The Free Tool for a Better Body
- Written By:Dr. Amy Shah
I always say that if you could invent a drug or vitamin that could do what intermittent fasting can do, you would be a billionaire. Intermittent fasting is not a diet, it’s not a cleanse and it’s not a quick fix. It is simply a tool you can use to reset your body, reset your mind, and lower inflammation in the body.
As a physician, I started playing with intermittent fasting about three years ago when the research was first coming out, but it wasn’t until this past year that I got it right for my body. So what does intermittent fasting actually mean?
Fasting means that you only consume water or calorie-less liquids for an extended period of time, such as 12 hours or more. Some promote fasting for 16 hours or more, and I see people having benefits with 12 hours to 18 hours. For example, one would stop eating at 7 PM and then start eating again at 7 AM. Or you might even extend it to 10 or 11 AM. Longer fasts are tricky and should only be done under supervision.
The key to fasting effectively is to do it at an interval that makes sense for you — one that you will actually maintain. I do a 14-16 hour fast for about three non-consecutive days in a week. These three days I don’t do hard or long (over 60 minutes) workouts. I stick to yoga or a short HIIT (high intensity interval training) session.
There is a popular diet in the UK called the “5:2" and in this version, you eat a normal diet for five days each week, while fasting the remaining two days. There is also the popular Keto fast, where you eat only "fat" and have no carbohydrates or proteins to keep your body in a "fasting like state." You can try a few methods and find what works for you. For me, doing three non-consecutive days of intermittent fasting is better for keeping those hunger hormones at bay.
There are many studies support using fasting for health benefits. One points out that a break from eating jolts cells into a minor stressful state, making them more capable of later fending off other types of stress (like the type that can lead to disease).There are also studies among people who participate in Ramadan – a month-long religious fast – saying intermittent fasting may improve immunity, lower diabetes risk, and improve heart health.
As for the brain, intermittent fasting (at least in animals) may improve memory and learning and stimulate neuron growth. The animal studies that support intermittent fasting for inflammation and autophagy (cellular clean up also thought to be the fountain of youth) are countless.
For women, there are a few things to note about intermittent fasting. You have to be careful not to starve yourself or your hormones can go out of whack. Animal studies show that intermittent fasting can throw off the reproductive cycle. One of the telltale signs that your hormones are off is the feeling of extreme hunger the day after the fast. That’s your body trying to compensate for what it interprets as starvation. Always be careful. If you take it slowly without fasting for too long, you should not have issues with your hormones.
I hope that after reading this you feel equipped to start your first fast. Ideally try it for three months and check your body's response via blood testing or by tracking symptons.