mind is not programmed for abundance; it is convinced that food might not be available tomorrow because who knows what will happen.
Historically (way way back), our hunter and gatherer forefathers and mothers ate from mid-morning (they needed to forage for their breakfast) until sunset. They had to find shelter in the dark that kept them safe from predators. Because food was not as readily available, they were used to fasting hours and even days.
The connection between our inner clock and the rising and setting of the sun resides in our brains. It was established during our times as nomads and kept intact until we invented the electricity that allowed us to stay up late and eat whenever we wanted. But our digestive system is sensitive to the circadian rhythm. When sunlight shines on your eyes, it sends signals to your brain that activate the digestive system. In the absence of light, the digestive system goes into repair mode and is not ready to digest food.
It is important to know that this is the context in which your body developed. After all, we transitioned from nomads to an agricultural culture ten thousand years ago, just a minute in the six million years of human history.
Weight loss is not the main drive for intermittent fasting.
Letting the body have the time to clear toxins, renew and rejuvenate its tissue was found to have many health benefits, including:
- Decreasing blood pressure
- Decreasing insulin resistance
- Decreasing oxidative stress
- Decreasing cholesterol and triglycerides
- Improve appetite regulation
- Increase diversity of the gut microbiome
- Reduce chronic pain
All are markers of sustained chronic inflammation and metabolic syndrome, the root cause of all modern chronic diseases, including insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Time-restricted eating was shown to be beneficial in managing metabolic disease.
Intermittent fasting is a hot trend in the wellness world right now. But when something is trendy, it doesn’t always mean it suits YOU.
Does intermittent fasting have the same benefits for women?
Most of the research showing the benefits of intermittent fasting comes from animals, so we must use caution when applying it to humans.
A study on rodents found that male and female rodents fed the equivalent of the Western diet reacted differently to intermittent fasting. Male rodents were protected from weight gain and had less fat mass and more muscle mass, less inflammation, and less blood cholesterol; female rodents didn’t receive these benefits. On the other hand, both male and female rodents showed less fatty liver and better blood sugar regulation (less insulin resistance)
A review of studies on women and men found that intermittent fasting reduces testosterone in females; hence, it can be part of a protocol for PCOS.
A recent study found that fasting during the luteal phase (the 14 days before your period) can reduce PMS symptoms.
Be Mindful of your body’s energy and nutrient needs!
The average calorie intake for a healthy man is 2000-3000 calories a day, depending on how active he is. A healthy female’s average daily calorie intake ranges from 1600 to 2200.
A study found that intermittent fasting regulates the endocrine system and reduces ghrelin, the appetite hormone. A review of studies showed that people who practice intermediate fasting reduce their caloric intake by 7% to 22%.
What does it mean for you?
If you plan to practice intermittent fasting or are practicing it now, it is important to be mindful of your caloric intake. Some things to pay attention to:
- Your cycle is your window into your reproductive system and overall well-being. If your monthly bleeding stops, it is a sign that your body doesn’t get all the energy it needs.
- Getting your blood tested twice a year to be sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs could be beneficial.
- You might be nutrient deficient if you feel any change in your energy levels or overall well-being. That might look like fatigue, brain fog, and depression.
Intermittent fasting is not for you if you are:
- Pregnant or planning to get pregnant
- Have a history of food disorders.
- Are underweight
- Have nutritional deficiencies.
Be aware of the coffee trap!
Another caveat is that a late breakfast doesn’t mean you can drink a bunch of coffee before breakfast. Caffeine is a stimulant, and overstimulating your nervous system might cause insomnia and anxiety. Coffee might also kick start your digestive system in a similar way to sunshine because it affect your cortisol levels. Herbalist Thomas Easley told me that, in his experience, it is much better to eat an early dinner (about 4 in the afternoon) than skip breakfast because people that skip breakfast tend to drink too much coffee.
No one diet suits everyone, but intermittent fasting is an excellent way to align your body with the circadian cycle. Eating when the sun is up ensures better digestion and absorption and allows you to reconnect with the cycles of nature.