How did eating get so complicated? Most of us just want to feel healthy, look good, and live a long life. So simple right? Well, not really. The reality is that many of us are unhealthy and struggle with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. So where are we going wrong? One reason is we have an abundance of food in North America and we consume a lot of it each day. The problem is you’d think the more food you eat the healthier you’d be and the longer you’d live…but this is not true. In fact it looks to be the opposite. Research has shown it doesn’t matter if you’re a yeast cell, a spider, a monkey, a dog or a human, eating less food (calorie restriction) will almost always increase longevity. If you love to eat (like me) then this news isn’t what you want to hear. The less calories you consume the longer you’ll live. So does this mean we have to be hungry and miserable all the time to live a long life? Not at all. Let me introduce you to one strategy that provides the many benefits associated with calorie restriction: Intermittent Fasting (IF).
Humans have known the benefits for fasting many centuries. Some argue it’s how we evolved as humans living in between periods of feast and famine. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans all practiced forms IF and knew the benefits of giving your body a break from eating. The Romans were known to advocate eating one meal a day to help digestion and any more would be glutenous. The concept of 3 meals a day became more popular in Europe in the late 18th century and since then has become the norm in many countries. But do we really benefit from eating all day? Research doesn’t think so. Here are some of the proven benefits of calorie restriction:
- Live a longer life (1, 2, 3)
- Weight loss (4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
- Reduce incidence of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and multiple sclerosis (9, 10, 11, 12 ,13, 14)
- Reduce recurrence of breast cancer (15, 16)
- Help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and even improve symptoms (17, 18)
- Reduce blood sugar & improve insulin sensitivity (19, 20)
- Reduce blood pressure and cholesterol (21, 22, 23, 24)
- Improve cognitive ability (25, 26)
- Reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body (27, 28)
You may be asking why would the body function better during IF? Think about this, if during a typical day you start eating the minute you roll out of bed and don’t stop until you call it a night (I used to do this on the regular) you’d spend most of your day in a digesting/fed state. This is because it takes a few hours to process your food and you can often eat your next meal while still digesting the previous. As an analogy I’ll relate this to running (my favorite thing to do). If I were to run every day and didn’t give my body time to rest and recover what would happen? I’d start to break down. This is the same for your digestion and eating. Your gut, microbiome and gastrointestinal tract all need some rest to allow your body’s repair mechanisms to kick in. Digestion is a very laborious process and causes some stress to the body. Rest time allows things like DNA repair, clearing of damaged cells and neuro regeneration to occur. Studies have shown the longer break we give the body between eating the more it can repair and recover from digestion and other damages incurred from the day.
There is no single definition for IF and no single strategy used. It’s an umbrella term used for various eating habits that cycle between a period of ‘fasting’ and ‘non-fasting’. Periods of fasting can range from a few hours, to a day, to a couple of days at a time. What? A couple of days? Hang on, I’m not asking you to do anything crazy, all I’m suggesting is you give your body a bit of a longer break each day. Studies have shown that 12 to 16 hours of fasting a day is a long enough break for your body to repair. Sounds like a long time but it really isn’t when you add a good night’s sleep into the mix. Let’s say you have a well balanced dinner at 6PM and don’t eat anything until breakfast the next morning at 8AM. That right there is a 14 hour fast! It’s so simple. This gives your body time to deplete its glycogen stores, dip into your ketones and start burning fat. It’s as easy as that. No calorie counting, no list of foods you can and can’t eat either. What is important however, is the quality of the food you do eat. I’m not asking you to be a saint but it’s makes a world of difference if you avoid the wrong calories, including refined carbohydrates and sugars. Fill your diet with whole foods like vegetables, healthy proteins and fats.
Before you try IF I suggest you ease into the process, start with one or two days a week and fast for only 8 to 10 hour at a time to get comfortable with IF before extending the fasting period. You can increase fasting times as long as you listen to your body, eat healthy and drink lots of water. Individuals who are hypoglycemic, diabetic, or pregnant (and/or breastfeeding) should avoid any type of calorie restriction until your blood sugar or insulin levels are regulated.
I personally have had a great relationship with IF. I found the 16 hour fast period very easy and works well with my schedule. I thought I’d be tired and hungry all the time during IF but it’s been the opposite experience for me. I have lots of energy, I’m super productive at work, I gained lots of muscle and oddly enough I wasn’t hungry. I’ve tried longer durations of IF but feel that 16 hours is the easiest to adapt without disrupting work, family, and your social life and recommend it to clients and friends. For more information comment below and I’ll get back to as soon as possible.
Eoin Craigie is an Athlete, Running Coach, Personal Trainer, Wim Hof Method advocate and has a passion for living a healthy, authentic life. He trains and compete for endurance events from 5 KM to 100 mile to 24 Hour races. He competes year round in all-weather types, from the frigid Montreal winters to the extreme heat of South Africa and the Florida Everglades. To maintain a work/life balance he practises the Wim Hof Method and includes breathing exercises, mediation, and cold exposure in his daily practise. Eoin has battled personal health issues through the years and through the healing process has become an expert in identifying and treating hormonal, digestive and gut flora imbalances using natural methods. Eoin’s mission is to live a healthy, authentic life and show others we are all capable of more than we believe. He’ll show you the way to perform optimally and push the boundaries of what you think is impossible.
To book your complimentary health strategy session, connect with me at [email protected]