What is Intermittent Fasting? 

By now, you may have heard of intermittent fasting, so we’re going to go over exactly what it is, what the potential benefits are, and how it can be done properly. It is tough to pinpoint an exact definition, because intermittent fasting is something that can be safely done multiple ways. It is something that has been around for centuries and is a vital part of many different religions. Intermittent fasting can be described as eating on a set schedule while fasting (or not eating) for certain prolonged periods of time. It is generally considered fine to have water and unsweetened coffee or tea during a fast.

Sound scary? It shouldn’t be. Research on intermittent fasting is vast, and much of the research shows great benefit to this practice, no matter how it’s done. We’ll get into the many benefits later, including potential benefits for your eyes and vision, but it has been shown that periodic but consistent fasting lowers the levels of oxidative stress throughout your body. This means your body is better able to fight free radicals and inflammation. Second, fasting improves your body’s ability to handle stress. Put more simply, fasting activates stress response systems that reinforce the fight against stress, decreasing your chances of disease and aging processes.

Intermittent fasting can be successfully performed in a few different ways. Everyone is different, and any fasting practice should be discussed with your doctor beforehand. Also, women react differently to fasting then men, so we’ll discuss a few things that may need to be modified for women.

7 Amazing Intermittent Fasting Benefits

As we discussed earlier, there are quite a few benefits that have been well studied. They are as follows:

  • Decreased inflammation – Periodic but consistent fasting lowers the levels of oxidative stress throughout your body. This means your body is better able to fight free radicals and inflammation. A 2015 study found that a longer duration of overnight fasting was associated with decreased inflammatory markers (and inflammation plays a big role in dry eye disease). In addition to this, a study from 2011 using rat models showed that those who were put on an intermittent fasting plan (versus having the ability to eat whatever, whenever) showed better lacrimal gland output (ie more tears for your eyes).
  • Promotes weight loss – Fasting allows your body to use fat stores as fuel instead of sugar. Your body will use sugar (glucose) first and then store what’s left over as glycogen. Without sugar around (like when you’re fasting), your body moves straight to glycogen and will then use fat as its fuel.  This can greatly contribute to weight loss.
  • Manages blood sugar – Intermittent fasting allows your body to more easily process glucose and helps regulate your insulin and blood sugar levels. When we prevent a build up of insulin, we allow our bodies to handle sugars more effectively. This is great news for people with diabetes.
  • Protection for your brain and heart – Some studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory effects of intermittent fasting may slow neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and may also decrease certain contributors to heart disease. Fasting helps the body with autophagy, which is responsible for the body’s cellular turnover. 
  • Increases Energy.
  • Lowers bad cholesterol. 
  • Boosts brain function and improves memory. 

Intermittent Fasting Guide & Schedule with Fasting Times

As stated previously, there are many ways to fast intermittently. The most popular ways to intermittent fast include:

  • Time Restricted Feeding (or 16/8 Fasting): Fasting for 16 hours and eating your entire caloric allotment of food within an 8 hour period. Often, this means not eating anything after dinner (7-8pm) until lunch (11-12pm) the next day. This is often the best type of intermittent fasting to start with.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: Choosing one day out of the week to fast for 24 hours. This would include fasting from dinner one night to dinner the next night.
  • 5/2 Fasting: Eating normally but healthfully for 5 days of the week and fasting for 2 non-consecutive days of the week. Some people may eat nothing on their fasting days, and others may eat only a small amount (around 500 calories).

For women, the above plans are not always simple. Hormone fluctuations can easily drive a woman into starvation mode, which causes insatiable hunger and overeating due to ramped up levels of the hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Women will often need to back off on intermittent fasting or ease their bodies into it. Here are a few tips for women:

  • Choose only 2-3 non-consecutive days out of the week to begin overnight fasting (for example, Tuesday and Thursday). Do not begin by fasting every night of the week.
  • Start by fasting for 12 hours, from after dinner at 7pm to the next morning at your 7am breakfast. Increase your fasting time from there, one hour per week, so after a few weeks you’re able to fast for the full 16 hours.
  • On the days you fast, do yoga or light cardio but try to avoid heavy lifting or running long distances.
  • Drink plenty of water during your fast (and unsweetened tea or coffee).
  • Do not fast if you are pregnant, as fasting can deplete your nutrient stores.

Intermittent Fasting Meal Plan | What to Eat?

When beginning intermittent fasting, we recommend starting out slow. This is really not a diet, and it is more of a lifestyle change. Eventually, you can get to a place where, each night, you just do not eat after dinner and don’t have anything except water until breakfast or lunch the next day (depending on the plan you choose). We currently intermittent fast almost every night from dinner until breakfast, although some days Dr. Travis will choose to go until lunch. Since Dr. Jenna is still nursing, she does not fast past breakfast in order to keep up her nutrient stores for our son. Other people who should be careful with intermittent fasting include those who have low blood sugar, are sick, and those who have suffered from or are currently suffering from an eating disorder. Those with thyroid issues or diabetes need to speak with their doctors before beginning this regimen. 

That being said, what are you supposed to eat while intermittent fasting? When you’re actually fasting, you only want to have water and maybe some unsweetened coffee or tea. Nothing else. During the times you are feeding, it’s best to fill your body with plant-based alkaline foods such as lots of fresh fruits and veggies, high quality protein, and healthy fats. 

You’ll want to incorporate green smoothies and large salads filled with lots of veggies, and avoid processed foods, fried food, and added sugars. This lifestyle change can be an easy way to notice positive changes throughout your body.

Related Article: Intermittent Fasting 101

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Dr. Barry

November 4, 2021