7 Evidence-Based Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Fasting is a practice that’s been used for centuries in many diverse cultures and faiths to promote mental, physical and spiritual healing. From an evolutionary perspective, our Paleo ancestors would have gone long stretches of time without food and feasted in times of plenty. In today’s convenience society, food is everywhere and mindless eating – snacking even if you’re not actually hungry – is the norm.

You’ve likely heard many times that eating multiple small meals throughout the day is best for your health and that skipping meals is bad for you. What if skipping a meal was actually good for you? More and more research is coming out highlighting the potential benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) for not only losing weight but also for improving your overall health. It seems IF is not just a fad dietary approach, but a potential therapeutic tool to upgrade your health and support healthy weight loss.

Reducing your food intake during parts of the day has dramatic changes on key hormonal and physiological mechanisms in the body that may be catalysts for boosting your brain function, cooling inflammation, improving your heart health and slowing the aging process. It seems the wisdom from our ancestors may unlock some powerful health benefits!

Increases Fat Burning

After a full night’s sleep, you wake up with the perfect hormonal terrain for burning fat. Low insulin and high glucagon levels make delaying your first meal an effective strategy for prolonging this fat-burning period.

While the mantra “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is deeply ingrained in our society, if your breakfast is muffins, bagels, cereal or juice then perhaps it’s time to try another strategy. Studies show better blood sugar control, cardiac markers and significant weight loss with intermittent fasting for overweight and obese individuals. (1)

Intermittent fasting not only capitalizes on your perfect fat-burning hormone balance by delaying your first meal in the morning, but provides the added weight-loss bonus of limiting food consumption in the late evening.

Cools Inflammation

Inflammation is considered to be the root cause of almost every chronic disease. Weight gain is a powerful trigger for inflammation, and with two-thirds of the population classified as overweight or obese, this is a major roadblock to better health.

The Journal Obesity recently found that fasting induced a significant anti-inflammatory effect on the body, improving nervous system and immune function. (2) Cooling inflammation is critical for anyone trying to improve health or lose weight, and any dietary strategy that improves this key health marker is definitely one to consider.

Improves Brain Function

One of the most common questions I get asked by clients is how to improve their focus and concentration at work. Fatigue, brain fog, and inability to stay on task are common symptoms that people experience throughout the day. These symptoms are made worse by high blood sugars, insulin and weight gain.

Intermittent fasting may hold the answer for you. A recent study showed that IF in overweight mice led to much greater learning and memory scores. (3) They also had dramatic improvement in the structural function of their brains. Better brain function and a slimmer waistline…sounds like a nice combination!

Improves Low Mood

Low mood and depression are on the rise around the world, with the World Health Organization predicting that by 2030 it will be the leading cause of disease burden around the globe. (4) That is a powerful statistic, and, like most chronic conditions, it likely stems from a wide array of root causes.

 Low mood and depression are on the rise. Intermittent fasting can help by regulating blood sugar levels.

One root cause in particular, chronically high blood sugar and insulin, has shown a strong association with low mood and depression. With the average sugar consumption up to a whopping 160 lbs. per person per year, it’s no wonder more and more people are suffering from low mood and depression.

Supports Better Heart Health

Keeping your heart healthy is crucial for overall health, as heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Common causes include weight gain, lack of exercise, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which may be positively influenced by fasting.

 Delaying your first meal or going longer periods between meals can be a powerful weapon for improving your health.

Studies show that heart failure can be dramatically improved with fasting and significantly increase long-term survival. (5) If you’re overweight or out of shape, excessive carbohydrate and/or caloric intake can worsen your situation. Delaying your first meal or going longer periods between meals can be a powerful weapon for improving your health.

Slows the Aging Process

Exotic supplements and medications are available to help people look and feel younger, but food choices give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to anti-aging. A recent study in animals found that fasting helped to significantly reduce oxidative stress and fibrosis, two key characteristics of aging tissues. (6)

Again, these results reflect significant improvements in cellular function, something fad diets definitely don’t provide. If your cells are happy, you’ll be happy. Intermittent fasting may in fact be an effective strategy for slowing the aging process.

Easy to Follow

As a clinician, giving people a dietary plan to help them lose weight is the easy part; getting people to adhere to the protocol is the hard part. Compliance is a big piece of the puzzle. If a person can’t implement their nutrition strategy into their day-to-day life, then chances are they won’t stick to it.

Surprisingly, intermittent fasting seems to simplify things for people as studies show greater compliance with intermittent fasting compared to traditional calorie-reduced diets. (7) The best program is the one you (or your client) will stick to!

Guidelines for Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can be a great tool to use for 4-12 weeks to trigger weight loss and better health, or, for some people, a long-term lifestyle change. However, before you embark on this journey, you must make sure a few key systems are in good working order:

1. Diet – If you’re not eating clean and your diet is still made up of processed and convenience foods, then get your nutrition in line before starting

2. Sleep  If you struggle to fall asleep or don’t sleep through the night, then IF may not be the best fit for you as it may lead to increased cortisol stress levels.

3. Stress  Lack of sleep, busy workdays and intense training programs can all lead to chronic stress. If your stress levels are high, hold off on intermittent fasting until things settle down.

Most of my clients tell me they are very busy, often grabbing unhealthy breakfast options and snacks in the morning on their way to work. Intermittent fasting can not only provide a novel approach to weight loss and improved health, but also offers a potentially desirable lifestyle that frees up more time to work or spend time at home.

If you’re ready to start an intermittent fasting protocol, try it for 2-4 weeks and see for yourself how you may be able to upgrade your body, mind and energy levels with simply changing when you eat your meals!

(This article originally appeared @Paleohacks.com)

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

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Is Distracted Eating Sabotaging Your Health?

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How often do you sit down at a table with no distractions and chew your food thoroughly? Or take a proper lunch break at work? In today’s hyper-connected world it’s important to get back to basics not only with your food choices, but also in how you consume your meals.

You might thoughtfully prepare your own lunch and pack healthy snack foods, but do you end up snacking throughout the day at your desk – mindlessly eating nuts, energy bars or fruit despite not actually being hungry? Or perhaps at the end of a long day you relax on the couch and find yourself pecking on even more snacks.

According to the latest studies, 28% of American employees don’t take a break for lunch, while 39% break for lunch but choose to stay at their desks.1 After work, things don’t seem to get better as two out of three people eat dinner in front of the television.2

Should this be a concern? Does distracted eating – e.g. having lunch or snacking while working on your laptop – negatively impact your waistline and overall health? Let’s take a look at the research.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently reported their findings of a meta-analysis of 24 well-designed studies and the results were eye-opening. People who eat distracted by laptop or TV were more likely to over-eat at mealtime and much more likely to have a bigger following meal or snack.3Interestingly, the memory patients’ had of their previous meal also greatly influenced their behavior in subsequent meals. The better their memory – or less distracted – the smaller the size of their subsequent meal.

So, it looks like not being “present” or “mindful” when you eat can negatively impact your waistline and your health. What can you do about it?

From an evolutionary point of view, our Paleo ancestors didn’t have TVs, smartphones and the countless artificial stimuli that distract us at mealtimes today. It was virtually impossible to be a distracted eater. They also went longer periods of time without eating anything, which contrasts the common tendency to constantly snack at the office.

Here are five quick tips to help curb distracted eating so you can look, feel, and perform your best at work or in the gym.

1. Make The Time To Eat

In today’s 24/7 society, constantly eating your breakfast on the run or lunch while working at your desk seems inevitable. The reality is you need to make the time to eat. Skipping meals and eating at your desk inevitably compromises your cognitive function and ability to perform quality work. You don’t necessarily need to carve out a full hour for lunch, but even 10-30 minutes at a table away from work will go a long way.

2. Get Off Your Phone or Laptop

Monitoring your phone and email or doing any number of other tasks while eating negatively affects your digestion and hunger hormones. Eating while working shunts blood away from your digestive organs, compromising your ability to digest your meal. It also blunts the release of satiety hormones, leading to greater cravings and more frequent snacking throughout the day.

3. Take A Break From Mindless Snacking

I often hear clients say they like to snack on nuts or fruit at their desk during the day. When I ask them if they are actually hungry, the majority aren’t exactly sure. While snacking at your desk can sometimes be a healthy option, watch out you aren’t mindlessly knocking back handfuls of nuts or snack bars throughout the day.

Recently, the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating ‘attentively’ at mealtime reduced mindless snacking by 30%.4  Try two weeks without snacks during the workday; if you need a replacement try increasing your water intake or adding some herbal teas to help make it to your next meal.

4. Chew Your Food

For many people eating at a desk during the day and in front of the TV or a laptop at night has become the norm. This is not how we were designed to eat. With so many distractions and lack of attention on chewing your food, you substantially affect the digestive process and alter the satiety signals sent to your brain.

A randomized cross-over study of 45 normal, overweight, and obese subjects found that increasing the number of chews to 150% and 200% above normal resulted in approximately 10% and 15% reductions in food intake.5 This is a significant finding, so be sure to slow down, chew and enjoy your meals.

5. Curb Late Night Eating

It’s a common scenario: you’ve had a long, busy day at work and finally you have a chance to relax on the couch and watch TV. Despite just finishing your dinner you crave something sweet like ice cream or chocolate to help you unwind. Stress triggers cravings for sweet or salty foods and simple carbohydrates, as your body seeks instant energy sources. The trouble with late night eating is you begin to set a pattern – like Pavlov’s dog – and your brain constantly craves a treat when you sit on the couch and watch TV, just like Pavlov when the bell rings.

A recent study in the journal Nutrition found that watching TV increased the consumption of sugary and salty treats and reduced the intake of fruits and veggies.6 To help curb mindless late night eating, take a break from watching TV for the next few weeks, or swap out your sugary snacks for fruit or herbal teas to help kick the late night cravings.

Make sure you’re truly reaping the nutritious benefits of your food choices and take time to eat. Your behaviors are strongly influenced by your environments. Constantly being on the go, working at a desk all day, and watching TV and laptops all influence your brain and behaviors when it comes to food choices. Bring your focus back to your food, be mindful when eating and chew thoroughly to improve your health and your waistline.

  Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

REFERENCES

[1]http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2013/10/09/the-vanishing-lunch-break-2

[2]http://www.statisticbrain.com/television-watching-statistics/

[3]Robinson R et al. Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating1,2,3,4 Am J Clin Nutr April 2013. 97 no. 4 728-742

[4]Robinson E, Kersbergen I, Higgs S. Eating ‘attentively’ reduces later energy consumption in overweight and obese females. Br J Nutr. 2014 Aug 28:112(4):657-61.

[5]Zhu Y, Hllis J. Increasing the number of chews before swallowing reduces meal size in normal-weight, overweight, and obese adults. J Acad Nnutr Diet 2014 Jun;114(6):926-31.

[6]Ramose E et al. Effect of television viewing on food and nutrient intake among adolescents. Nutrition. 2013 Nov-Dec;29(11-12):1362-7.

How Big Is Your Sleep Debt?

In the Paleolithic or ‘hunter gatherer’ era, from 2.6 million years ago until the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, our ancestors woke up with the rising sun in the morning and rested for a good nights sleep not long after sundown.  Scientists estimate that our Paleolithic ancestors averaged about 10 hours of sleep per night.  Of course the absence of an external light source, television sets, and laptops  made it a little easier to get to bed so early, but the benefits are deeply engrained in our DNA.  

Your circadian rhythms are based on the light and dark cycles of the day and have a profound effect on your bodyweight, cardiovascular health, fertility, and well-being. Melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone, is secreted in the evening about 3 hours after your last meal.  It makes you feel tired, drowsy, and prepares you for deep rejuvenating sleep. 

In winter, Paleolithic people slept longer hours – approximately 10-12hrs per night – as the days got shorter and darker.  Your immune and hormonal functions are linked to these evolutionary circadian rhythms of light and dark, and understanding how this effects you will help you improve your energy levels, build muscle, burn fat, and upgrade your overall health.

For example, daylight increases your dopamine and cortisol output, getting you out of bed and ready for the day ahead.  When was the last time you felt energized in the morning? How many cups of coffee do you go through to get yourself going in the morning? Do you need your alarm clock to wake up or do you wake up naturally? 

Your natural hormonal patterns shift throughout the day and by nightfall your cortisol and dopamine levels should be at their lowest, allowing melatonin production to kick in and stimulate your repair and rejuvenation hormone... growth hormone.  Growth hormone is essential for rebuilding your body while you sleep, helping to build lean muscle, burn fat and keep your immune system strong.  (Your body is hard at work while you rest!)

So what’s the problem with our 21st century sleep patterns?

Two generations ago, our grandparents average about 9-10 hours sleep per night, not very far off our Paleolithic ancestors.  Today, the average North American gets between 6-7.5 hours of sleep, about an hour or two less than the recommended 8 to 8.5 hours sleep per night.  Over the course of a year, this would amount to approximately a 500-hour ‘sleep debt’! 

Over-consuming coffee can add to the problem. How do you know if you are over-doing the stimulants?

You’ve been abusing your coffee intake if you don't feel the same ‘kick’ from your morning cup of joe, or if stopping your intake results in   headaches, irritability, or intense fatigue.  Coffee triggers the production of adrenaline from the adrenal glands and stimulates our sympathetic – ‘fight or flight’ – nervous system.  While this is okay in moderation, chronically relying on this form of energy is like revving the RPM’s on your car constantly into the red zone. Before too long, you'll burn out your engine!

So what can you do to start cutting into your sleep debt? 

Let’s start in the bedroom.  The key to sleep is ensuring you have total darkness in your bedroom.  Make sure to remove all light sources (think red lights from the alarm clocks), cell phones on the bedside table, and nearby laptops from the vicinity of your head. All of these stimulate the nervous system and prevent deep sleep.  Next, turn off the television or shut off your laptop at least an hour before bed to allow your body to unwind.  All of these stimulants activate the nervous system and prevent deep sleep.  Finally, get to bed before midnight to increase your number of sleep hours per night. In Tradtional Chinese Medicine (TCM), every hour of sleep before midnight counts as DOUBLE, because they are so valuable for restoring health and wellness.

Make time to 'schedule' in more sleep... it will pay off with better energy, productivity, and performance at work and in the gym!

Dr Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS

 

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References:

  1. Sabanayagam C, Shankar A.  Sleep duration and cardiovascular disease: results from the National Health Interview Survey.  Sleep.2010 Aug;33(8):1037-42.
  2. Alvarez GG, Ayas NT.  The impact of daily sleep duration on health: a review of the literature.  Prog Cardiovasc Nurs. 2004 Spring;19(2):56-9.
  3. Ayas NT, White DP, et al. A prospective study of self-reported sleep duration and incident diabetes in women. Diabetes Care. 2003 Feb;26(2):380-4.
  4. Chaput JP, Després JP, Bouchard C, Tremblay A.  Association of sleep duration with type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance.  Diabetologia. 2007 Nov;50(11):2298-304. Epub 2007 Aug 24.
  5. Vgontzas AN, Bixler EO, et al. Chronic insomnia is associated with nyctohemeral activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: clinical implications. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Aug;86(8):3787-94.
  6. Kobayashi D, Takahashi O, , et al. Association between weight gain, obesity, and sleep duration: a large-scale 3-year cohort study.  Sleep Breath. 2011 Sep 3. [Epub ahead of print]