Why is intermittent fasting so popular?


If you haven't at least heard or come across the term "intermittent fasting" in the past few months, you must be either a) living under a rock, b) working on a super top secret government project with no contact with the outside world, or c) living under a rock.

So one would deduce that the majority of us have, at least, heard of intermittent fasting. And guess what? Most of us do it each and every day. Or, each and every night, to be exact. When you go to bed, as long as you're not getting up in the middle of the night and eating, you are fasting. That's why breakfast is called what it is. You break your fast.

But longer windows of fasting are becoming a popular way to diet, and are showing promising results for people. An example of this is the 16:8 diet, where people eat whatever they want only during an 8 hour window during the day (say 10am to 6pm), and then don't eat anything for the other 16 hour window. Of course water should be consumed in the 16 hour window, and no calorie liquids like coffee, tea, and diet soda are allowed.

Health Coach note: I don't agree with consuming diet soda, I think it can stress your body by making it think you have sugar coming in. This will cause it to release insulin, but without actual sugar in your bloodstream, your body is forced to break down some protein, or muscle, and convert it to sugar, so that insulin can be spent. Also, I don't think people should go hog wild and eat whatever they want in the 8 hour window. This is how nutrient deficiencies can develop, because of course you're going to choose a cupcake over kale.

Intermittent Fasting Benefits

Well hello Hugh Jackman.

Intermittent fasting can create some highly beneficial benefits in the human body:

  • Improves insulin levels and sensitivity
  • Improves cellular function
  • Drives cells into apoptosis, whereby damaged cells are recycled (damaged cells can become cancer)
  • Can trigger genes associated with longevity to turn on
  • Induces ketosis, whereby fat cells release triglycerides for use as energy in the body
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Increases brain derived neurotophic factor, which increases brain capacity
  • May help prevent neurodegenerative disease
  • Weight loss

The Mental Barrier

So if intermittent fasting has all of these incredible benefits, why aren't more people doing it? Why aren't we teaching our kids to do it? 

It's all in the mind. And I think it runs very deep, and very primal. Of all the ways a body can die, for the majority of our history on this planet, starvation was the big Kahuna of survival threats. All living things are built from the food (or energy) they consume, and in order to stay alive (or contain energy within), they have to keep consuming. It runs counter-intuitive to not eat something when it is available, if starvation is always looming large.

Our brain rewards us for eating. And our current engineered food environment is full of processed stuff that multiplies that reward affect. 

Not eating stresses the mind and body, because holy shit, the big Kahuna could be here!

Mind Over Matter

To practice intermittent fasting, you have to use your higher cognitive functions to get 'er done. The lower two-thirds of your brain are NOT going to be down to go along with this crazy scheme of yours.

You can coach yourself though. You can have a list of all the benefits of fasting printed out, taped up in strategic places so you can remind yourself of why the discomfort of going without food for a few extra hours is worth the discomfort of some hunger pangs. And once you get used to the process, your cells will develop metabolic flexibility, and your brain will stop bugging you so much about it. 

If you're experiencing lethargy and headaches trying it, rather than going for a 16 hour fast straight off the bat, try a shorter fast, like 12 hours. This means you would stop eating at 8pm, and you could eat again at 8am. As you're ready to increase the fasting time frame, tack another 30 to 60 minutes on. Often times hunger can be triggered by habit. If your body is used to breakfast at 7am, it wants its breakfast, damn it!

Always remember YOU ARE FOOD. You have food inside your body that can sustain you for a few extra hours (actually, MUCH longer than that). Your brain just tries to make you really uncomfortable so you don't tap into those stores unless absolutely necessary. But looking at all the incredible benefits of intermittent fasting, not trying it would be a loss for your brain, and your body.