Is fasting right for you?

Intermittent fasting is an age-old dietary philosophy that is getting some national recognition from a recent episode of Megyn Kelly.

With the Keto diet craze on the rise, there definitely has been a lot of talk about fasting.  It seems as though every person who has come through my functional health coaching practice has either dabbled in some fasting or thought about it.

But is fasting right for you?

My simple answer to this question is… you are unique and, therefore, your diet should be too.

What works for one person will not necessarily work for you.  This is why you’ll often see people say eating Paleo, Whole30, gluten free or (insert diet of your choice) didn’t work for them, yet someone they knew saw amazing results from it.

In general, intermittent fasting or dietary approaches using fasting techniques, have a wide range of health benefits such as:

  • Balancing blood sugar
  • Promoting weight loss
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Regulating hormones that signal for hunger
  • Healing the intestinal lining (leaky gut)
  • And decomposing damaged cells and generating new ones (this is absolutely fascinating biology, geek out more on it here)

Fasting has been used for ages in eastern philosophies of medicine to help reverse or prevent health conditions such as cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

If we think about fasting from a primal or ancestral standpoint, it has been around basically since the beginning of mankind.  As hunter-gatherers, our primitive ancestors frequently went without food for periods of time in between successful hunting trips and during times of famine when food sources were low or hard to come by.  They didn’t have the luxuries of fast food drive-thrus on almost every corner or food at their fingertips like we do today.

However, fasting is not right for everyone and in some cases it can produce more negative health side effects than good.

Fasting may not be right for you if:

  • You have an existing hormone imbalance (thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, etc.)
  • You currently suffer with sleep issues
  • You have underlying vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Your liver is already sluggish or overloaded
  • You have metals or other toxins built up in your body
  • You avoid salt or don’t eat enough of it

However, even with some of these reasons as to why fasting may not be right for you, you can still give fasting a try if you approach it the right way.  In order to set yourself up for successful fasting, you should first investigate and address any of the contributing factors to these pre-existing health issues I just mentioned.

In this week’s video and blog, I share more about how to assess if intermittent fasting is right for you and how to properly use it as a tool for optimal health.

Let’s break down what fasting is first…

When it comes to intermittent fasting (especially as it relates to the Keto diet) there are basically two schools of thought:

#1- Fasting means not eating anything containing calories for a period of time

#2- Fasting means not eating any sources of immediate energy such as carbs or proteins

Both approaches focus on training the body to primarily utilize fat stores for energy to become “fat adapted”.  The standard american diet, and even most other whole food or primal diets, such as Paleo and Whole30, constantly supply the body with readily available fuel sources in the forms of carbohydrates (veggies, fruits, nuts, etc.) and proteins (meat, beans, etc.).

Training the body to become fat adapted requires cutting off sources to these readily available types of fuel and forcing the body to tap into its own fuel storage- fat.

Where fasting goes wrong…

Sometimes people who fast go to the opposite extreme when they allow themselves to eat between fasting periods.  They load up on fast, convenient, junk foods or binge on their favorite foods as a result of feeling deprived or of having a false sense that fasting fixes everything.  

This does the body zero favors and completely cancels out the benefits of fasting.  After a fast, the first foods that hit your lips should be high in nutrients, cleanliness and health benefits.

Then there are the people with pre-existing imbalances in the body, in which case the body is not well equipped to handle a successful transition of fuel sources and to become fat adapted.  Pre-existing hormone imbalances and nutrient deficiencies (either known or unknown) are the most common and overlooked obstacles when it comes to reaping the benefits of fasting.

Food avoidance also equals vitamin and mineral avoidance.

Our hormones thrive off the delivery and accessibility of certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as selenium, zinc, B vitamins and cholesterol.  A reduction in available nutrients results in a reduction of function.

Most often this is why people feel worse when they fast or experience what is called the “keto flu.”  Initially, their thyroid, cortisol, testosterone, estrogen and a number of other hormones take a hit from fasting.  

Without proper preparation, the impact of fasting can have some drastic side effects to one’s overall hormonal well being.  It can make existing imbalances in thyroid, cortisol, testosterone, estrogen, melatonin and other hormones worse, or it can create an imbalance where one didn’t already exist.

Ideally, once someone has become fat adapted through successful fasting, the body is able to source a lot of the nutrients it needs from its own resources, but getting to that point can be a process.

Assess if fasting is right for you and properly prep for it…

Test, don’t guess.
It’s better to know about any underlying hormone or nutrient imbalances before you dive into fasting.  At a minimum, check your thyroid, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone and melatonin levels along with your vitamin and mineral balance before starting a fasting routine.  If any imbalances exist, lay the foundation to reverse them with a therapeutic diet, adequate sleep, appropriate exercise, stress reduction and nourishing supplements before jumping into fasting.

Ease into it.
Slowly ease your body into the transition by fasting with fat as your only fuel source.  Fat is not readily available as fuel when ingested so it still requires your body to tap into its own fat fuel sources.  Allow yourself to have a fat only meal in the morning such as a coffee or matcha tea with butter or ghee, and/or full fat coconut milk.  This will deliver some of the essential nutrients to your body needs so it can still function at its potential while staying away from carbs or proteins that can hijack fat adaptation.

Start in small chunks.
Don’t go for the gold right from the get-go.  Start by making dinner your last meal, fasting overnight, and gradually extending out the time you eat breakfast in the morning a few days a week.  I typically stop eating by 8pm and don’t have my first meal until 9:30 or 10am the next morning resulting in a 14 hour fasting period. As your body adapts, your energy will improve, letting you know when you can extend the length of your fast..  

(NOTE: Women’s hormones are particularly sensitive to food deprivation so it’s best to fast every other day instead of every day)

Move and restore.
Some studies have shown that low-grade duration exercise compliments fasting for better results.  During a fast, the body is actually hard at work breaking down fat and damaged cells to reuse their parts for fuel and nutrients.  We don’t need to push it to work harder.  Engaging in intense workouts on fasting days can tap the body’s resources, making recovering too hard and can lead to hormonal imbalances.  On fasting days, focus on moving your body in a more restorative way by taking long walks, doing yoga, tai chi or something restorative to reap all the benefits of fasting.

Salt and supplement.
When you’re avoiding food, you’re also avoiding access to nutrients so it’s essential to supplement what you’re missing.  Taking a high quality multivitamin and mineral complex supplement on a daily basis is a good idea in general because food these days is just less nutrient dense than before (even the organic stuff).  If you’re avoiding food all together for the purpose of fasting, supplementing with vitamins and minerals will help to keep your hormones happy, your energy balanced and will support the process of fat adaptation.  Our ancestors salted meat to cure them for food storage and ate every part of the animal (organs, cartilage, etc.) so the nutrient values in their bodies were much higher than ours, even when they were forced to fast.

Think of fasting like training for a marathon: you need the right shoes, gradual training runs that lead to longer ones over time, proper hydration and food to refuel, and recovery time to make it to the finish line.

We want to think of the body as a well-oiled machine that is ready to adapt to anything we throw at it, but that’s generally not the case, considering all the variables that impact our health in this modern day world.  

With most diet trends, people have a tendency to dive all-in without considering if their body is ready for it, and when it “doesn’t work,” they give up.  

Often it’s not the diet that didn’t work, but something else under the hood that got in the way.  This is why it’s always better to test, not guess, in order to figure out exactly what is right for your body so you don’t go spinning your wheels, wasting money or time on failed attempts or health improvement strategies that aren’t right for you.

If you want to assess your readiness for intermittent fasting or to figure out what foods are right for your body so it can function at its potential,  then schedule a complimentary Ideal Health & Weight Discovery Session with me here today!

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