Dr. Kelsi Ervin, a.k.a. Dr. Sunshine, writes about Radical Self Care techniques for people who are ready to create a healthy lifestyle.
We naturopathic doctors often hear the complaint...
“I just don’t feel my best and I can’t lose weight.”
Is that you?
Well, I’ve got an experiment for you to try: Intermittent Fasting. Gosh, even if you’re not trying to lose weight, but want to feel better- try intermittent fasting. I’m sure this article will have you convinced of the benefits, and you’ll likely be surprised by how do-able this is.
Intermittent fasting does not change your diet, but it expands the amount of time you spend NOT eating (a.k.a. “fasting”). There are many ways to do intermittent fasting. Let’s focus on the technique I typically recommend: the 14 Hour Fast.
I’m aware that there is no magic bullet for weight loss, but this one-size-fits-all approach dials in a fantastic range of hormonal and digestive factors. Intermittent fasting will help get your body reset towards improved cardiovascular and hormonal health.
When we can’t lose weight and feel awful, we often know that we need to change our patterns of eating, sleeping, pooping, thinking and moving. What if we could start altering all of our rhythms by simply adjusting the timing of when we eat?
This is where you can start your DIY health reset.
Table of Contents
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet at all, but a way of eating.The timing of eating and not eating is designed to allow for proper rest of the digestive system. So, this hot and effective dieting trend can be useful no matter what you eat! Although....to get your dose of daily vitamins, I still recommend eating organic, local vegetables at every meal ;).
The 14 Hour Fast
The type of intermittent fasting we’ll talk about here is limiting food intake to a 10-hour window of the day. (Other types include fasting for 2 non-consecutive days a week, meal skipping, and other variations.) I like to recommend the 14 hour fast because it is practical and effective when combined with naturopathic healing programs. Limiting eating to the hours between 9am-6pm is practical for many of our schedules. This leaves you 14 hours of time where you’re only drinking water and resting your digestive system.
Why do I need to rest my digestive system?
Resting your digestion decreases the demand on the hormone system that is responsible for absorbing nutrients into the body. During the 14 hour fast, your body puts energy towards the recovery processes that are deep inside the inner workings of the liver, brain, and elsewhere. If you’re digesting, that energy is taken by digestion.
What are the health benefits of intermittent fasting?
- Weight loss
- Improved stress resistance
- Improved immune function
- Enhanced digestive function
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduced Inflammation
- Improved mental performance
- Improved blood sugar regulation
- Enhanced physical performance
- Better sex (ok, this one is presumptive based on all of the above...)
The benefits seem to be obvious from fasts that last 14 hours, but less than 12-14 hours may not have the same benefits at all.
Note: Most people keep their exercise program the same or start fasting earlier in the night if they need to eat earlier in the day.
What health conditions can be improved by intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting often works for weight loss, but the up to 7% body fat loss is not the most award winning feature.
Limiting eating to only 10 hours a day can improve conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular, cancers and neurological disorders.
Studies show that these benefits are shared even if you don’t change your diet. The benefits are measured after a few months of getting into this rhythm.
Recent data here was collected in a study at University of California, San Diego. The study population was obese… and lost 3% body fat in 12 weeks. The benefits of blood sugar control, decreased blood pressure and lower cholesterol- all were benefits that were independent of the weight loss (not attributable to weight loss, but to the timing of eating).
Schedule with me if you need support with trying intermittent fasting or if you have symptoms that make fasting difficult.
An old naturopathic trick...
Old time naturopaths taught me to “fast a patient” to support the body through a healing crisis. I learned that a fever will never get too high if the patient is fasting and hydrated (so long as the fever isn’t suppressed with medications). And Dr. Pizorrno taught me that a 3 day fast resets digestive inflammation caused by food allergies.
What if I want to shift my eating hours to later in the day?
I don’t recommend this. Part of the key benefit is stopping eating so that you’re sleeping after digestion. You need at least 2-3 hours to get through the digestion process. We know from research that people who eat their evening meal around 3pm are thinner than people who eat later in the day. In general, I recommend NOT eating after 8PM. For folks looking for the benefits of intermittent fasting, I recommend 6 or 7PM as the latest time to eat.
Why shouldn’t I eat late at night?
Generally, eating during the night hours messes with our circadian rhythms (more on this to come). Eating late at night is luxurious and should be saved for special events only. This makes sense when we understand that our body functions are coordinated by hundreds of clocks syncing in with one another to create our rhythms. Eating is a major player in changing the timing on the clocks. The hormones and neurotransmitters are tuned by a system of clocks. Hormones and neurotransmitters are the communicators between all of our vital functions. So eating drastically impacts all of our body’s communications. The night hours are the hours we want all the energy directed at recovery, not digestion.
What am I allowed to drink during fasting?
Drinking water is encouraged during fasting. Fasting requires zero calories coming in. You may be asking yourself... “what about coffee?!” Coffee consumption mimics a stress response. It also stimulates digestion and contractions in the gallbladder (Boekema, 1999). We’re trying to rest digestion and stress response during the 14 hour fast. So, water only everyone. You got this.
Why is fasting so effective?
The science of fasting can be discussed for ages. A key player in the fasting state are the ketone bodies. In the fasting state, the body experiences a metabolic shift. The body turns from the glucose stored in the liver for energy to the ketones stored in fat. The action of ketones is to “enhance the body’s defense against oxidative and metabolic stress.”
So, our body cleans up shop while we’re in the fasting state. We improve our ability to adapt to stress and balance inflammation. (reported in Jan 2020 by The National Institute on Aging).
Science is passionately studying fasting…
Folks who have lived the therapeutic benefits of fasting for a few days will rave about it to you with a shine in their eye (if it was still recently enough that they can feel the refreshment). And, if they’re a healer at heart, they’ll dream of creating fasting retreat centers to heal the world. Luckily, there are many shiny-eyed scientists out there creating studies to try to capture the magic. Let’s sit around and watch the magic so maybe we can get some too.
The 14-hour fast is vastly studied due to its promise. While study sizes are all too small for us to come to population-wide conclusions, the 14-hour fasting state is looking pretty beneficial. 14-hour fasts have been studied to have a wide range of medical benefits in prevention of disease and enhanced treatment of disease.
Studies suggest that if you were to start these longer periods of fasting your brain would likely enjoy memory enhancement and your liver would likely have enhanced regeneration. One study showed that mice practicing intermittent fasting have their white blood cells return to “young animal” levels. And bone building is another plus!
What if intermittent fasting doesn’t work?
I’ll put in a momentary plug for the fact that unchecked inflammatory processes might need to be addressed in order for you to have an optimal response to this approach. My next article (join mailing list at doctorsunshine.net) will address the mysteries of keeping inflammation in check.
Who should not try intermittent fasting?
I do not recommend fasting while pregnant or menstruating. People with Type 1 Diabetes need strict glucose monitoring and added support to practice intermittent fasting.
Folks in a time of prolonged or excessive stress often need to eat more, not less, to get the body settled. If stress is high, work with your naturopathic doctor for support with hormone and stress balance.
So give it a try!
Boekema PJ, Samsom M, van Berge Henegouwen GP, Smout AJ. Coffee and gastrointestinal function: facts and fiction. A review. Scand J Gastroenterol Suppl. 1999;230:35‐39. doi:10.1080/003655299750025525
De Cabo R, Mattson MP. Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease [published correction appears in N Engl J Med. 2020 Jan 16;382(3):298] [published correction appears in N Engl J Med. 2020 Mar 5;382(10):978]. N Engl J Med. 2019;381(26):2541‐2551. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1905136