We have been programmed to eat what the food industry wants, we have been biased to believe that our best options is eating five or six times a day, we have been sold the idea that breakfast is the most important meal, etc. However nutrition, as well as exercise, emotional, or spiritual practice is individual, is dependent on your own specific needs and results that you want in your life.
It will probably be polemic all the time, however there are now ways to measure the impact of bigger populations, and in fact this kind of feeding behavior has been experienced for the longest time in several cultures that demonstrate to have better parameters of health in terms of the incidence of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes type 2, hypertension and early dementia.
Several research supports the most popular way of implementing this kind of feeding behavior is to allow the sleeping fasting period gradually until you arrive to the desired time of fasting, the most popular nowadays schedule, as it couples with most common working hours, is the 16:8 scheme.
What does this scheme is about and how you implement it?
It implies that you prolonged your fasting period to 16 hours and you have a window of 8 hours to eat, this kind of schedule can easily work for you if you have the typical 9am to 5 pm, or 8 am to 6 pm, schedule.
It is pretty easy to start approaching this scheme and to help you start doing it, here is a practical example:
Let’s suppose you have dinner at 7 pm, this would mean that your next meal under this 16:8, would be at 11 am (your “breakfast”).
Then you have a window of 4 hours for your next meal, so your lunch would be at 3 pm;
Then your dinner would be again at 7 pm.
Pretty easy, right? …If you move your dinner, your first meal would have to be moved to comply with the 16 hours window of fasting, and from there you have two intervals of 4 hours to eat your lunch and your dinner.
Is it recommended to implement it in one step? In my own experience, and particular opinion ..No.
The best strategy to implement this schedule would be to increase your fasting schedule intervals of 30 minutes or 60 minutes, depending on your lifestyle, your stamina, and of course your discipline to align your body to a new way of eating.
If you do it in 30 minute intervals, usually the common fasting period is 8 hours, so from there you 16 increments to take you to the desired schedule which would take you 4 months to finally get to the desired window. It’s ok, you should be in no rush, and this kind of eating behavior is made to last and to be implemented for the long term.
Of course, if your lifestyle, exercise activities and several other factors such as your work stress or commuting time for example allow you to make it in 1 hour increments, then we would be talking that in just eight weeks you can arrive to the 16 hours goal! Which is only two months.
In either case, once you have at least 1 month of applying this scheme of prolonging your fasting period you will be able to see the impact in many parameters that are very easy to notice, you will have:
Less anxiety to eat, mostly sugars;Increased mental alertness;
Easier concentration periods;
Reduced inflammation, which will start noticing in your face and belly as your clothes start to feel more loose;
Better and more restful sleep;
Enhanced memory and cognition abilities.
This is just to mention a few and the ones that are pretty obvious for everyone paying attention to their health.
What are the internal benefits that have been observed?
Now, we are getting to the juicy evidence in terms of what everyone is looking for, of course the presented results are just a portion of population, not everyone would have the same results but the approximation would be more accurate for many individuals.
A study in 8 overweight young adults found that increasing the nightly fasting duration to ≥14 hours resulted in statistically significant decreases in energy intake and weight, as well as improvements in self-reported sleep satisfaction, satiety at bedtime, and energy levels (1).
Overall, evidence suggests that intermittent fasting regimens are not harmful physically or mentally (i.e., in terms of mood) in healthy, normal weight, overweight, or obese adults (1).
It appears that almost any intermittent fasting regimen can result in some weight loss. Among the 16 intervention trials included in this review, 11 reported statistically significant weight loss (1).
A growing body of evidence suggests that, in general, IF could represent an useful tool for improving health in general population due to reports of improving blood lipids and glycaemic control, reducing circulating insulin, decreasing blood pressure, decreasing inflammatory markers and reducing fat mass even during relatively short durations (8–12 weeks). These reported effects are probably mediated through changes in metabolic pathways and cellular processes such as stress resistance, lipolysis, and autophagy (2).
All of research evidence is pretty significant in terms of the benefits that we could obtain from this kind of scheme, even if you’re an skeptic or if you have a craving addiction for any type of food, applying this modified behavior to your relationship with food, believe me that it will make a big impact in your life.
Now, getting a little bit technical, but trying to be as clear for everyone, I will try to support this scheme in terms of a biochemical paradigm.
When we have a meal, we start producing in our pancreas, insulin and other metabolic hormones in less quantity, during the traveling of the food through the esophagus and to the stomach, several enzymes (helpers to start degrading the food) will be released, once we are in the stomach, a very important hormone is released there and is named Ghrelin, this hormone is in charge of promoting your hunger signals, regulating your intake of food and also promotes fat storage.
Another very important hormone that is going to be affected during this journey is Leptin, Leptin is a hormone released by your adipocyte cells (form the fat tissue), this hormone is in charge of signaling your brain when you’re full, once you have consumed the right amount for you to feel satisfied, therefore it also known as the saciety hormone (in your brain), in addition to that it also promotes the amount of energy that is going to be spent, meaning how much of what you eat is really burned to allow your physical activity, but also how much of that energy will be stored as fat. And here is the tricky part, Leptin, Insulin and Ghrelin have to be let’s say in medium levels, any of them has to be too low or too high, Why?
Having a down regulation on any of these three metabolic/hunger hormones would result in diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and some dyslipidemias, alteration of your Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Cholesterol levels.
All these journey, regulation and cycles of hormones and enzymes that will help metabolize your food intake is then affected by the type of macronutrients that you’re eating and by the times during the day that you’re being fed. Mostly meaning, that the more simple carbohydrates (sugars, candies, sodas, cakes, processed food) and unhealthy fats such as saturated fat (fried potatoes, some type of processed oils, processed food and some dairy products) will have a very deleterious impact on your internal rhythm and cycle of releasing this hormones giving as a result an imbalance that will predispose you first to gain weight, then probably obesity, diabetes, hypertension, early dementia and in the long term some types of cancers, infertility issues, hormonal problems, etc.
Therefore reducing the times you eat, in addition to reducing the sugar consumption (simple carbohydrates), reducing the amount of saturated fat, as well as promoting the consumption of complex carbohydrates (fibers, high fiber fruits and vegetables), consuming healthy fats, such as unsaturated (avocado, olive oil, blue fish oils, tuna salmon, etc) and increasing a little bit your protein intake will maintain the adequate amount of this hormones, regulating them, allowing them to be produced just when needed and not at all times, giving time to your detoxifying organs such as your liver, pancreas and kidneys to process the food without giving them a hard time and allowing you to have also a healthier microbiome (your intestinal flora).
This kind of healthy regime, has also been proven to have very beneficial effects for your cognitive skills and sleep patterns as it also impacts some of the main signals that have an effect in your internal clocks, named circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms occur across 24-hour light–dark clock cycles and include changes in biology and behavior. Desynchronization of the suprachiasmatic nucleus master clock in the brain and peripheral circadian clocks in liver, fat, and skeletal muscle cells may increase the risk of chronic diseases. Feeding signals appear to be the dominant timing cue for the rhythms of peripheral clocks, including those that control metabolic pathways. Thus, consuming energy outside the normal feeding phase (i.e., late-night eating in humans) may reset some peripheral clocks and disrupt energy balance. The evidence that nutrient signals and meal timing are circadian synchronizers is based largely on animal research. However, there is a large and robust literature in humans indicating that shift-work disrupts circadian rhythms and, as mentioned above, is associated with increased risks of cardiometabolic disease and cancer (3).
The best way to understand this in a simpler way, is by imagining a person that arrives tired, stressed and probably in not the best mood from work, now let’s say this person, then imagining the most popular work schedule 9 am to 6 pm, he arrives to his house at 7 pm taking the time he gets to the car, leaves the parking place, and commutes, then to “relax” he gets in his mobile and engages in social media for about 1.5 to 2 hours, that would mean he’s already disrupting the three main hormones that we talked about before, due to stress at work, stress of traffic and stress from social media, and finally he decides to have dinner at 9 pm because obviously he is very hungry by that time, he doesn’t want to engage in preparing a healthier meal so he just eats a frozen portion of chicken with a gravy which mostly contains plenty of sugar plus a good quantity of saturated fat, then as he likes to have something sweeter to finish dinner he ates a piece of muffin (pure sugar almost) and then he pretends to sleep almost 20-30 minutes after that kind of meal.
Our internal clocks are pretty logical about the light/dark cycles, therefore by 10 pm he should have some sleep already, however with the huge amount of not so healthy food he just ate the internal clocks are triggered and confused on what to do with all that food and energy that he just gave them, so obviously, this person has some problems to fall sleep, let’s say he takes about 30-50 minutes to finally fall sleep, however if he’s able to fall sleep in that time, the clocks are still disturbed, meaning the most important phases of sleep which are the REM (where you have dreams) and Deep Sleep won’t happen as they should or in the correct amount of time. Thus, in turn, either waking up during dawn or feeling pretty tired in the morning and of course very hungry, mostly for sugars.
If we repeat this pattern of behavior, those internal clocks will no longer function as they should, and they will be completely disturbed, leading to other hormonal imbalances that will create bad mood, anxiety, sadness and probably depression over some months.
Instead when you have an intermittent time where you eat, and your hour of dinner is at 8 pm maximum (let’s say for the majority) you still have some couple of hours to digest and allow your food to be processed, of course let’s add, that a person that already engaged in this kind of eating habit will have a healthier dinner, over time will have a better balance of hormones reducing mostly the anxiety, he will have better energy maintenance and management, therefore the option to relax over the mobile phone won’t be as prolonged as the other unhealthy guy, he will achieve this hormonal balance, in a 2-3 hours period maximum, and of course the ease to fall sleep will be much faster (10-15 minutes), but the most important point to highlight here is that he will be able to maintain the functionality and stability of his sleep phases, having a much decent length time for REM and Deep Sleep, meaning he will at least have 6 to 7 hours of good sleep, having a much better mood in the morning and not feeling anxious to ingest food.
Additionally as the REM and Deep Sleep phases were allowed to complete their full cycles, in those phases is where most of the flushing of toxic chemicals for the brain occurs, is where most of the consolidation of memory occurs, and is where most the new neural connections are strengthen. Meaning that the overall effects will be a better outlook for the day, more mental clarity, more attention spans, better memory and the ability to learn things easier.
In Summary, this proposed eating pattern/scheme, as much as it cannot be generalized (as any kind of diet plan), is better for our internal organs activity, it has proven to give you several benefits, some that are pretty obvious and easy to notice in your everyday life, some other listed above, supported by several research evidence, as well as pretty stunning evidence with my clients. Moreover, it also allows your internal machinery to cleanse, your brain and cognitive abilities to become sharper, and your sleep to have more quality in the two phases needed for overall metabolic, energy renewal and cognitive reparation.
On the other hand, your hormone regulation patterns will be benefited and improved, giving you a better overall outlook of your other needs, will give you better mood and more attention in your everyday activities.
This is not to be confused, as to be just promoting this kind of nutritional scheme, but it has the purpose to invite you to test and learn by yourself if it works for you and the benefits that you might obtain from it. If in the first sequence of implementation you don’t feel good, you start having problems to adapt, then probably is not for you, or you have too much stressors that also affect the implementation of it. Give it a try, test it for at least one month, and experience for yourself.
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Patterson, R. E., & Sears, D. D. (2017). Metabolic effects of intermittent fasting. Annual review of nutrition, 37.
Moro, T., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A., Marcolin, G., Pacelli, Q. F., Battaglia, G., ... & Paoli, A. (2016). Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. Journal of translational medicine, 14(1), 290.