Intermittent fasting & conscious eating

In this post, my goal is to show you the best attitude towards eating is conscious eating. Moreover, I believe the best tool to learn this, is through intermittent fasting. So before we discuss conscious eating it’s imperative to know the basics of fasting.

Fasting is an ancient practice, that your body knows well. 

Fasting really dates back for as long as we know. Early humans had a rough time, no 24 supermarkets and delivery, access to food was not so simple. Food was there to be foraged for, or not, the hunt was either a success or most likely not. “Feast and famine” was just the way life was. If you had food you ate and ate abundantly and when there wasn’t you waited (fasted). It is argued, we are still hardwired for this eating pattern, many cultures and religions have fasting rituals. For example, Hinduism, Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism to name but a few, it’s actually harder to find a religion without a fasting tradition. This begs the question why was/is this such a common characteristic of most religions, what did they know that we are now re-discovering?

It is argued, we are still hardwired for this eating pattern, many cultures and religions have fasting rituals. For example, Hinduism, Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism to name but a few. It’s actually harder to find a religion without a fasting tradition. This begs the question why was/is this such a common characteristic of most religions, what did they know that we are now re-discovering?

Fasting is making a comeback…

Intermittent fasting has become “trendy” of late with many celebrities/sports stars; Hugh Jackman, Lebron James, Beyonce, blah, blah, blah, who cares right? They have all the money in the world and some will endorse just about anything. The beauty of intermittent fasting is there is nothing to buy, no potions, no shakes, no pills, it really has nothing to sell you. Some will attempt to sell you the information or the fasting “protocols,” or sell you their diet plan that they use while intermittent fasting.

It’s important to remember that intermittent fasting is not a diet, what you eat while doing intermittent fasting is up for debate and will vary on the individual. Although whole foods, vegetables, fruit and meat are of course going to be the base of any good diet. Which exact foods, in which quantities is another thing, which I won’t go into here.

What exactly is intermittent fasting?

Basically, it is restricting you to “eating windows”. This is not to be confused with restricting calories or the amount of food you eat, it is merely a time-frame. You have an eating window and a fasting window, the goal is not calorie reduction,  although some calorie reduction can result as a consequence of the eating window.

Fasting can also mean different things for different people. Some mindfulness workshops or yoga retreats will require that you “fast” for a number of days. However, they will allow soups and juices. This is technically not “fasting” as you are consuming calories. In the context of intermittent fasting, when we are talking about fasting we mean consuming zero calories, for whatever fasting window you are in. This means black tea/coffee and water are all fine to drink while fasting, as they all have zero calories. Coffee can even help to reduce hunger, although caution must be taken to use coffee wisely.

There can be an “adjustment” phase, especially in the first few weeks after beginning intermittent fasting.  The temptation can be to overuse coffee to counteract any tiredness, moodiness, and hunger. Coffee can be a great little pick me up, and appetite suppressant, but to rely on coffee the entire day is a mistake.

Everyone is already fasting, now the trick is, to control it!

You are already are doing it! You fast every night when you sleep unless you sleepwalk to the kitchen and manage to snack. Breakfast or Break-fast is breaking the fast of when you were asleep. Break-fast has only been confined to somewhere between 6-9am by society and some would argue large food manufacturers, eager to sell us “breakfast foods, which are usually sugar ladened crap with large profit margins.

Breakfast has only very recently become a thing, great article here. Break-fast should only be referring to the point in time, in which one eats for the first time after waking up. Intermittent fasting will demand you become aware of when you decide to break-fast.

 

Traditional intermittent fasting usually consists of a 14-18 hour fasting window and 4 – 8-hour eating window. However, some other fasting “protocols” include;

 

 

  • Fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week and eating “normally” for the remainder of the week.  Otherwise known as the 5:2 protocol. 

 

 

 

  • Eating “light” 2-3 days a week, usually about ⅕ of your normal daily caloric intake.   This method is a little too focused on calories rather than fasting, and depending on when you eat your food on the light days, you may not actually get into a fasted state.

 

 

 

  • Eating just one large meal at night. This has been referred to as the warrior diet and can definitely result in a large fasted window. Not for everyone, but has shown to be effective for some.

 

Give yourself a break..

You are giving your body a break! A break from digestion, a break from insulin, a break from always stuffing your face and a break from thinking about food! The break from insulin is probably the most important point here. Modern diets are full of sugar at every meal, our diabetes epidemic is a direct result of this. When sugar or other carbohydrates and even when protein is eaten, they raise blood sugar levels. (note: fat does not produce an insulin response) The more that blood sugar is raised, the more insulin that is required to move this blood sugar into the cells so it can be used. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, the diabetic’s pancreas is basically burnt out from being constantly “on” and producing insulin all day, with every sugary meal. If you fail to completely wreck your pancreas, you will still become less sensitive to insulin, thus requiring more for the same effect, then eventually burning out that nearly burnt out pancreas of yours.

Insulin is produced by the pancreas, the diabetic’s pancreas is basically burnt out from being constantly “on” and producing insulin all day, with every sugary meal. If you fail to completely wreck your pancreas, you will still become less sensitive to insulin, thus requiring more for the same effect, then eventually burning out that nearly burnt out pancreas of yours.

But, don’t put the ambulance at the bottom of the hill.

You don’t have to be diabetic to benefit from a resting pancreas, and having lower blood sugar levels.  Most people don’t know that the body doesn’t need to be fed carbohydrates at all! Your body has a clever process called gluconeogenesis, which means that it will make glucose  (what I’ve been referring to as blood sugar) from protein and also from both eaten and stored fat. It’s not as quick and as energizing as eating some sugar filled product, but your body will make you all the blood sugar that you need. Proteins and fats are building blocks for cells, tissues, and hormones. You need to eat protein and fat without these two things you will get sick and quick, but you don’t need to eat a single gram of carbohydrate ever. That’s not to say it’s a good idea, in fact, it’s a very bad idea, but you could.

It’s not as quick and as energizing as eating some sugar filled product, but your body will make you all the blood sugar that you need. Proteins and fats are building blocks for cells, tissues, and hormones. You need to eat protein and fat without these two things you will get sick and quick, but you don’t need to eat a single gram of carbohydrate ever. That’s not to say it’s a good idea, in fact, it’s a bad idea, but you could.

 

Benefits:

 

Human growth hormone:

High levels of human growth hormone are highly beneficial Study here. From fat burning to muscle gain, fasting has been shown to have a significant effect on the production of this hormone. Study here

 

Cellular repair:

Our cells are constantly removing waste and repairing themselves, you want this process to function well. This study shows how fasting may help.

 

Gene expression:

There are certain genes that when expressed aid with longevity and wellness. This study in relation to a positive effect on cancer resilience is an example. It has been shown that fasting can activate many positive genes. With one study, in particular,  showing a positive correlation towards brain health while aging.

 

Cautions:

Children and teenagers.

Children & Teenagers brains/ bodies are still growing, they have different levels of hormones being produced at different rates in order to facilitate puberty. For example, they have high levels of  IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1) in which fasting has been shown to reduce. A growing body needs high levels of IGF-1, although it has been shown that high levels of IGF-1 is not so great later in life. (hence why fasting is good for adults).

Teenagers should listen to their bodies and eat GOOD food when they are hungry. Although, they shouldn’t worry if they push break-fast back an hour or two. However, they should not actively follow any regimented intermittent fasting protocol.

 

Women:

The internet is full of blogs and anecdotal accounts of women having a terrible time trying out intermittent fasting. Studies have shown women are more negatively sensitive to starvation signals from the body, with increases in stress hormone responses. These studies are however on rats, and human studies are hard to green light for ethical reasons, as some of the rat studies have shown to create significant hormone, ovulation, and other health consequences.

However with all the anecdotal accounts together with the few animal studies, it’s safe to assume women should tread carefully with intermittent fasting. Some online exponents of fasting have suggested no more than a 12-hour fasting window for women, however, this has not been scientifically proven.  No one is saying women need to eat instantly after waking up, just that more caution and awareness must be taken with fasting. Really pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you, again I’m only saying women should be a bit more cautious, or better yet, conscious!

 

Being conscious.

That word conscious brings me back to one of the points of this post, being a “conscious eater.”  Both personally and from reading other blogs and articles online, the biggest lesson of intermittent fasting is not to fanatically obsess about how long you have fasted for, but to simply pay attention to how you feel.

Are you really hungry now, or bored?

Do you feel good after eating that heavy meal before bed, and can you still feel it in your stomach when you wake up?

Once you break-fast with nutritious whole foods, like a delicious homemade smoothie, if you take a second to notice your body’s reaction to it, it can be powerful. It’s like you can feel the energy of that living plant material being absorbed by every cell in your body. Fasting can give the contrast needed to feel that and become more in tune with your body in general.

Fasting should be the tool used to become a conscious eater, take the time to notice how you feel when you fast and when you eat. Notice how different foods make you feel, and which fasting window is right for you.

 

Should everyone fast?

Everyone does already. When you are sleeping you are fasting, and the health benefits are undeniable. The real question is how long should you fast for? The answer is, it depends on the individual. Make a conscious effort to stop eating at a set time at night, an hour or two before bed, and then break-fast the next day, when you really feel hungry. Notice how it makes you feel over a couple weeks, and make your mind up for yourself.