Intermittent Fasting: Why What We Eat Is As Important As When We Eat

Intermittent fasting has been gaining momentum in the media, and in medical research. It has been proven effective in weight loss, blood sugar regulation, stem cell regeneration and improving other biochemical markers of health. However, the idea of fasting to some may be intimidating or clouded by myths and misunderstandings about how our body handles fasting for an extended period of time.

Let’s start with the basics, what is intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting is exactly as it sounds, periodic times of fasting where consumption is restricted to non-caloric fluids such as water, tea, and coffee (black no milk or sugar). On fasting days it is recommended that a salted bone broth is consumed to maintain adequate sodium levels. The main types of intermittent fasting are:

1.    Daily, 16:8: Consists of a daily routine in which 16 hours are spent fasting, with an 8 hour “eating window”. For example, one may eat from 10 am – 6 pm, and would fast from 6pm-10am the following day.

2.  Multi-day, 24 or 36 hours: This regime consists of doing a full 24 or 36 hours fast 2-3 times a week.

Different types of fasting will yield different results. A longer fast, for example, will be more efficacious than a shorter duration fast, therefore it is able to be done less frequently. It is important to keep in mind that fasting is individualized based on the desired outcome. It is important to discuss what will work best for you with your health care practitioner.

Why fast? Similar to the ketogenic diet which was discussed in last week’s post (click here to read) fasting decreases insulin release. Without short term glucose and insulin spikes throughout the day, the body begins to burn existing energy stores (glycogen and fat) to produce energy. As mentioned above fasting is an effective way to improve insulin sensitivity, promote weight loss and increase cell regeneration.

It may seem counter-intuitive that fasting increases your energy, and promotes regeneration of cells, as we have developed a negative association between the word fasting and starvation. However, research shows when our bodies are in a fasted state the hormonal shifts increase energy, promote fat burning and increase growth and regeneration. A fasted state induces a cellular process known as autophagy. Autophagy is a process in which the body identifies excess or dysfunctional components of cells and releases or recycles them.  In a fasted state the body is also releasing growth hormone. This promotes regrowth and regeneration of our cells from the calories consumed when the fast is broken. During a fast, the body releases noradrenaline, a molecule that increases energy. Lastly as mentioned above fasting induces a state of low insulin which allows the body to burn its stored fat as fuel. The result, an increase in energy, fat burning, and cell regeneration.

Fasting isn’t for everyone. Circumstances in which an individual is underweight, malnourished or nutritionally compromised should not fast. Individuals on medication or with metabolic concerns(i.e diabetes, PCOS, hypoglycemia) should discuss fasting with their primary health provider before attempting it. Book an appointment today for more information!


This blog has been adapted from the Bulletproof podcast featuring Jason Fung, MD,  a nephrologist and a leading global expert on intermediate fasting. If you would like to learn more about intermittent fasting I encourage you to listen to the full podcast:

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