Intermittent Fasting: is it for me?

by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.

Intermittent fasting is not something new, it has been part of many religions and cultures for centuries; however, its popularity has growth as of late with the emergence of new research showing potential health benefits. You may see sources telling you to intermittent fast, but that term can mean so much, so here we are going to dive into what this fasting thing is about.

*Note: The information listed below is not specific to breastfeeding or pregnant moms. For more nutrition guidance visit our pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrition articles.

Why Fast?

The good news about this recent trend is that it’s not just a fad promoted by companies or influencers, there is real science behind the why. In both lab rat and human studies, scientists are looking for changes in weight status, glucose regulation, lipid (HDL, LDL, cholesterol) profiles, and inflammatory markers. These are all ways to measure ones’ health and disease risk. In the short-term (22 days to 5 weeks) many studies showed insulin levels decreasingHGH(human growth hormone) levels increasing, and cell repair happening. It is noteworthy the HGH increased dramatically in several studies, because this hormone naturally helps the body promote fat loss and increase lean muscle. Additionally, when the body is fasting the gut and cells can rest and repair improving the gut microbiome (strongly linked to improved overall health). In the longer term, intermittent fasting has been linked to lowered inflammatory markers, improved brain health, and slowing of the aging process in both animals and humans.

Not a one-size-fits-all

This is all super exciting but fasting can come in many shapes. Fasting consists of restricting calorie intake during certain times (fasting) and choosing foods as often and necessary as desired (feeding). These fasting and feeding times are cycled and do not focus on WHAT you eat but WHEN you eat. There are three main types of fasting (outside of religious fasting) that have been studied: alternate day fasting; modified fasting; and time-restricted fasting. Let’s take a glance at the details and study results of each type:

*These finding are a summary of 16 studies

 Timing Can Be Everything

As you’ve probably concluded from above, the time-restricted fasting can be an effective way to improve your health. This schedule is also fantastic for moms because not eating for an entire day will make you hangry, and no one wants mamma hangry! When we really look at time restricted fasting the research has shown that consuming energy earlier in the day, combined with nightly fasting, can give you the best results. There are several reasons why:

  • Nighttime eating can disrupt your circadian rhythm and is associated with higher risk for obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (particularly breast cancer).
  • Gastric emptying and blood flow are higher during the daytime. This means your stomach digests food faster and your body metabolizes it faster in the earlier hours.
  • As the day goes on your metabolic response to glucose gets slower. This means foods you eat later in the day take longer for your metabolism to process.

What to do when you’re a breakfast person:
It’s a myth that you need breakfast immediately when you wake up, or that it helps with weight loss. In fact, extending your fast a couple hours into your day can help your body dig into your fat stores and boost weight loss. My advice? Drink a cup of water immediately upon waking up. This should curb cravings and give your body the hydration and energy you need to start your day. And simply eat breakfast within 2-5 hours of waking.

What to do when you exercise in the morning:
Unless you’re planning on a high-intensity workout at least 50 minutes in length, you should have enough glycogen stored in your body to fuel your workout. If you work out for more than 50 minutes, I recommend eating half an apple to help you get through the workout. Then you can have your first full meal during your 8-hour window.If you find it difficult to get through your workouts, feel free to ease into the schedule. Perhaps you wait until 7 a.m. one morning to eat. Then, after a few days, push it to 8. Within a week, you should feel comfortable starting your eating window at 9 or later.

Bottom Line: 

Intermittent fasting can have many health benefits beyond weight loss, especially time restricted fasting. Eating your food earlier in the day and allowing your body at least 12 hours to rest has been proven to improve your current and future health. While these studies only focus on the “when” of eating, we can’t forget about the WHAT. Choosing foods that are wholesome, unprocessed, and filled with vitamins and minerals is best.

Before you start, a couple words of caution

Intermittent fasting is perfect for busy moms. But moms that are breastfeeding or pregnant should not restrict their eating. You need the extra nutrients and calories to feed your baby!

If you have any hormonal issues or autoimmune disorders, speak with your doctor first.  It’s possible that women have an increase, decrease or disruption in hormone production.  If that’s your case, we recommended trying intermittent fasting every other day.  As with everything…there is no one size fits all;)

Also, there isn’t enough research to suggest this eating schedule is safe for kids. Plus, if your kids are anything like mine, they eat all day!

Get unlimited access to all workouts, recipes and our online community.