Is intermittent fasting good for you?

Author: Dr. Michelle Durkin on 17 July 2018

Today's post was triggered by a question I had recently on the Lorne Brooker Show. A caller asked my opinion on the health benefits of intermittent fasting and we had quite the discussion!

I have been intermittent fasting on and off for approximately 6 months now and I really enjoy it and see the benefits. Five years ago I would have been a little skeptical because I used to be one of those people who would get a little bit "hangry" if I missed a meal.

So what exactly is intermittent fasting and why would someone try it?

Intermittent fasting is best described as shortening your eating window in your day. Instead of eating 3 meals, and maybe snacks, over a 16 hour period and fasting for 8 hours (when you are sleeping), you eat over an 8-12 hour period and fast for 12-16 hours instead.

The easiest way to accomplish this effectively is to skip or delay breakfast.

What??? Isn't breakfast the most important meal of the day?

Well - it depends.

What needs to be emphasized is that intermittent fasting is a strategy that isn’t appropriate for everyone. 

I would only recommend intermittent fasting to someone who is already eating a nutrient dense diet with a higher amount of good fats, adequate protein, lots of colourful veggies, and a low intake of grain-based carbohydrates.

This is not for someone eating your standard North American diet OR the Canada Food Guide. This is for a person who is fully fat-adapted and isn't dependent on simple carbohydrates for energy.

I would also not recommend intermittent fasting for children, teenagers, or women who are still menstruating and have higher stress levels.

One of the best ways to know if you’re fat-adapted is whether or not you’re hungry first thing in the morning.

If you’re hungry first thing in the morning, trying to force yourself to skip breakfast is a recipe for disaster (fatigue, headaches, irritability) and potential over-eating later in the day (due to hormone dysregulation). This used to be me.

I started to change my breakfast from whole grain cereals, fruit smoothies, and oatmeal to ones that included more protein and good fats - eggs with veggies, leftovers, avocado with veggies instead of fruit in my smoothies, and muffins made out of zucchini and almond butter instead of whole wheat flour or oats. Over time I noticed that I no longer had that starving feeling first thing in the morning. I became more fat-adapted.

Be aware however that some people never get to a point where they feel like they can skip breakfast, and that is OK too.

Listening to your own body trumps anything that anyone else says — even if they’re an "expert".

With all of that said, skipping or delaying breakfast — often referred to as intermittent fasting — has been shown to offer numerous health benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Effective Weight Management Strategy – skipping meals sends a signal to our genes to up-regulate fat metabolism. This allows stored body fat to become the preferred source of fuel rather than having to eat something.
  • Promotes “Caloric Efficiency” – your metabolic needs can be met on fewer ingested calories. This is actually a genetically programmed response  to preserve health and energy during periods of days without food in hunter-gatherer times or during a famine.
  • Delays Aging — anti-aging literature clearly links fewer ingested calories with longer lifespans. Why? — one of the things that will accelerate the aging of your cells quickly are Advanced Glycated end products or AGEs. These are only produced when sugar is in your blood too long and starts attaching to proteins.
  • Better Brain Function - fasting increases levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor). This is a protein that interacts with the parts of brain that regulate memory, learning and higher cognitive function. Fasting will also increase neurogenesis, the process of building new neurons.

One trick you can use to delay your first meal without the experience of low energy, brain fog, or headaches is to add some medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) to your morning coffee instead of milk and/or sugar.

Approximately 2 teaspoons of coconut oil, grass-fed butter or MCT oil that you buy at the health food store will be enough to keep your brain sharp & energy high until your first meal. Some people also add cinnamon to further enhance fat-burning and blood sugar balance.

So here's the bottom line - intermittent fasting can have a place in a healthy eating strategy, provided you’re already fat-adapted, you’re eating whole, natural food when you do eat, and you tune in to your body’s hunger and satiety signals.

If you want to read more information on this topic and the science behind it I recommend the book The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung.

Now I would love to hear from you! Have you ever tried intermittent fasting, and if so, how did it go for you? Leave a comment below and I'll be back next week with another edition of Doctor as Teacher Tuesday!

2 Replies to “Is intermittent fasting good for you?”

Diana Farquharson

I would like to hear more.

Dr Michelle Durkin ND

If you want to read more information on this topic and the science behind it I recommend the book The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung.

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