Maybe Breakfast Isn't the Most Important Meal of the Day: The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

6:54 AM

Maybe try not eating every hour of every day. #science

If you're anything like me, you're familiar with fasting (not eating during certain times - ON PURPOSE!) but thought it was for monks hidden away in a mountain somewhere. Certainly not for a busy person living in the land of plenty who admittedly lives for food. Yet, here I am, getting ready to talk about intermittent fasting at 4 am on a Saturday while the coffee brews. (Being awake at this time was not my plan, by the way. The kid has weird ideas about when morning begins.)

 Anyway, I've been on a ketogenic/low carbohydrate eating plan for a couple years, and it was super successful in helping me lose - and keep off - about 15 to 20 lbs of post-baby weight. The problem now is that I don't necessarily want to lose any more, but I'm also not stoked about gaining it back. 

So my haphazard approach to maintenance these last few months has been cycling the carbs on and off for a few days each week. The problem is that refraining during the "off" days are especially hard when excess carbs are back in your system. WELL HELLO CRAVINGS!


 Then last week I happened across the idea of the 5:2 model of intermittent fasting because of a TIME article that mentioned both it and Benedict Cumberbatch in the first sentence. Tip: if you mention Sherlock in conjunction with anything, I'll probably listen for at least a minute. Well played, TIME, well played. 

The short story about 5:2 fasting is that you eat normally for 5 days, and fast for 2 every week. (Here, fasting means not abstaining from food completely; just keeping daily consumption under about 500 calories.) "Ok", I thought. This doesn't seem insanely difficult, and it means not counting carbs - which gets to be old hat after a while. 

Then I saw there's another version of this plan where you fast for 16 hours a day, and eat normally the other 8 hours. This is what I chose to experiment with. (More on the specifics later.) Anyway, it turns out, what ol' Benedict and others know is that during the fasting times or days, your body burns its stored glycogen, essentially causing a slow fat burn and revitalizing your metabolism. 

Which sounds pretty good, to be honest. And the science is valid. (You know me; I trust the science.) But here's the better part: it's really good for your brain, too. Lots of doctors seem to agree that fasting can make brain neurons resistant to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease - which runs in my family. Here's the main idea behind how fasting helps cells:

“We know that the accumulation of cellular damage is the cause of many diseases,” says Dr. Luigi Fontana, a professor of nutritional science at Washington University in St. Louis and Italy’s University of Brescia. But when you go long periods without food, the resulting metabolic changes appear to stimulate “autophagy,” or a natural cleaning out of your body’s damaged cells. “Cells start to eat dysfunctional proteins, organelles, and mitochondria, and this kind of cleaning of garbage and regeneration may be very beneficial,” he explains.

What's exciting about this possibility for me is that I can allow myself a more balanced diet - including good carbs like whole grain (and fruit! Oh, fruit, I've missed you) and still keep my weight level. All while possibly reducing my chances of developing dementia that runs in my family. I know that genes account for a lot when it comes to these diseases, but even delaying what may be inevitable seems like a better plan than just waiting around for it to take me. I'm going to put up a fight, at least.



So what I've been doing for a week now is beginning my fast at 8 pm in the evening, and not eating again until noon the next day. (This is the 16:8 daily plan - a good place for beginners like me.) It's really not too difficult because you're sleeping for most of it, and essentially you're just skipping breakfast. But OH! You can still have coffee in the morning (!) as long as there's no sugar in it, and very tiny amounts of cream or milk. Don't forget to drink your water, too. 

After a week of intermittent fasting, I feel rejuvenated and not deprived of anything. Which is an oddly great feeling after 2 years of avoiding all sugar and most grains. Not eating breakfast is a little against my nature, but I keep pretty busy and the morning is over before I know it.

Mental clarity is another hyped benefit of fasting; I don't think I'm ready to take on Ken Jennings at Jeopardy, but at least I've got it inside me to write a blog post, which requires more clarity than I've had in months, to be honest. 

Plus, when the clock strikes noon every day, it's like a mini-party; I dance a little on the inside and eat a healthy lunch - fruit and all! It's a nice feeling of accomplishment followed by an instant reward. Not eating late night snacks isn't as difficult for me as not eating breakfast, because I usually wake up hungry. But I'm slowly becoming less hungry in the morning as my body adjusts to this new thing. 

Of course, I have to tell you all that I'm not a doctor OR a scientist, and you should probably not blame me if you do this and it somehow works out poorly for you. That's a reasonable disclaimer, right? Ok good. Now that TJ decided to go back to sleep after all, it's time for that coffee. 

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