Whoever said that eating at night will make you gain weight never heard of intermittent fasting. Though of course eating throughout the day AND night is a sure way to gain weight, saving all of your calories for the evening may actually do the opposite!
Intermittent fasting basically involves skipping meals and eating on an alternative schedule in order to closely mimic the way our bodies were meant to run. Long, long ago food wasn’t as readily available as it is today. The periods of famine were beneficial at helping the human body to learn how to most effectively utilize its nutrient stores. Today, we can mimic famine by deciding to abstain from foods for a certain period of time either daily, or multiple times weekly. There are many ways of doing this, but some of the most popular are: Avoiding all foods for 16 hours out of the day, and eating 2-3 meals during the remaining 8 hours of the day. This is the format that I personally use, with intake starting around 5 pm and ending around 1 am. This I find to be the easiest of the fasting patterns, as most people are so busy during the day that the hours slip by easier. A simple way to start, is to begin by setting aside 12 hours daily where you do not eat. This is a healthy goal for everyone. Once this is routine, gradually extend the hours until you reach 16 hours of fasting.
Eating a regular, healthy diet 5 out of 7 days each week, and then taking 2 days, not necessarily consecutive, where intake is dropped significantly to 500 or 600 calories. This can be an easier way to break into fasting; though for some who need a set routine, the ability to vary which is the calorie-restricted day may lead to putting it off for another day that doesn’t come for a while. To alleviate this tendency, what some people do is make fasting an every other day thing. Meaning one day of normal eating, followed by one day of calorie-restricted eating, and so on.
Others choose to take it a step farther, and eat their regular diet 5-6 days each week, and then do a complete 24 hour fast (no intake of foods) 1-2 days each week. This dietary pattern can be extremely hard to adhere to, and is not generally advised for diabetics. A combination of methods can also be utilized. For example some people choose to include veggies and fruits as fasting foods, eating only those during the day, and just one large meal at night, mixing in days here and there of significant calorie restriction. So why do this? What benefits might you see from intermittent fasting?
1.) Greater weight loss with increased muscle formation. Typically, our body stores extra sugars we eat to have a reserve of energy for use later. However, when we continuously eat throughout the day our body keeps building up these stores and using them over and over, versus depleting them and then using fat for fuel. By fasting (especially when coupled with exercise), you allow your sugar stores (glycogen) to run down to a point where your body then recognizes the need to start burning fat. For those who choose to eat most of their calories at night, they get an extra boost to muscle building given growth hormone is released at night. Couple increased growth hormone with a high-protein intake before bed, and the reward is increased muscle growth.
2.) Increased insulin sensitivity and lower serum glucose levels in those with elevated glucose readings.
3.) Improved cardiac health. Studies show that fasting can help lower blood pressure and increase the body’s ability to handle cardiac stress, resulting in less injury to heart and brain cells in those who have subsequently suffered a heart attack or stroke.
4.) Increased longevity with an improved quality of life due to a decreased risk for the development of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
5.) Additionally, fasting during the day gives you some additional bonuses such as:
- Increased money in your wallet. You’ll only be eating foods at home, so no need to spend money at the cafeteria at work or the deli/ coffee shoppe, etc. - More peaceful, relaxed mornings. There’s no need to rush to make a breakfast or pack a lunch for work, so you’ll find yourself having more “me time” in the morning, and a few extra minutes to get to work!
- Finally, no excuse not to exercise! Your lunch hour now becomes your exercise hour. You can use it to take a walk outside, do some chair exercises in your office, or whatever else you can think of to get in a little more physical activity.
- Better dietary choices. Because you’ll only be eating during the hours that you would be home, as long as you only have healthy items in your fridge, there’s no choice but to eat healthy!
- Increased energy and mental clarity during the day.
- Increased feelings of satiety. Research has shown that those who eat the majority of their carbs at night had a greater feeling of fullness and lost more fat than those who ate during the day.
Who would be advised not to try intermittent fasting?
1.) Those with a history of eating disorders.
2.) For diabetics, fasting is an option with clear benefits. Always make sure to check your blood sugars throughout the day. If you are on insulin and you see your glucose readings dropping too low, talk with your health care practitioner about the possibility of lowering your basal insulin dose. Blood sugars drop when there is too much insulin. Rather than adding more food to “feed your insulin,” the right answer for you may be to decrease the insulin.
3.) Women who are breastfeeding are often recommended not to fast. However, studies show that with proper hydration during the fasting period, milk supply will remain normal. Other research shows that the milk from fasting, breastfeeding women tends to be lower in certain minerals including: zinc, magnesium, and potassium. If you are breastfeeding and fasting, consider taking a post-natal multi-vitamin/ mineral supplement. Make sure to read the mineral profile of the supplement though, as many multivitamins do not add sufficient minerals. This is because minerals are larger in size than vitamins, which results in larger, less attractive, more-difficult pills to swallow, which consumers don’t often want.
NOTE: If you’re considering intermittent fasting it’s advised that you first discuss with your medical practitioner and dietitian coach.