Health and Wellness

So You Want to Try Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is based on the idea that taking a several-hour break from eating every day can be good for the body. It’s been adopted by CEOs and celebs, and its fans say it helps them feel and eat better every day.

If you haven’t tried it yet, you might have a lot of questions about what it is—and we’re on call to answer them.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a type of eating pattern where your days are broken up into two sections: eating and not eating (fasting). A popular schedule is 16/8, meaning you fast for 16 consecutive hours of the day and eat all your meals during the remaining 8. Following this method, you might eat between 10 am and 6 pm, for example, though you’re free to make any 8-hour period your eating window. While 16/8 may be the more popular window of choice, there may also be benefit with different options like 14/10 and 18/6.After adopting the program and finding it works well for their bodies, some people make their eating window shorter. Some also try alternative methods like the 5/2 intermittent fast schedule, where they eat regularly for five consecutive days of the week and then severely limit their caloric intake on the other two days. [2]

What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

The goal of intermittent fasting is to force a metabolic shift in your body so it starts to burn fat rather than glucose. This state is known as ketosis, and along with helping some people lose weight, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests it may improve longevity, since it can help with regenerating cells and protecting organs.There is still a lot more to understand about how and when our bodies enter ketosis, and it can depend on several factors such as:

  • Body type
  • Lifestyle habits
  • Intake of carbs, sugar, protein and fat

Since so many other factors impact our overall health and longevity, it can be difficult to determine how eating patterns fit into that. But some research from the NIH suggests intermittent fasting could help brain health, repair damaged cells, and improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

What can I eat when I’m intermittent fasting?

With intermittent fasting, the focus becomes on when you eat, not what you eat.  Time restricted eating is a way of managing and restricting calories. So in theory, if you are eating for fewer hours a day, you are also taking in fewer calories. Some people choose to ad their own additional guidelines—maybe limiting carbs and upping fat intake to reach ketosis sooner, or cutting back on dairy if they don’t digest it well, for instance. And many people track their protein, fat, sugar, and carb intake to make sure they’re getting enough of everything. But in theory, you can enjoy all your favorite foods during intermittent fasting. You don’t have to give up early morning caffeine either. Black coffee or tea without any cream or sugar doesn’t count as breaking the fast, so you can have it outside your eating hours. You can also drink water 24/7—and should, since JAMA reports that one of the negative side effects of intermittent fasting is potential dehydration (a lot of people forget to drink enough water when they’re not eating).

Who shouldn’t do intermittent fasting?

Remember intermittent fasting is completely optional and flexible method for eating. If it doesn’t sound like something for you, explore other eating strategies that may help you feel your best. Critically, there are also some situations where it shouldn’t be attempted at all, according to John Hopkins Medicine:

  • If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding: Sustaining energy levels and getting enough caloric intake is crucial for making sure your baby gets enough nutrients and for maintaining milk supply.
  • If you have diabetes: Intermittent fasting can create larger-than-usual fluctuations between blood sugar levels, which is dangerous for anyone with diabetes.
  • If you have a history of disordered eating: The goal of intermittent fasting is not to restrict or binge, but the method can align with or be conducive to those extremes, making it a potentially triggering method of eating for people who struggle with disordered eating. Additionally, the fluctuations between low energy states and eating periods can add stress to organs that may already have quite a bit of wear and tear from previous disordered eating habits.
  • If you’re following a strict medication schedule: Some medications are most effective when taken with food. There are intermittent fasting schedules that could allow for this, but if you can’t make one work, stick to your medication routine rather than attempt something new.

What do I need to know before starting intermittent fasting?

If you do decide that intermittent fasting is something you’d like to try, there are a few steps you can take to make sure it’s the right path for you, and that you’re making the most of the method:

  • Talk to your clinician. It’s always smart to chat with your clinician before starting a new eating routine. They’ll be able to let you know whether it’s safe for you, and depending on your goals, may be able to recommend a program that could help you achieve your goals even more effectively.
  • Determine your personal goals. What do you hope to achieve with intermittent fasting? Do you want to lose weight? Be more mindful about your food intake? Improve a medical condition like high cholesterol or blood pressure? Outline these goals before getting started.
  • Think about your personal schedule. Ask yourself how you’ll be able to integrate intermittent fasting into your day. When will be the best time to work out? How will you handle food-focused social or work engagements during your fasting hours? Intermittent fasting usually requires making a few adjustments to your schedule, but becomes easier and routine over time.
  • Consider potential side effects. Intermittent fasting can be a big adjustment, which means it can come with some side effects, including:
  • ~Digestive issues
  • ~Irritability
  • ~Fatigue
  • ~Headaches from low blood sugar levels

For many people, these clear up after an adjustment period, but it’s good to understand the process and manage symptoms when you can. For example, taking some electrolytes (without calories) can help alleviate headaches during fasting.

  • Stay reasonable. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see massive changes in a short period of time, and don’t feel like a failure if you find intermittent fasting just doesn’t gel with your lifestyle, body, or schedule. There are plenty of eating patterns that you can try, because you always deserve to feel your best.

Before making any dietary changes, make sure to check in with your Care Team first to make sure intermittent fasting is right for you.

Open the app to get started today.

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