If you’ve been anywhere near a television or computer screen, you’ve likely heard the words “intermittent fasting.” This intentional abstinence from food has become a trending weight loss strategy. However, it’s actually not a very new concept.
Fasting is thousands of years old
Fasting for various reasons has been documented in the world’s major religions as well as medical texts from the fifth century AD. Hippocrates, Socrates, and Plato all touted its benefits. And who could forget Jesus’ forty-day sojourn for spiritual renewal in the desert?
The reasons why intermittent fasting is so popular nowadays are not surprising. This long-lived practice can lead to weight loss and according to some, enhanced mental clarity.
There are also other added benefits. For example, studies suggest it may aid in the management of chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders, and even some cancers.
However, the challenge is sustainability. Exactly how can one expect to benefit from intermittent fasting in the long run? The answer may be combining it with the concept of ketosis.
What’s ketosis and how does it work?
Ketosis is a metabolic process that can be kickstarted by following certain low-carbohydrate diets.
Typically, our cells use glucose (blood sugar) as their main fuel. However, when we eat minimal carbohydrates, this induces the body to use other fuel sources — namely, fat. During ketosis, your body’s fat is converted into ketones by the liver. Essentially, your fat stores become a primary source of energy.
Several diets follow this logic. For example, the preliminary phase of the Atkins diet significantly restricts carbohydrates to 20 grams or fewer per day. On the keto diet — essentially a very low carb, higher fat diet — you generally aim for 15–30 grams of net carbohydrates per day.
Intermittent fasting can help your body reach ketosis because when you aren’t eating, your body also uses fat for fuel.
Getting started with intermittent fasting
Given the immense amount of literature around ketosis, it’s no wonder why low-carb diets are often used in tandem with fasting. But as with all nutritional and dietary regimens, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
First, there is no best-fit solution for each and every body type and state of health. It’s best that you check in with your individual doctor, nutritionist, and/or physical trainer to minimize the common side effects of intermittent fasting. These can include energy and mood swings, constipation, bingeing, and conflicts with your medications.
The rule of thumb is to start slow and work with, not against, your body.
Here are a few tips to get started with intermittent fasting safely, once you’re cleared by a medical professional:
Set a schedule
Intermittent fasting works best with a consistent schedule. Here are several ways you can break up your day or week:
Alternate Day Fasting (ADF): Fasting every other day with the option to consume up to 500 calories on fasting days
The Leangains Protocol: Consuming all your nutrition within 8 hours and fasting the rest of the 16 hours each day.
Eat-Stop-Eat: Abstaining from food for 24-hours, 2–3 times a week.
Never start intermittent fasting without a plan of action! While we can do without constant meals and snacking, water is absolutely essential to human life.
Keep a bottle of water on hand to prevent dehydration.
Maintain balanced habits
It’s easy to get excited when you start losing weight, but work with your doctor to ensure that it is a healthy amount. Excessive fasting can cause our muscles to break down, potentially releasing excess nitrogen — which is toxic to the liver and kidneys.
Tracking what you’re eating and when, your fasting hours, your exercise, and your progress is key. It’s helpful to keep a journal or a log on your smartphone, computer, or just on paper, to ensure that you are not overextending yourself physically. A log will also help you fine-tune your fasting and diet regimen if you notice any issues.
Plan meals ahead of time
The key to intermittent fasting is balanced nutrition. Ensure that you are ingesting healthy produce, lean meats, and fats. Bingeing on high-calorie foods is not going to do any wonders for your long-term health.
Farmers’ markets are great options for exploring in-season ingredients to complement your healthy diet. If you’re especially busy throughout the week, consider a CSA (community supported agriculture) delivery or meal kit service.
Start slow and build yourself up
Don’t go all-in on intermittent fasting when you’re first starting. It may take weeks or even months to get a feel for your body’s level of tolerance. If you begin to feel low-energy or sleep-deprived, contact your doctor. It may mean that intermittent fasting is just not for you.
Start with small, manageable goals every day, and document and share your progress with a nutritional expert to scale your practice. Once you get into the groove, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving your healthiest possible body.