Intermittent fasting: skipping meals as a way to health
For a wise woman, getting as close as possible to a natural way of life is essential. Listening to our gut tells us that how we live today has little to do with the life we were made for. This is something I touched on before and today I want to go into it a bit more. We never used to work away from home. In fact, home was seldom in the same place. We never bought our food in stores, never lived in houses with heating and refrigerators. We were much closer to nature and depended on its whims, jokes and quirks. Our instincts and our bodies are still attuned to that way of life.
We humans also regularly experienced scarcity. Those periods of scarcity alternated with periods of abundance. That’s the life your body knows. Periodic fasting is therefore a good habit in my opinion. Periodic fasting, also called intermittent fasting in dietitian circles, is simply skipping one or more meals every now and then. I’ve been doing it for many years now and I feel good about it. It keeps my body healthy and my immune system sharp.
Food is stress
Every time we eat, our body has to get to work. It is a beautifully balanced organism and when we eat many of those equilibria, or homeostases, such as our blood values, are disturbed. The content of our blood is a sophisticated combination of constituents that change in composition when we ingest food.
Keeping our blood count stable is a basic necessity of life and disruption of this ensures that the all hands on deck signal is automatically given. The monitoring system in our brain wants all homeostates to return to normal as soon as possible and therefore puts our body to work to digest, process and dispose of the consumed food.
Our digestive organs have to work hard to achieve this and afterwards need time to recover. Just like we have to catch our breaths after heavy work. That wouldn’t be a problem, if only we would indeed give our organs time to recover. In the past that wasn’t too difficult. Food was not always available and we were often forced to give our bodies a rest. During these periods of scarcity, our body got time to recover. Today, only we can control how often and how much we eat. Only we can stop ourselves. But we usually don’t.
The life our bodies were designed for has radically changed
In our current era of supermarkets and refrigerators, food is available anytime, anywhere. Originally, we always had to seize any food we came across with both hands, because otherwise we could starve. In addition, getting food cost a lot of effort, which cost energy.
It is therefore in our nature to eat anything that comes our way. Energy-dense foods are particularly attractive to us. In short, due to the present abundance and the ease with which our food gets to our plates, a very unnatural situation has arisen. In fact, it is not surprising that so many people have weight and health issues.
By fasting periodically, we actually mimic the living conditions for which we were made. The combination of pure and healthy food, regular exercise and intermittent fasting ensures that your body can function as it was intended.
The benefits of intermittent fasting are huge
Not only my gut and logic support the idea that intermittent fasting is good for you. Science also endorses it. For example, in 2014 a study was published by a team from the University of California. In this study, it was found that fasting for three days ensures that your entire immune system regenerates. Damaged and old cells turned out to be removed and brand new cells built up at high speed. In addition, when the subjects did this more often during the following months, decreasing levels of potentially harmful enzymes and hormones were observed.
This restorative effect was also noticed in other studies. For example, Alzheimer’s patients appeared to benefit from fasting periods. The same was witnessed in other disorders in which protein deposits are a problem. In people with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, significant wins were made in lowering the so-called risk markers, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation values. A similar effect was seen in diabetic patients, whose insulin sensitivity was found to increase and blood sugar levels remained more stable.
In addition, it turned out that people started burning fat again. If you fast for less than three days at a stretch, you will burn fat during those three days. You’ll have to, because there’ll be not much else to use up. So you’ll lose body fat. If you don’t overdo it and go on for too long, your metabolism won’t go down and you won’t go into starvation mode. As a result, you won’t get the yo-yo effect of crash diets and the effect will be permanent. In short, intermittent fasting has many benefits.
How do you fast periodically?
There’s no set way to fast periodically.In fact, anything that changes your normal pattern, by eating only a limited part of the day and taking in fewer calories, is called intermittent fasting.Even the phenomenon that you tend to eat a little more after a fast is part of it.It is the imitation of our natural diet in all its facets.
In practice, you could go with only having a light evening meal two days a week. Or you could fast for up to 72 hours. In my opinion, longer is not such a good idea, because, as already mentioned, when fasting longer your metabolism will adjust and your body will start running on less energy. This teaches your body to burn more economically and you will eventually gain weight.
Be kind to yourself and take steps that you can handle
For those who currently eat like most people do – many meals from waking up to sleep – it can be a bridge too far to skip main meals right away. In that case, it is advisable to start by cutting out evening snacks, followed by any snacks during the day. Note: many drinks, such as juice, soda, wine and the likes, are actually food and should be avoided.
The moment you can stick to three meals a day without a problem, you can take the next step. For many people, breakfast is the easiest meal to skip. That means eating your first meal at lunchtime. Note that you are not supposed to do this every day. Otherwise your metabolism will adjust as well. In short, with intermittent fasting we want to avoid predictability altogether.
Did skipping breakfast go well for you? In that case, you can go one step further. You can arrange your pattern exactly the way it suits you. Make sure that the meals you do eat are nutrient-dense and nutrient-rich. Can’t do it for a week (or two)? No problem. Every step in the right direction is one and a hiccup is not a problem.
The 5:2 pattern and other variations
In practice, it seems that people do like to introduce some logic into their intermittent fasting practice. Many people find the 5:2 pattern the easiest to stick to. This pattern has you, for example, eating only a light evening meal on Monday, eat your regular three meals on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by only a light evening meal on Thursday. You eat like you normally would during the rest of the week. The following week you could pick Tuesday and Friday for your fasting days.
Do you find it easier to eat breakfast and then fast for the rest of the day? Fine as well, of course. The point is that your system works for you and that it somewhat mimics our original diet.
How I do it I myself
I myself regularly use the 5:2 pattern, when I only eat a meal at the end of the afternoon. Or I breakfast late in the day and only consume two meals that day. I vary my fasting sessions to make my schedule fit nicely into my social life. This way I can always join in for a nice meal when I want to. I plan my fasting days when I have a lot of work to do. During these days fasting is easiest for me.
Once every few months I won’t eat for two whole days. Then, my last meal is the evening meal on day 1, after which I eat nothing at all on days 2 and 3. My first meal is breakfast on day 4. It also happens that I don’t do intermittent fasting for several weeks in a row. The variation is now so ingrained that it comes naturally to me.
Always keep using your common sense. It may be that, in your situation, it is not such a good idea to fast. For example if you are recovering from an illness, are pregnant or when your weight is already low. When in doubt, consult a therapist in your area with knowledge and experience in this area.