By Dave Smith
“Curtis, is that really you?”
That’s what I thought when I ran into my friend a number of years ago. I hadn’t seen him in several months, and wow, had his body ever changed!
You see, Curtis used to be in really great shape. In fact, he used to be a personal trainer who helped other people shed weight, but a career change and age caught up with him. The last time I had seen him, it was obvious that he had put on a bunch of weight...
But not any longer!
He was back to being his lean, toned, and fit former self.
Here's Curtis, looking great with his beautiful wife, Martha
I thought for sure he was doing some crazy new workout routine…
“Not really,” he responded. “I’ve just been practicing intermittent fasting.”
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
"Fasting" - What does that term bring to mind for you?
Fasting = Hunger?
Fasting = Starving?
Fasting = Discomfort?
Fasting = Deprivation?
Actually, the truth is, you fast every single day. Say you finish dinner at 7pm, go to bed at 11pm and sleep for eight hours. When you wake up, you’ve already fasted for 12 hours. If you don’t eat breakfast first thing in the morning, or don’t eat breakfast at all, then your fast can easily stretch to 15 hours or more without much thought.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern in which you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. Intermittent fasting simply means that you take planned breaks from eating food.
IF does NOT say anything about which foods you should be eating, but rather WHEN you should eat them.
"But, I Don't Want to Be Hungry All the Time!"
Yesterday my church hosted an event called Delve. In preparation for a night of prayer, many of us fasted for 24 hours in advance. This is pretty common across various religions, including Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and others.
I began my fast at 8pm on Wednesday night and didn't eat until nearly 10pm Thursday. That's 26 hours without food!
Was it hard?
Actually, it was a piece of cake.
(Um, cake... perhaps bad imagery if you're fasting right now!)
The hardest point was first thing in the morning on Thursday, right around the time I would typically have eaten breakfast. My stomach wanted its green smoothie in a big way!
But, once I got past those hunger signals, my discomfort was gone for the rest of the day, and I actually felt very peaceful.
Now, I do want to emphasize that it isn't always easy. I've fasted many times, and sometimes I do feel hungry, BUT I have never experienced that "starving" feeling that I thought would accompany any attempt at intermittent fasting.
5 Benefits You Will Gain From Intermittent Fasting
Aside from spiritual reasons, why would anyone want to take a break from eating?
There are many reasons, both physiological and psychological, people practice intermittent fasting. Here are some of the most compelling ones:
1. You Will Learn to Properly Manage Your Hunger
Can you remember a time when you were “starving to death”? You’ve likely even used that phrase (I know I have), but the reality is that very few of us actually know what it feels like to be really hungry.
Because we rarely experience true hunger, it’s hard for us to separate the instances when our body needs food versus the times when we’re just ready to eat. Intermittent fasting teaches you how to manage true hunger and it helps you respond more appropriately to moderate hunger signs.
For example, it’s common to feel a little hungry mid-morning, especially if breakfast consisted of low-nutrient food, and a common response is to instantly search for something (anything will do) to make that hungry feeling go away as quickly as possible.
This habitual response to hunger (i.e. "I must eat NOW!") leads many people to eat, often sweets, even though their body doesn’t actually need a rush of sugar or calories. It is more of a psychological food craving than it is a physiological need.
Once you've practiced intermittent fasting, you will be able to approach situations much differently. That mid-morning tummy rumble is distinctly different than the hunger experienced after a day of not eating. A tummy rumble no longer needs to be instantly quieted – it becomes okay to feel a little hunger.
2. Your Digestive System Will Have Time to Recuperate
When does your digestive system get time off?
(Most of us are really good at eating all the time)
Your stomach and intestines are constantly working to process the food you eat, and this process requires a continual supply of energy and blood flow.
Taking a day off from eating provides an opportunity for your digestive organs to rest. Energy can be diverted elsewhere, your body can “detox” naturally, and built up food can be fully excreted from your body.
3. You Get a "No-Guilt" Rest Day
A few years ago my family was going to visit my grandmother and I was supposed to meet them at 5pm. Being punctual is very important to me, so I hated the fact that I showed up 20 minutes late.
I was "squeezing in a quick workout" before I came.
(I admit, my priorities were a little out-of-whack that day)
"When was the last time you didn't exercise for an entire day?" my mom asked.
I thought about it...
And thought some more...
I couldn't remember. I exercise EVERY day. Missing even one day leaves me feeling a little anxious and more than a little guilty.
If you love exercise, maybe you can relate?
This is another beautiful aspect of intermittent fasting: During a fast, your body is automatically going to be in a calorie-deficit. Your resting metabolic rate ensures that you will be burning more calories than you take in.
You certainly don't need to exercise in addition to fasting. You have a "free pass" to take a day off from exercise, knowing that you're actually doing your body some good.
Your body needs rest and practicing intermittent fasting builds that into your schedule. You don't have to feel guilty for having a "lazy" day.
4. You Can Offset Indulgent Eating
Think of the last time you REALLY overate. What were you eating?
For me, it was sushi. It's usually sushi. My eyes are bigger than my stomach and I often go overboard, eating a few too many salmon avocado rolls.
When salmon avocado rolls are available, I don't have an "off" switch
Remember how you felt after your last big indulgence. Not good, right?
Well, an intermittent fast is a perfect way to follow up after one of these big-eating incidences. It makes perfect sense: You ate too much one day, so stop eating the next.
Your calorie balance between the two days is likely within a normal range, so your body gets the energy it needs without getting more than it needs.
5. You Gain a Lot of Time for Other Healthy Priorities
Have you ever thought about how much of your life is taken up by food? Planning, shopping, cooking and eating meals can easily take up many hours each week.
Over 5% of your life will be dedicated to eating and drinking.
When practicing intermittent fasting, you will suddenly gain all those hours back. What are you going to do with this "found" time?
So many people say, "I don't have time" for many of the healthy behaviours they claim to value in life. Well, now's your chance!
Nap, meditate, read, plan, journal, walk, paint, converse, engage - use the space that would normally be filled with eating to do something that reduces your stress and brings you life.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Weight-Loss? Science Says...
At this point, you might be thinking, "This is all great, Dave, but is intermittent fasting actually going to help me lose weight?"
Thanks for being patient. Here we go...
All sorts of processes in your body change when you don't eat for a while. These mechanisms are crucial in order to allow your body to thrive during a period of famine. They involve your hormones, genes and important cellular repair processes.
When fasting, you get significant reductions in blood sugar and your insulin levels drop. You also will experience a drastic increase in human growth hormone. These 3 changes alone can stimulate fat-loss.
But more than that, many people do intermittent fasting because it is a very simple and effective way to restrict calories without perpetually feeling hungry. Again, this stimulates your body’s fat-burning response.
In short, intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Just ask my friend, Curtis! Research shows that it helps reduce body fat while maintaining lean tissue, and can have a positive impact on your metabolism.
Intermittent fasting isn't as scary as it sounds. It can be safely used for weight-loss, managing your weight once you've achieved your weight-loss, and even to add a couple of years to your life.
The next obvious question is, "How can I practice intermittent fasting safely?" If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. I'd love to help you get started on a plan that makes sense for you.