As a naturopathic physician who has practiced intermittent fasting (IF) for the bulk of my adult life, I am uniquely positioned to speak both scientifically and anecdotally to intermittent fasting's profound benefits.
As well as its potential drawbacks.
Intermittent Fasting - Have Your Cake & Eat It Too
Before I even had a name for it, I have been following some form of intermittent fasting since my late teenage years.
My adoption of intermittent fasting paralleled the increased autonomy I obtained over my dietary habits.
As I moved out of the parental nest to begin undergraduate engineering, I was struck by the realization that - for the first time in my life - I was completely responsible for what I ate.
And - perhaps even more critically - when I ate.
Experimentation with various dietary strategies soon demonstrated that intermittent fasting provided me with vast benefits in cognition, energy, productivity, time-management, and quality of life.
In the intervening years, I have experimented zealously with many other dietary strategies.
Those varying what I ate.
Including raw, paleolithic, ketogenic, and caloric restriction with adequate nutrition (CRAN) diets.
And also those affecting when I ate.
Including by shifting meal frequency and/or timing of caloric intake.
Some of these - notably the aforementioned raw, paleolithic, ketogenic, and CRAN dietary strategies - undoubtedly produced significant benefits.
And yet ...
... none could match the pronounced, sustained, and all-encompassing benefits offered by intermittent fasting.
Clear Brain Fog With Intermittent Fasting
Mental confusion, tiredness, and/or clouding of consciousness - otherwise known as "brain fog" - is a frequent side effect of impaired food digestion or absorption, as well as inappropriate selection or volume of food.
Foods which may bring on brain fog are highly individual.
That said, frequent culprits include:
- Fungi (mushrooms)
- Fermented foods
- Easily fermentable, carbohydrate-rich foods
Intermittent fasting provides one of the fastest, most effective methods for clearing such brain fog.
Unlike simple fasting, intermittent fasting provides the body with the nutritional precursors - including glutamine and other essential amino acids - necessary for digestive repair and health.
And unlike eating patterns involving frequent meals, intermittent fasting allows the gastrointestinal system time - away from not only potentially-irritating foods, but the simple diversion of energy required for digestion itself - to rebuild itself stronger than ever.
Get Energized With Intermittent Fasting
While this may appear to fly in the face of much conventional wisdom, it is in fact a natural corollary of several well-understood evolutionary and biological principles.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the popular link between overindulgence and sleepiness.
This link is highlighted in the popular mnemonic - "rest & digest" - for the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system.
And while famously associated with melatonin-producing tryptophan in Thanksgiving turkey, such soporific effects of food are actually universal.
Digestion diverts blood flow, energy, and resources from the muscular, cortical, and nervous functions required to operate at one's peak state.
Digestion also promotes insulin and glucose volatility, leading to highs and - ultimately - lows of energy.
Such blood-sugar effects can be partially mitigated by food choices, such as by:
- Increasing fibre, fat, and protein-containing foods
- Decreasing foods with high glycemic indices, and
- Increasing natural, unprocessed, raw foods
However, even with the best food choices, the enervating effects of digestion are universal.
Consequently, limiting digestion to well-defined periods can lead to dramatic increases in energy and well-being.
Increase Productivity & Time-Management With Intermittent Fasting
Increased productivity and time-management are one of the most immediate and profound benefits of intermittent fasting.
Just as digestion physiologically diverts blood, energy, and other physical resources away from higher muscular and nervous functions, the preparation and consumption of frequent meals diverts time, energy, and other psychological resources away from focusing on what truly matters to you.
The total amount of time spent preparing food and eating may - if weight loss is not desired - be similar with intermittent fasting or frequent meals.
However, by permitting extended periods between meals in which food preparation and consumption are not required, intermittent fasting frees up your psychological resources.
Allowing you time, space, and energy to focus on what truly matters to you.
Why Isn't Everyone Practicing Intermittent Fasting?
Those who follow my writing know that I'm a tireless advocate of individualization in all aspects of health.
And, one may reasonably ask - "if intermittent fasting is so great, why isn't everyone doing it?"
There are many reasons.
Others less so.
Social Barriers To Intermittent Fasting
These represent some of the most prominent barriers to widespread adoption of intermittent fasting.
Social interaction is undoubtedly an extremely important part of success, health, happiness, and life itself.
And one who profession revolves around business dinners and cocktail parties may find some, more extreme versions of intermittent fasting more challenging to adopt.
More obstinate social barriers, however, are often presented by those closest to us.
And even ourselves.
In fact, any dietary change away from familiar, habitual patterns often incites fear and rejection.
Despite - or perhaps because of - profound potential benefits.
By creating seeds of doubt that the tried and true of the old ways may be tired and through.
Fortunately - unlike dietary patterns restricting what you eat - intermittent fasting is less likely to promote such social opposition.
As it can be adapted to virtually any lifestyle and social situation.
Allowing you to partake in the meals which truly matter to your career, your loved ones, and - ultimately - to yourself.
Who Should Avoid Intermittent Fasting
As noted above, I am an advocate of individualization in all things.
Accordingly, there are legitimate reasons why intermittent fasting may not be for a given individual.
Blood Sugar and Intermittent Fasting
However, Type 1 diabetics, underweight individuals, and those who find eating more than very small portions at any given time induces nausea may find it difficult to eat sufficient quantity or quality of food under an intermittent fasting regimen to satisfy their nutritional needs.
That said, most calorie-related or nutrient-related obstacles to intermittent fasting can be overcome by varying caloric intake and fasting / feeding cycles in accordance to need.
Individualized Responses to Intermittent Fasting
The above notwithstanding, however, individual reactions to anything - including intermittent fasting - vary.
As a result, I encourage those interested in intermittent fasting to consider experimenting with such a regimen to determine whether it can be beneficial for them.
However, those with chronic or advanced conditions - particularly those revolving around blood sugar regulation - are advised not to make any dramatic changes to their diets without the support, advise, and supervision of a qualified and experienced healthcare professional.
There are many varieties of and nuances to intermittent fasting regimens, and such a professional can permit you to find the best one for your individual nature.
Whether myself or another qualified healthcare professional, I wish you the best in your healthcare journey, and remain here to offer support and advice to any who may desire or require it along the way.