Keto. Paleo. Plant-based. Mediterranean. Macro-counting. When it comes to diets, there are as many different ways to eat as there are foods to eat, and finding the plan that works for you can be challenging. But rather than focus on WHAT you eat, maybe you should try focusing on WHEN you eat. That’s the idea behind and one of the rules for Intermittent Fasting, or IF, as it’s more commonly known. Less of a diet than a lifestyle, IF works by limiting all calorie consumption to a specific window of time, followed by a period of fasting. According to research done by John Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson, Ph.D., the body will burn through its sugar stores and go into fat-burning mode after several hours without food, a process he refers to as “metabolic switching.”
While the fat-burning mode is great for shedding those extra pounds, IF has so many more benefits than simply weight loss, especially in women over 50. Things like lower insulin levels, lower blood sugar, reduced risk of some diseases, and even mental clarity may be experienced by those who consistently use the IF method.
“Fasting is an incredible tool and a great way to give our digestive system a rest and allow our body to focus on getting rid of inflammation,” explains Gabrielle Brick, Holistic Nutrition Specialist, and Executive Coach. “When done consistently in a gentle, healthy, balanced way, and when combined with proper nutrient intake, it can help stabilize metabolism.”
If the idea of “fasting” still sounds scary, change your way of thinking. IF is not about starvation but more of a restructuring or redistribution of your daily calories. You should also note that not all IF methods are created equal, and finding the schedule that works best for your lifestyle is key. The following rules and guidelines can help you get started.
While there are several approaches to IF, the one you may be most familiar with is the 16:8 method. This schedule consists of an 8-hour eating window followed by 16 hours of fasting. If that sounds like a lot, remember that most of those fasting hours will occur while you sleep. Basically, it boils down to no snacking after dinner and holding off on breakfast until a few hours after you wake. In fact, the chances are good that you may have already done this unintentionally.
“This fasting timeline is powerful because it is realistic and practical. It will also create balance and keep the metabolism functioning well,” explains Brick. She recommends finishing dinner a solid three hours before bed for best results.
“The body’s job at night is to focus on rejuvenation and healing,” she says. “This schedule allows the body to do its job while in the resting state.”
Whether you are fasting daily, on alternate days, or only once a week, avoid the temptation to cram an excess amount of food into your non-fasting period. While part of the appeal of IF is that it plays well with any foods and doesn’t require you to count calories or macros, that doesn’t mean that it’s time to load up on burgers, fries, pizzas, and pasta. Instead, eat as you normally would, focusing on nutrient-dense foods that will keep you feeling full rather than gorging yourself on empty calories. Aim for lean proteins to help with muscle mass, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and veggies to help power you through the day. Brick recommends choosing organic, whole foods whenever possible. You can also eat Fast Bars in between meals without breaking the fast. Use coupon code “PRIME” to get $10 off.
No, really—HYDRATE! Ditch the sugary sodas and coffee drinks for good old H2O. “I consider this the most basic rule of IF,” says Brick. She advises starting first thing in the morning with a solid 8 oz of spring water to flush the system and help the body rid itself of the toxins it was cleaning up while we slept.
Besides keeping your body functioning smoothly throughout your fasting state, proper hydration can also alleviate any feelings of hunger, especially in the early stages of IF. If you crave a little more variety, switch things up with a cup of unsweetened herbal tea. Not only will it not break your fast, but it may also provide you with an additional antioxidant boost. For those people who can’t start their day without a cup of joe, good news! While it may not be the best choice due to the caffeine, you can enjoy a cup of black coffee without breaking your fast.
IF isn’t one size fits all. Brick cautions that people who suffer from eating disorders or emotional or addictive patterns could be triggered by the approach. As with any diet change, it is always wise to consult with your doctor before embarking on the journey.
“Intermittent fasting is a tool, and it’s not for everyone,” says Brick, explaining that there are several nuances that apply to vibrant, healthy living, including activity level. “What works for one may not work for another. Understanding your bio-individual needs versus focusing on a diet fad will always help achieve the necessary goals.”
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