Updated: May 6
The holiday season is upon us, which means the emergence of things we love (the call for gratitude, family time, Grandma’s apple pie, and green bean casserole), and things we love less (calories from all of the holiday goodies and the diets that follow). What if, this year, instead of going down the age ol’ feast-then-diet rabbit hole; you found an eating strategy that kept the holiday weight gain at bay and reduced the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and minimized aging?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is an eating strategy with such bold claims. There are two different types of IF: one where you minimize calories on one or two days per week, and another where you restrict eating to certain hours per day. I have been using the latter strategy known as Time-Restricted Eating (TRE) for a couple of months now, and I have to say that it works great for me and my body.
The Low-Down. There’s a lot of research happening around IF right now. In addition to weight loss benefits, there’s some indication IF activates a seemingly magical anti-aging and disease-fighting cellular recycling process called autophagy. I’ve been totally nerding out on autophagy and this is what I have gathered: studies have shown that after glucose stores deplete through fasting, the body turns to its own cells for energy. This would be dangerous if we were in an actual starvation state, but this is 21st century America and food is everywhere. So luckily for us, we can fast just long enough for the body to burn up misfolded, pre-cancerous cells and then break the fast before the body burns up good cells and muscle. Sounds like a holy grail, right? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons before you make up your mind.
The Pros: looking beyond weight loss and autophagy. At 41 years old, I had never in my life “forgotten to eat.” My life revolves around food and IF forces me to be more mindful about what I am eating and when. As someone with little self-control around food, I find IF’s “all-or-nothing” approach to eating works well for me.
The Cons. Alternatively, not everyone finds the all-or-nothing approach sustainable. Also, there are inarguably social implications that go along with skipping mealtime. Since we are accustomed to the ritual of breaking bread with friends and family, some people could find IF especially challenging over the holidays.
The Strategies. Everyone is different, but, in case you decide to give IF a try, I want to share my strategies with you:
· If you are new to fasting, I recommend starting with an 8 hour fast. If you find fasting is working for you, work your way up to longer fasts and shorter feeding windows.
· You don’t need many calories to sleep, so I suggest doing your fast through the night.
· Break your fast with healthy fats like eggs or avocado.
· Don’t snack or nibble while you cook as this breaks your fast. It is especially important to be attentive to this one over the holidays.
· Up your water intake while you are fasting. Herbal tea is allowed. My favorite teas (Good Earth’s Sweet & Spicy and Stash’s Licorice Spice) are sweet enough for my sugar tooth to drink without any added sweeteners.
· Consider taking a probiotic during your feeding window.
· Don’t be afraid to exercise while fasting. Exercise accelerates all the benefits of IF!
Things To Watch For/Considerations
· Always listen for the signs the body is sending you. Dizziness or lightheadedness can be signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Do not feel guilty about breaking your fast if this happens.
· Never fast if you are underweight or pregnant.
· Talk to your health care provider before starting IF.
The Bottom Line. There is no one right way to survive the holidays. Everyone is different and IF may not be the answer for all people. Even if it works for you now, you may need to reassess in the future as age and lifestyle changes. I always encourage you to search for an eating plan that works for you and your body, at this time. In other words: you do you!
There’s still a lot of research and discoveries happening around intermittent fasting and autophagy. These resources are worth checking out even before you talk to your health care provider.
• In 2016, Yoshinori Ohsumi received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy. Read more about his research and discoveries in the following press release: www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2016/press-release/
• For additional resources and citations, check out the web article “Intermittent Fasting and Its Beneficial Effects On The Body” by Samantha Ferguson. www.diabetesincontrol.com/intermittent-fasting-and-its-beneficial-effects-on-the-body/
Mindy is a columnist for "Montana Woman Magazine." Her column "The Real Levitation Experience" shares expertise for elevating health & wellness that she has acquired through her certifications as a personal trainer and life coach. Mindy is also founder of Kalispell’s Levitation Nation Aerial Studio, where the catch phrase “fitness is fun” is embodied alongside a culture of movement & women empowerment. For more about Mindy, please visit: https://www.levitationnation.org/mindy