Many of us have heard of fasting, and surely most of us have fasted for one purpose or the other at least once in our lives. Did you know, however, that making [safe, doctor-monitored] fasting a regular part of your routine, can potentially make a huge impact on your health? Indeed, intermittent fasting (IF), is a powerful tool in the arsenal, alongside many others, to help reverse a multitude of diseases and encourage weight loss.
IF encompasses a whole range of ‘schedules’, is an effective and somewhat novel lifestyle change to consider when one desires weight loss, amongst other health benefits, which we’ll discuss shortly. I share with my patients that the most important point to remember is this- IF is simple, but not easy. It does not require you to track your calories/carbs/protein, it does not tie you to a specific diet, and best of all, it is completely free. Of course, as with any major lifestyle change, please consult with your family doctor before considering IF!
Let’s begin with describing what exactly IF entails. There are many schools of thought regarding which is ‘the best’ schedule to follow. You might consider easing your way in with a 14:10 fast-- that is, fasting for 14 hours and eating in a 10 hour window. Most scientists agree that to get the best bang for your buck, you should aim for at least a 16:8 fast, for it is at this particular threshold where your body will start to reap the metabolic benefits of fasting. It’s also important to understand what exactly should and shouldn't happen during fasting- one can have (and should have) unlimited water. It is also acceptable to drink black coffee and black/green tea- that is, no milk or cream, no sweetener (sugar or artificial). You can also have salt- whether it is in the form of a clear broth or simply a small amount on your tongue. Sounds foreboding, but you will be surprised how it becomes second nature, over time. Essentially, the longer you can fast (over time), the better your body will heal. But how exactly does your body respond when you fast?
Think of fasting as a way for your body to rest. Every time you eat, even the smallest morsel, your body goes into work mode- believe it or not, it takes a lot of time and energy to digest food. However, when the stomach is empty, your body can take that bonus time to focus on any problem areas.
Inflammation (to name a few: diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, acne, hormonal imbalance, even autoimmune disease and ADHD), infection, you name it- any area in your body that potentially needs some work, is attended to. These are the processes that are attended to first, when your body goes into fasting mode.
Once the rest of your body is relatively happy, it can use its reserves, i.e.- fat stores. So, quite literally, your body will melt away your fat! Of course, this does not happen overnight, but it will happen- as the scientific literature has proven. This is why I often tell my patients, when practicing IF, to take measurements (waist, arms, chest, thighs) and pictures once a month. The scale might not move as fast as you’d like, but the inches will fall off.
As with any commitment to a lifestyle change, it is prudent to realise that no human is perfect. There will always be days or even weeks of setbacks. Perhaps you are going on vacation, or to a family function, or you become ill and need to take medications with food. The great thing about IF is that your body remembers! You can fall off the train, but it is easy to get back on track, and I promise that you will actually feel your body relaxing.
This is a flexible and forgiving lifestyle, which, in my opinion, makes it so very desirable. So, grab your steaming hot (black) mug of coffee, your liter water bottle, and join those that are already in the know! I promise, your mind and body will thank you!
Dr Jennifer Prabhu, CEO & Co-founder, Circee Health, Mumbai