If you’re new to paleo – or any other low carb style of eating – you might feel intimidated by the idea of fasting. We get it: going long periods of time without eating doesn’t sound very pleasant. Won’t I be hungry? How am I supposed to have energy? There are tons of questions surrounding intermittent fasting, and we’re here to tell you why you just might want to consider testing it out.
First off, let’s cover the basics — what is fasting? People often associate fasting with starvation, but they’re not the same thing. The technical definition of fasting refers to going prolonged periods of time without food or drink. While the fasting we’re talking about does exclude consuming food and any drinks, the ‘prolonged period’ is controlled. You can think of fasting on paleo or keto more as altering eating patterns to consume foods during a certain period of time, and abstaining from consumption during others. Here, we’re talking water or black coffee only fasting.
In regards to intermittent fasting, there are a few different methods you can try – and some are easier than others.
- The 16/8 method — Fasting for 16-20 hours of the day and allowing a 4-8 hour eating window.
- The 5:2 method — Fasting for 2 full days of the week and eating normally the remaining 5 days.
- Alternate day fasting — Fasting on alternating days of the week (every other day) for a full 24 hours.
We recommend you start with a shorter fasting period to get your body used to not eating. But we know what you’re thinking — if I can’t eat for such a long period of time, I’m going to be starving. That actually isn’t the case. One of the main benefits of going paleo or keto is the stabilization of blood glucose levels and regulation of your main hunger hormone, ghrelin. When on a ketogenic diet, or a lower-carb diet in general, the fat consumed is metabolized into ketones by the liver, which suppresses your hunger via several metabolic pathways. When our blood sugar doesn’t spike and ghrelin release is regulated, cravings start to disappear and we are able to abstain from food for longer periods of time without getting any nasty side effects like headaches, irritability, and mood swings.
If we haven’t sparked your interesting in giving fasting a try yet, here are a few more reasons why you should:
1.It’s a great tool to lose stubborn fat.
If you haven’t read much into the ketogenic diet, the premise behind it is consuming very few carbohydrates in order to turn your body into a fat-burning machine. Our bodies generally rely on glucose (from carbohydrates) for fuel, but following a keto diet where we have little to no glucose in the bloodstream, our bodies must resort to other means for energy. That source? Fat.4
The same reasoning applies for fasting. Our bodies will eventually use up the glucose we have stored and will have to supply energy from another form. When fasting, initially we burn carbohydrate reserves, but when those run out, our bodies will turn to stored body fat for a source of energy because there is no dietary intake. This is why we experience an initial, sometimes drastic, drop in weight.
2. Fasting promotes autophagy in the body.
If you’ve ever done a juice cleanse or detox diet to help you drop a little weight and reset your body, you’re probably aware that they don’t generally work long-term. But there’s good news: there is a way you can do that, and it doesn’t involve bottles and bottles of juice or any crazy crash diet. It’s called autophagy (“self-eating”), and it’s a natural process your body undergoes to clean itself.5
Our bodies are made up of all sorts of little cellular components that allow them to run like well-oiled machines. But like any piece of machinery, over time it becomes old, damaged, and begins to malfunction. Cue autophagy — the body’s way of recycling dead, damaged, or worn-out cells. Think of it as a cellular clean up crew. When the body breaks down the old machinery, it recycles the parts and uses them to produce energy and new machinery. The result? New, youthful structures that allow our cells and body to function better and more efficiently.6
Now that you know what autophagy is, you’re probably wondering how fasting turns the switch on. There are two ways to do this: naturally inducing stress on the body (done via intermittent fasting) or integrating autophagy-inducing nutrients. Studies have shown the most benefit with fasts between 24-48 hours,7 but we know that’s not always doable for everyone. So start with 12-24 hours and work your way up. But remember to always go at your own pace and listen to your body.
3. You’ll experience mental clarity.
The brain’s preferred fuel source is glucose. However, when our bodies rely heavily on carbohydrates to perform, we often feel tired, sluggish, and overall just not well. When we switch our fuel source to running on ketones, which are produced when our bodies are in a state of ketosis, people will experience much clearer thinking and less brain fog throughout the day.3
Wondering what else intermittent fasting can do for the body?
- Improve and regulate insulin sensitivity
- Normalize hunger hormones
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Promote the secretion of certain hormones like human growth hormone (HGH)
- Enhance the immune system by reducing free radical damage, regulating inflammation, and starving cancer cell formation
- Provide the body with molecular building blocks and energy
- Prevent damage of healthy tissues and organs
- Improve brain function by boosting production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which activates cells to convert into new neurons
If you think you’re ready to give intermittent fasting a try and aren’t quite sure what to do, here are a few tips to get you started.
Start slowly. Not all of us can do a 24-48 hour fast with ease. Truth is, it’s actually really difficult. So remember to go at your own pace. If you’ve never fasted before, start with a small window of 12 hours — consume your last meal around 7pm and try to stave off the hunger until 7am the next morning. If you find that easy, try going a little longer and having your morning meal around 9-10am. Gradually delay eating of your first meal later and later until you’ve reached the desired length of time you wish to fast.
Remember to drink water – add a pinch of sea salt for electrolytes boost. Not only will water help the keep the belly rumbling at bay, but it’s also crucial to provide your body with the hydration it needs to function optimally. This is important not only during fasting, but everyday.
Consume mindfully. When you break your fast, make sure you choose your meals wisely. You want to consume foods that will give you the most bang for your buck. Choose high quality proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy oils and fats, and load up your plate with as much colour from fruits and vegetables as you can.
Watch your portion size. When you’re in your eating window, remember that portion size is important, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. The idea of over-eating still applies when fasting, so be mindful of not only what you’re eating, but also how much.
Listen to your body. Probably one of the most important tips we can give you. Not everyone is able to fast for long periods of time due to a variety of reasons and/or health conditions. If fasting more than 12 hours doesn’t feel right, don’t push it. If symptoms of dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, or anything else that isn’t normal comes up, break your fast and consult your doctor.
Intermittent fasting can be a little bit tough when you first start out, but there’s absolutely nothing to be scared of. If the temptation of others eating around you seems a little too difficult, try getting your family members or friends involved. Educate them on why fasting is so beneficial for the body and how easy it can be. Maybe it becomes a regular thing for you, or maybe it doesn’t, but giving it a try is the first step to seeing how amazing it can make you feel!
Enjoyed this piece and would love to learn more about paleo lifestyle? Simply subscribe to our weekly Cool Paleo Newsletter!