“You are what you eat.”
How many times have we all heard this in our lifetime, yet how often do we really take this adage to heart? It’s a general statement that most of us probably get the gist of. Yes, we understand that eating healthy helps make us healthy, but I think there’s more here.
We quite literally become what we eat, how we eat and when we eat. The more we learn about nutrition’s role in the body, the more it comes back to basics. And yet there are ever-more increasing complexities revealed at the same time.
For instance, take into account that there are only 13 essential vitamins our bodies use, yet they’re involved in countless different interactions and processes. It can all be a bit overwhelming when you begin looking into the science, and in fact, this is exactly what the diet and fitness industry relies on for them to grow their profit margins.
The good news is, nature has already done the legwork for us. Armed with just a few simple, foundational changes, we can transform our diet, and life, in a very short amount of time. No, there is no magic bullet, but intermittent fasting is one of the most direct and impactful ways to change how we feel; not next week, not tomorrow, but today.
That’s enough small talk. Grab your fork, or better yet, don’t. The Basics
Intermittent fasting has caught a lot more buzz in recent years, and rightfully so. Fasting is one of the most effective ways to heal digestive issues, reduce fat, bolster your metabolism and increase overall health and longevity.
The truth is, digestion is an extremely taxing process for our bodies. Believe me when I say, it requires all hands on deck to liquify, absorb and assimilate the protein in that juicy sirloin you just devoured.
By placing a strategic gap between meals, we give our bodies a chance to catch up, restore and revitalize. In fact, it’s completely natural, and always has been.
The “3 square meals a day” notion was only promoted in the 20th century as a means to market many of the shiny new processed, pre-packaged and readily-available edible products (what I would term “pseudo-foods”) for massive profit. The breakfast cereal brands are perhaps the most notorious for this.
Many of us were told from an early age that we couldn’t go to school and think effectively until our bellies were full of artificially colored and flavored, corn-derived sugary cereal. And in fact, it should have been just the opposite. Sorry kids, Tony the Tiger was not your friend after all.
As humans, we’re evolved and adapted to thrive on fewer meals and longer times in between meals. For primitive mankind, a bounty was sparse, so we would load up while we could. While we would likely graze periodically on low-lying heirloom fruits and vegetables, the next big score might not come for many hours or even days.
When I first began intermittent fasting, the most obvious benefit was my mental clarity. Once I started skipping breakfast, that early morning fog simply disappeared. By not bogging down the system with a heavy meal right out of the gate each day, more energy, both mentally and physically, was readily available.
Another, often more overlooked benefit, is that it changed my relationship with food and what I believed my body needed. It halted my neuroticism about what I ate or when I ate to start out each day. I had programmed myself to believe that I needed a full meal every morning to function, and yet here I was, feeling better than ever by doing just the opposite.
Make no mistake, intermittent fasting is great when it comes to changing body composition as well. Whether you’re aiming to burn fat or gain muscle, it plays a crucial role in many athletes regimens.
Whether it’s dropping insulin levels, stimulating human growth hormone, facilitating cellular repair or reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, all of which is now supported by research, the benefits of fasting are part of a long list. The point is this, as the title states: It’s a game changer.
The most common practice for intermittent fasting is the 16/8 method. Simply put, each day you are fasting for 16 hours, followed by an 8-hour eating window. At first this may sound extreme, but consider this. For 8 of those 16 hours, you’re already fasting because you’re asleep.
Essentially, you’re skipping breakfast, not eating until noon. Then, your last meal of the day takes place sometime before 8:00 in the evening, thus allowing for your 16-hour fast before noon the next day.
Over time, you will find the eating schedule that works best for you. You may find that as your body adapts, you’re able to push back that first meal further and further. A longer fast will
accelerate the effects even more. Eventually, the goal is to reach a place where you’re in tune with your body’s natural rhythm, and eating accordingly.
If you’re an avid breakfast lover, you may find the hardest part is starting. Those morning hours will be difficult at first, but within just a few days the fog will clear, your energy levels will soar and you won’t even be thinking about food until the afternoon. Consistency here is key.
There are several methods for intermittent fasting available, but in my opinion, this is the easiest and most effective form to adopt. In making it a daily habit, you’re allowing your body to adapt and acclimate quickly.
A Few Extras
The biggest added tip is simple: Water! If you’re not already, you’ll want to drink at least a couple glasses of water as soon as you wake up. You’ll want to continue to do so throughout your fasting hours.
Don’t obsess over it. Just drink water throughout the morning as you desire. It will help curb the appetite as well as hydrate and flush toxins while the body is not taxed with digesting food.
Also, tea or coffee can act as an appetite suppressant, making those first few hours each day a little easier, especially when you’re first starting. I hope it goes without saying, but coffee with 50 grams of added sugar or sweetener doesn’t count. Keep it straight and simple.
There are differing opinions on this matter. Some say that it’s not a “true fast” if you’re consuming anything that your body has to metabolize, others say you’re only breaking the fast if you’re consuming more than a few calories. I wouldn’t obsess over this. Find what works for you.
The last tip is obvious, but I feel it should be stated. The healthier and cleaner you’re eating during the second half of your waking hours, the better. Your body needs to have it’s nutritional bases covered to do anything effectively. That includes healing and regenerating during your fast.
Again, the goal is not perfection, but rather to just be mindful. Don’t gorge on three Big Macs everyday at noon only to wonder why you’re not feeling any better since you started fasting last week.
Wrapping it Up
I wanted to provide this information because I know from first-hand experience the benefits that fasting can offer. When I started several years ago, I was skeptical, but something told me to follow through and stay consistent with it.
Within a few days, the results were clear. There is more research-based evidence coming out all the time in regards to fasting and the myriad of health benefits it can provide. If we zoom out, it’s easy to see all the ways in which our current lifestyles counteract and contradict what we’ve always done and what we’ve always known.
By intermittent fasting, and loosening our structures built around when we consume our food, it’s one more way we can align ourselves with our true nature and support our health in the way it was intended.