Intermittent fasting is becoming the new fad but is it really healthy? The answer is both Yes and No.
First, I’ll warn you, if you have low blood sugar issues, severe HPA axis adrenal fatigue issues, certain autoimmune issues, or thyroid issues, then fasting may not be your friend until you have found more balance in your health. Fasting can help bring some people into balance, and can throw other people off balance. It’s not a quick fix for everyone.
Intermittent fasting can be defined as withholding food for 16-20 hours, followed by a period of eating. Other kinds of intermittent fasting include alternate day fasting; eating one day and then consuming no food the next day. There is also water fasting, where no food is consumed but plenty of spring water, with added electrolytes throughout the day are taken. When you fast, it’s important to drink plenty of water. There are “dry” fasts, where water is also withheld, but this has dire health consequences and should not be done for any extended period of time.
I’ve found, through my own fasting journey as well as working with patients, that fasting during sleeping hours and through the beginning of your day is often easiest, although occasionally someone may prefer to eat breakfast and then fast the rest of the day and night. I’ve also found that alternate day fasts can be beneficial. I recommend weaning yourself into the fast. Begin by just skipping breakfast and then perhaps skip lunch, but eat dinner. Then the next day eat all three meals, make sure they are healthy and full of healthy fat and a variety of leafy green vegetables and proteins. Avoiding carbs helps you prepare for the fast. Then fast the following day, see if you can go without all three meals, or just have a small snack at night. Soon you will comfortably alternate fasting days with eating healthfully days. It can take a week or so for your metabolism to adjust to the new regimen. I recommend not exercising during the first week of alternate fasting days, but after that you will likely feel more energized. Find what is best for your body, mind, and lifestyle.
I sometimes recommend liquid fasts. On my holistic keto for gut health plan you may choose to fast for 16-20 hours followed by a period of 4-8 hours of eating. Or you may choose to introduce a healthy fat drink during fasting time. Achieving or remaining in ketosis is optimal and my healthy fat drinks can do the trick. I’ll be sending my healthy fat drink recipe in my upcoming newsletter, let’s be friends- join my community and stay tuned. Receive my 5 secrets to vibrant health for free, and sign up for my newsletter here: https://kristingraycemcgary.com/gift/
Caution: I’ve worked with a few women with a history of anorexia or bulimia who conveniently use the fasting fad to engage in unhealthy patterns around food and self-sustenance. One woman I met was very very thin, unhealthfully so, but she conveniently fit the imbalanced socially acceptable view of an American model. She had large breast implants and was a high-profile coach. Many people admire her and think her body is perfect. Her ribs showing, and her clavicles protruding were a sure sign of various nutrient deficiencies. Therapeutic fasting can be great when done properly, but weeks, months, and years of improper fasting can lead to serious health problems. It needs to be done properly to be beneficial, any extremes can cause damage.
If you have Poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) then balancing your blood sugar is necessary Before you begin fasting. One tip is eating dinner for breakfast, like chicken, veggies, and healthy fats or salmon and veggies; don’t skip meals yet; cut back on carbohydrates-no more than 75 a day and eventually down to 30 or so. This is low carb but not quite keto for most people.
Intermittent fasting has it’s place with a conventional keto as well as holistic keto for gut health type nutritional plan. Fasting has been used as a therapy for health since Hippocrates wrote about it as a treatment for epilepsy. Fasting was being used in Western medicine as early as 1911 to control seizures. However, often when people began eating again, symptoms returned. It was discovered that a high fat, low carb diet rendered similar metabolic results as fasting and the therapeutic ketogenic diet was born. Fasting does work well to bring you into or keep you in ketosis too.
Here are the top 10 health benefits of intermittent fasting:
- Autophagy: old parts of your cells are broken down and recycled. This is an anti-cancer phenomenon as well as prevents against diseases like cardiovascular disease. It seems to extend your lifespan.
- It drops your insulin level. High insulin often cause inflammation. It also improves your insulin sensitivity so your cells can accept it better and allow it to shuttle sugar from your blood into your cells.
- Speeds up your metabolism
- Gives your digestive system a break, allowing it to repair itself much more efficiently.
- Benefits the expression of certain genes.
- Fat burning and weight loss
- Increases brain function by boosting a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
- Increases and repairs your immune system. Basically after 3 days of water fasting you have a new immune system. It’s an Immune system reboot
- Lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Reduced blood pressure and heart rate
- Improved hunger responses
- Decreases insulin resistance
- Decreases levels of inflammation
- Increases Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which maintains, builds, and repairs brain and organ tissue
- Improves longevity by lengthening your telomeres, the ends of your DNA
- Improves leptin sensitivity
- Improves your relationship to food and your body, sense of self
- Decreases free radical damage
You don’t have to be keto to benefit from fasting. It’s best to first understand how your body is doing. I use a comprehensive functional blood chemistry panel to discover any underlying imbalances, to see if fasting may be right for your health. About 20 years ago I was doing some fasting before it was popular. However, it really wasn’t very good for my body. My fasting blood sugar was about 69 (86-99 is healthy). This was way to low and meant that when I was fasting my poor adrenals were kicking out cortisol and my body was literally going into a survival mode. My brain, other organs, and biological systems were being very stressed by this. It wasn’t until I stabilized my blood sugar that intermittent fasting began to have benefits for me. I listen to my body and when it doesn’t want to fast, I don’t. For example, if I’ve been traveling, having late night flights, at a tango event until all hours of the morning and night, then fasting is likely not a good choice. But if I’m at home, in the jungle and on my favorite sacred river in Costa Rica, writing a book, exercising at the right time in the right way, and sleeping well, then fasting may be of incredible benefit. I teach my patients to listen to their body and follow what is best according to their lab markers, lifestyle, and health goals.
My most recent 3 day water fast was a huge success! A group of 12 others joined me on this journey. We learned and shared so much together. There were breakthroughs around binging eating habits, heightened awareness of old habits of emotional soothing with food, the importance of electrolytes, discussion around getting into ketosis, how to use food as medicine, an overflow of support, empowerment, and love, and a lot of courage. I learned that if you’re leaner, like me, you may need a little more time to recover. I felt pretty depleted by the end and have quickly built myself back up.
Here are my tips for breaking your fast:
- Consider adding 1 tsp of Apple cider vinegar to 4 oz of water before you eat to break your fast. This will help get some digestive juices going and help you better digest your food.
- Start introducing warm liquids slowly. Such as bone broth, vegetable soup, collagen powder dissolved in water, or a high quality hydrolyzed protein powder dissolved in water.
- Raw foods and beef may be more difficult to digest but certainly listen to your body.
- Stick with whole foods and avoid carbs for the first day or so and then only introduce complex carbs not sugary ones. NO breads or pastas.
- It’s best Not to break your fast with fruit, so stay clear for a few days. They are full of fructose which is not great on your liver and causes both blood sugar and insulin spikes.
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut could be a great way to break your fast, along with some bone broth.
- Pace yourself. Little by little. Resist the urge to eat a lot.
- Use a very small bowl or plate so you don’t serve yourself too much.
- If you want to get into or stay in ketosis (so you’re a fat burning super hero), then introduce healthy fats and proteins and keep the carbs out longer term. Such as avocado, coconut butter, and olive oil. If you don’t have a gall bladder or wish to keep your gall bladder healthy, then take an enzyme with Ox Bile such as Douglas Labs Ultrazyme. Follow directions, it can cause diarrhea at first, back of it this happens and reintroduce more gradually. You’re body will adjust and be much better able to digest fats while cleaning out your gall bladder and ducts little by little.
- Your 2nd, or 3rd meal could be raw veggies, or wild salmon or poultry. Listen to your body. If you’re not interested in keto still keep it simple and carbohydrates low for the first day or so to avoid “refueling syndrome”. Then you could have some fruit like an apple with almond butter.
- Chew very very well. After 36 hours of fasting (we hope to make it to 72 at least), your body often decreases production of digestive enzymes so it can take a bit to rev up your system again. Chewing well can help signal your body to begin production again.
- Consider introducing green drinks with whole food green powders, hydrolyzed protein powder, and collagen. I love a mix of wheat grass, alfalfa grass, oat grass, acai, maca, an adaptogenic formula with mushrooms to name a few.
- Consider taking digestive enzymes and Betaine HCL with pepsin to aid in breaking down your food so you can better absorb them. Ask me if you need more info.
- If raw food calls you: You could begin with a small fresh salad of cucumber, spinach, cilantro and olive oil if raw is feeling better to you. You may add a sardine or three bites of chicken. Listen to your body.
- No Alcohol, this can screw you up!
- Eggs are ok, but stick with one, chew well and see how you feel. I don’t do eggs but if you’re sure your body is good with them, they are a decent protein.
If you get diarrhea or gas and bloating after a fast, you may have introduced food too quickly, fats too quickly, or not chewed well. Consider going even slower next time, taking digestive enzymes and HCL with Pepsin.
Please don’t do anything stupid and hurt yourself. Your body and soul are precious to me, your family, your community and the world. Please work with someone who has both training and experience. I recently saw a woman on Facebook who has quite a large following of sick people, desperate for answers. She is promoting all kinds of fasting, including water fasts and even dry for weeks (very dangerous). I learned that two people have died under her care and none of her Facebook “fans” have any clue that she has no credentials as a “health coach”, and is just someone who stumbled upon fasting and now wants to promote it as the cure for everything. I sincerely care about your health and well-being. Please don’t fall pray to these kinds of health scams.
Intermittent fasting works very well with a holistic ketogenic nutritional program as well as with paleo, primal, and any balanced eating plan. There are many health benefits so I strongly encourage you to go for it, but always do so under the supervision of a credentialed and skilled healthcare provider.
Blessings of Vibrant Health,
Kristin Grayce McGary
LAc, MAc, CFMP, CST-T, CSL
Health & Lifestyle Alchemist