intermittent fasting: an explanation and how-to

Intermittent Fasting. It’s a modern term for an age-old concept that probably simply didn’t require a name for most of earth’s history.

A person would eat their food for the day and then stop eating. This, of course, was before the boon of convenience foods, pre-packaged foods, fast foods and microwave-able foods. And it was also before the time of television and the onslaught of time-wasting, mind-numbing inactivity that triggers snacking.

Do you sleep at night for 6-8 hours? Then you’re already fasting. So unless you are somehow throwing back Twinkies in the midst of your slumber, you, my friend, are an experienced intermittent faster. That ought to take a little of the pressure off. But is it possible you could step it up a notch? My guess would be yes.

First, let’s talk about how long is long enough. Fasting has gotten a bad rap. It has unfairly been lumped in with starvation and extremism. And i would agree that we must be very careful not to restrict caloric intake beyond a healthy point. But the goal for intermittent fasting isn’t calorie restriction. You eat healthy, nutritious portions of food in regular intervals during your eating window and then you stop. Which means you begin a mini fast every day following your last meal and you break it the following day before your first.

I’m not a doctor, dietician, scientist or expert so I encourage you to do your own research. Figure out what’s best for you and go with it. Traditionally, the maximum benefits from this type of fasting is found at and beyond the 12 hour mark up to about the 16-18 hour mark. In other words, your eating window would be open anywhere from 12 hours (not as ideal but you’d still likely experience some benefit) down to 6 or 8. You just need to experiment and see what works best for you.

My kitchen is often the hub of our family activity. But that doesn’t mean we should be eating around the clock.

I, personally, started at 8 and have since moved it to 6. Why? Because I had too much trouble fitting three meals into 8 hours and so I decided that two very healthy meals spaced roughly 5 hours apart would suit me better. Same daily caloric intake as in an 8 hour window, but my food sets better. My window is 9am-3pm, which means by the time I head to bed (usually between 8:30-9:30 these days) my last meal is digested and my body can truly enter into rest.

My quality of sleep is sooooo much better now.

Now, we should probably look at why this is beneficial. Because forgoing food for some trend just doesn’t make sense. And what about that chocolate I always promise myself once the kids are in bed?, you may be asking. Let’s talk about that.

To begin with, consider a few things about yourself and answer these questions honestly…

  1. Do you notice swelling in your hands, ankles, feet or face?
  2. Does your stomach tend to be bloated during the day/evening, especially following food consumption?
  3. Do you suffer from brain fog?
  4. Do you often feel sluggish?
  5. Do you deal with frequent gas or abdominal discomfort?
  6. Are you commonly irritable without really understanding why?
  7. Do you suspect you may be dealing with leaky gut?

Obviously, any one of those “symptoms” could be related to a variety of underlying problems. But all of those symptoms are directly related to an overtaxed, exhausted, worn-down and burned out digestive system. And there are two key ways to repair that problem:

—>Cleaning up our diet and finally accepting that all calories aren’t created equal and that our bodies will become what we feed them, to a great degree.

—>Resting from eating, intentionally.

Our brains require plenty of complex carbohydrates for optimal function. So while many diet trends tout the need for low carb intake, often the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates is not made distinct. Refined foods like white flours, white rice, white pasta, sugar, etc. are filled with simple carbs and they will deplete your system as well as encourage fat-loss resistance. On the other hand, complex carbs that should be plentiful in a diet for optimal brain and body health include sweet potato, brown rice, whole grains (unless you have a true sensitivity), and even fruits. The natural sugars in fruit doesn’t affect the body in the same was processed or refined sugars do, though most people will still find it beneficial to use moderation in the consumption of these deliciously nutritious foods.

That may have seemed a little like a rabbit trail suddenly discussing carbohydrates when we’re supposed to be talking about fasting, but I believe it’s important to look at them together. Especially given the latest push to reduce carbs all around. Have you ever tried reducing your carbohydrate intake only to suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by the fact that carbs are in just about everything? What on earth is a person to eat if they want to lose that stubborn weight? And what kind of iron will does one have to have to endure the plan long-term? Because the minute you try eliminating the bulk of your carb intake, you’re likely to crave that slice of homemade bread or those luscious looking strawberries growing in your garden.

The thing is, unless a food is a trigger for you personally or you have a sensitivity to it or you’ve identified it as an inflammatory food, there is no reason to blacklist what God has abundantly provided through the rich soil of the earth.

The problem, I believe, comes into play when our systems can no longer handle the deluge of abuse we subject them to over the years. Our bodies revolt and we find ourselves wearing girdles of fat and thighs of jiggle and nothing we do seems to cure us. At least not with long-term sustainability.

Intermittent fasting allows the digestive system to process the foods we consume, extracting the nutrients. Our bodies then burn through the glucose from the carbohydrates and other foods we’ve eaten that day and once the glucose runs out it turns to our fat stores to fuel us. And therein lies the magic (or more appropriately, the blessing) because when our body is tapping into fat for fuel, it means we’re setting ourselves up for fat loss.

Simple science.

Keep yourself in a fat fueling, fat burning state for awhile and you will see inch loss. You’ll see a reduction in inflammation, cravings, swelling, bloating, gas, irritability and mood swings. And all this because you are simply choosing to allow your system to rest.

You will note this isn’t a fad diet because it isn’t a diet at all. And it doesn’t involve spending hours on a treadmill, at the gym or heavy lifting. (Side note: I believe physical exercise is super important to overall wellness but that’s for another day.) This is simply re-learning when to eat and when not to eat. It’s the intentional flexing of your self-control, which is a muscle that grows stronger the more you use it. And it’s the refusal to torture yourself with food cravings by unnecessarily eliminating (or drastically reducing) healthful foods.

The elementary act of resting your digestive system will clear brain fog, giving you a clarity you may not have remembered was possible. Don’t believe me? Give it a try!

Do you have experience with intermittent fasting? Or are interested in experimenting with it? I’d love to hear your feedback. And feel free to ask any questions! As I mentioned, I am no authority on this or any other topic, but I’m happy to encourage you and share what I do know. 🙂

Be sure to check out these other related posts:

How I’ve lost 30+ pounds (without obsessing or gimmicks)

Anxiety, Mindless Eating, and my Battle Back to Health

Walking Redeemed





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