Wow, it has been a hot minute since I’ve touched base on the blog! As you may know, I’m in the final year of my nutrition degree, so it has been a whirlwind to say the least! As promised in my last blog post, I’m going to be discussing intermittent fasting today. This is actually a topic I’ve wanted to discuss ever since I started Zoetic Nutrition in June, so I’m really excited to talk about this with you today!
Just a disclaimer that the information in this post is based on my personal opinion and experiences, as well as preliminary research on the topic – because research is limited on this eating pattern, please interpret the information below as it best fits your life and needs. Additionally, I am not yet a certified health professional, so if you have pre-existing medical conditions, especially those related to blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, or hormone imbalances, please consult with your physician or a registered dietitian before altering your dietary pattern.
So, what is intermittent fasting? It is a pretty vague term, as it encompasses many styles of fasting:
- Some fasting protocols include fasting for a full day once per week,
- Others include a 5:2 approach, in which you fast or eat very few calories for 2 days of the week, followed by 5 days of normal consumption,
- Time-restricted fasting protocols, where fasting takes place for anywhere from 12-20 hours everyday,
- And of course, there are many religious fasting practices that have been followed for years globally.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t necessarily mean you eat less food, however caloric deficits are a feasible option when following any of the above protocols. And although research is still limited on intermittent fasting, as its popularity is quite new, animal and human studies seem to show that intermittent fasting can potentially:
- Improve insulin resistance and blood glucose management,
- Contribute to healthy weight loss,
- Improve blood lipid distributions (i.e. improve HDL, LDL, and total triglycerides),
- Reset your circadian rhythm, which may positively influence gut health, and
- Therefore has the potential to decrease the risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
I have personally been practicing the time-restricted protocol, which basically means I create a shortened “eating window” during the day, and prolong my overnight fast. For example, most days I eat my first meal somewhere between 11am-1pm, and eat my last meal before 9pm – this means that my “eating window” is roughly 8-10 hours, and my “fasting window” is roughly 14-16 hours. I want to emphasize that this isn’t a strict window, (i.e. you don’t have to eat your first and last meal at X time) but rather a general guideline; how long my fasting and eating windows are depends on many variables in my life such as my mood (and probably hormones as a female), how busy my day is, etc. I have been practicing this eating pattern since mid-summer, and I’ve been loving it for multiple reasons:
It is convenient for my schedule
I personally find I’m most productive in the mornings, so I typically try to get most of my homework/planning/emails/etc. done between the time I wake up and noon. Since I’m still in school, I usually have at least one class in the morning as well. By prolonging my first meal, I don’t lose valuable productivity during those morning hours by thinking about and preparing breakfast.
Prolonging also serves another important purpose for me: coffee. As I mentioned in this blog post, caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea actually have compounds that inhibit iron absorption. Since I fast during the morning, I usually have a cup or two of coffee during this time before my first meal. Studies have shown that iron inhibition only occurs when coffee or tea is consumed with a meal or within 2 hours after a meal; therefore, by having coffee in the morning before my first meal, I maximize my iron intake for the rest of the day while still enjoying my caffeine, guilt-free.
I (generally) consume less food
I have a big appetite, I won’t lie about that. I’ve always struggled with controlling my food intake, and I find intermittent fasting really helps me with this. I think its a result of two impacts: having a smaller eating window means I have less time per day to eat, usually resulting in only 2-3 meals as opposed to 5-6 throughout the day. Additionally, consuming less meals in this short time-frame also means I can justify larger portions at these 2-3 meals – consuming only a few larger meals, as opposed to multiple smaller ones, makes me feel more satiated and full for a longer period of time.
I think about food WAY less
Food is always on my mind – as a nutrition student, I guess that is a given. However, I’ve also tracked my food intake on and off for the past 6 years or so. Being involved in athletics through high school, the idea of consuming 5-6 small meals throughout the day to “boost my metabolism” was ingrained in my brain. If you’ve done that before, I’m sure you can relate: eating so many meals throughout the day is EXHAUSTING, and I found I was constantly planning my next meal or mapping out my day of eating. It actually got to a point where it was stressful, time-consuming, and straight-up mentally unhealthy. Intermittent fasting has really allowed me to realign with my natural hunger and satiety cues (normal hormonal signals that all of us have, but very few are in tune with!) and be less pragmatic with my food.
So what does a typical day of eating look like for me? I always start my day with coffee and water – it is really important to re-hydrate in the morning after waking up. Although I don’t need coffee to be alert in the morning, I find it comforting and it suppresses my appetite while I do some work, go to the gym, or go to class. Depending on how busy I am and how early I begin feeling hungry, I’ll eat a hearty lunch somewhere between 11am-1pm. Most often I’m on campus at this time, so it’s usually leftover stirfry, chili, a hearty salad, or leftover pasta. I usually have a small meal/snack around 3-5pm; this could be toast and peanut butter, some trail mix and a piece of fruit, or even a small serving of leftovers. My final meal of the day is usually between 6-9pm, depending on when I had my in-between snack, and usually looks similar to my lunches.
And yes, you can stray from your eating and fasting windows! We are human after all – sometimes I go for supper late with friends or family and eat my last meal at 10pm, or I have an early flight and need to eat at 6am. We live in a food environment where food is always accessible; although intermittent fasting has some potential health benefits, I think the most important take-home messages from practicing intermittent fasting is (1) learning to listen to your body’s hunger and satiety cues, and (2) decreasing the overconsumption that is so normalized in our lives.
Have you done intermittent fasting, or considered it? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want assistance implementing intermittent fasting into your lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to contact me below, here, or on Instagram or Twitter!
Talk soon friends!