There are many benefits that someone can experience using Intermittent Fasting (IF) as a nutritional strategy. By going for extended periods of time without food fuel the human body has the ability to heal itself and reset important hormonal functions. This can aid in better overall health as well as weight loss. Ori Hofmekler described this phenomenon in his Warrior Diet protocols. IF can reduce blood levels of insulin, increase human growth hormone and induce important cellular repair processes reducing inflammation.
A reduction in blood levels of insulin helps the dieter overcome insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a contributing factor to the inability of the body to burn body fat and lose weight. Blood levels of growth hormone may increase as much as five-fold facilitating fat burning and muscle gain. This can aid in a positive metabolic reset by improving the function of the Hypothalmic-Pituitary-Gonadal (HPG) axis.
What is the HPG Axis?
The HPG axis plays a critical role in the regulation of hormones in the body. Kisspeptin proteins are responsible for triggering the release of Gonadotropin (GnRH) from the hypothalmus in response to hunger and fullness hormones - leptin, insulin, ghrelin.
Women have more kisspeptin than men which makes a female's body more sensitive to drops in this essential metabolic protein. Downstream this can affect estrogen production and balance that can also affect the balance of leptin, insulin and ghrelin. A drop can leave a woman feeling a lot hungrier than a man.
What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
Intermittent fasting can be a highly beneficial tool to reset hormonal function and combat hormonal dysfunction. This can be defined as hormone signaling inflammation that is the root cause of leptin resistance and blood sugar problems. IF can help stabilize glucose levels and improve the metabolism. Ori Hofmekler's Warrior Diet introduced the idea of IF being an effective tool for weight loss and detoxification. The diet strategy requires that you fast for an extended period of time followed by a shortened eating window. Within your eating window you must significantly reduce high glycemic foods that negatively impact the human body's inherent cleansing and fat burning mechanisms. Additionally protein and fat must be increased in a proper ratio as lean protein can actually spike insulin. You want to have a ratio of at least 50% protein to 50% fat transitioning to 30% protein to 70% fat. Take a look at Dr. Berg's excellent 3 minute video that gives a good overview chart of recommended foods.
Fasting increases the body's insulin sensitivity and allows the body to preferentially use fat stores for energy. In addition IF takes advantage of the fasting that occurs while you sleep and gives you a 6-8 hour jumpstart into the fast depending on your sleep cycle. I recommend to clients to start with a food awareness week where you fast for 12 hours and eat for 12 hours. During this time it is important to keep a log. This helps to identify high glycemic foods that need to be eliminated and replaced. Then a plan can be established to add a couple of hours each subsequent week until you get to your desired fasting time.
What are the benefits of IF?
IF helps the body take advantage of increased insulin sensitivity that occurs in the last 1/3 of day. Increased insulin sensitivity has many positive effects.
- Increase in human growth hormone (HGH) = increase muscle
- Increase in lipolysis = increase fat burning (decreased insulin levels tell calories to go to mitochondria instead of fat cells)
- Increase in cellular autophagy = recycle proteins/clearing away of damaged cells
- Decrease in insulin levels = pancreas does not have to raise insulin levels to store nutrients
During the IF eating window meals must be high fat with little to no carbohydrates. Fat sustains and balances blood sugar and when not eating enough fat the body can revolt with a condition known as reactive hypoglycemia. Carbohydrates and lean protein are insulin spikers for the pancreas. When insulin is high the body can’t burn fat.
Why you might NOT benefit from IF?
IF as a diet strategy requires that hormones need to be stable and balanced so the body doesn’t perceive 16 hours as a stressor. It is important to make sure that the function of the adrenals, gonadal hormones (testosterone, estrogen, progesterone) and thyroid hormones (T3, T4) is not impaired if you want to pursue intermittent fasting. This strategy is not good for people with low blood sugar, active thyroid issues or female hormonal issues.
A lot of women have spent their adult lives eating low fat, low calorie meals starving themselves in pursuit of weight loss damaging the metabolism. In addition menopausal women are suffering from a natural fluctuation of hormones that brings about symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, etc. that further throws the metabolism off. Adrenal fatigue can also contribute greatly to the imbalance of hormones. Take the simple quiz below to find out if you may have adrenal fatigue or adrenal dysfunction. A hormone balancing product I often recommend to clients to help with this imbalance is called Integrative Therapeutics Cortisol Manager.
Adrenal Fatigue Quiz
- 1Do you have difficulty awakening from sleep in the morning, often hitting the snooze button multiple times?
- 2Have you recently gained weight, especially around your midsection?
- 3Do you feel like you get every cold and flu bug that is going around or that your immune system is shot?
- 4Do you have more difficulty dealing with stress and deadline pressure than you used to?
- 5Do you have a lack of interest in sex?
- 6Do you frequently feel lightheaded upon standing too quickly?
- 7Do you struggle with poor memory or "brain fog"?
- 8Do you feel especially tired in the mornings between 7-9am and afternoons between 3-5pm?
- 9Do you feel the need to snack or eat frequently to maintain normal blood sugar levels?
- 10Do you crave salty foods?
- 11Do you feel extremely tired between 7-10pm but get a second wind if you stay up later?
- 12If you are female, do you struggle with PMS symptoms (such as heavy bleeding, moodiness and fatigue) during your menstrual cycle? If you are male, do you feel like your stamina, energy and ability to maintain muscle have decreased?
- 13Do you frequently have pain in the upper back or neck for no apparent reason?
- 14Do you notice an improvement of symptoms when your stress levels are lower, such as during a vacation of time away from work?
If you answered "yes" to more than 10 of the questions above, you may have adrenal dysfunction, often referred to as adrenal fatigue.
How to prepare the body for IF?
Optimizing nutrition will help to restore proper blood sugar levels that are essential for balancing hormones within the brain. If not eating enough calories in the 8 hour window during the fast the hormonal cycle will be negatively compromised. A good transition to intermittent fasting would be to follow the recommended foods of the ketogenic and paleo diets. Click on the links to see recommended foods. These two diets help to identify healthy carbohydrates and reduce consumption of these carbohydrates over time. In order for IF to be successful a good control over carbohydrate levels is necessary. Another dietary addition that has been helpful is the addition of MCT oil powder. This can help the dieter overcome sugar cravings during the transition to IF - 5 Health Benefits of MCT Oil Powder. Once this goal is achieved consider Crescendo fasting. This is a great way to prepare the body for IF.
Ketogenic Diet Recommended Foods
Do Not Eat
Paleo Diet Recommended Foods
Do Not Eat
Just In Health
For a great overview on the rules of intermittent fasting, check out the video below from Just In Health! Dr. Justin does a great job in his videos of educating his viewers on topics such as: Intermittent Fasting, Thyroid Function, Adrenal Fatigue and Gut Health.
Crescendo fasting and using the recommended foods of Keto and Paleo are a great way to start changing poor eating habits. This combined with food logging can help the dieter create a starting point to begin to implement intermittent fasting. I find with clients that if they can stick to a plan for at least 14 days enthusiasm for the process takes root. Hopefully if you are reading this you have found some useful information to start your Intermittent Fasting Journey!