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Last Updated on February 28, 2019

Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits: More Than Just Weight Loss

Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits: More Than Just Weight Loss

I’ve had extensive experience with Intermittent Fasting over the years — from utilizing it for significant weight loss, to then gaining muscle, to other health benefits as of late. When I first began fasting, the results were so exciting I felt compelled to produce a youtube video, which is now approaching 1 million views! Since then, I have produced several more videos on intermittent fasting and its benefits, and I encourage you to visit my youtube channel to delve deeper.

In the proceeding article, we will examine Intermittent Fasting (“IF”) from several perspectives including physical health, mental health, and overall well being.

What Is Intermittent Fasting (“IF”)

Simply put, it’s restricting your food and albeit drink consumption to a certain time of the day which is called your ‘eating window’. There’s another term for this approach to eating called ‘time restricted eating’. The two basically mean the same thing, however Intermittent Fasting stresses a bit more on longer fasting periods ranging between 14 hours all the way up to 48 hours in some cases.[1]

Personally, I feel most people would benefit from fasting between 14-18 hours, as beyond that can be stressful on the body if you have not already established conditioning and patterns around fasting.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

Intermittent Fasting focuses on keeping your body in a catabolic state; one whereby your body has no food or resources for energy, so it begins to source energy from excess fat.

This is the opposite of being in an anabolic state, which is when you have consumed food and your body is actively processing and breaking down the nutrients and fats from that food and allocating those resources accordingly.

There is a large body of evidence suggesting that fasting can benefit both the body and brain, but almost all research has been conducted on animals, such as mice and rats. Researchers, such as myself, studying fasting have been calling for and awaiting more human studies to verify the results found while examining animals.

Myths About Intermittent Fasting

Myth #1: Starvation Mode?

Over the years, I’ve heard terms like ‘starvation mode’ thrown around with a lose relationship to IF, and this term is not accurate to how the body handles fasting and time restricted eating. Some people believe that your body will go into some sort of starvation mode, and by the time you actually do consume food, it will all be allocated to fat deposits and cause you to gain weight.

I’ve debunked this myth so many times with people when having conversations about weight loss, and I’m starting to think that the myth is actually going away! In large part due to articles such as this one which are geared towards informing the general public of the benefits of time restricted eating.

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Myth #2: Extremely Low Energy?

Another common myth is that energy levels are extremely low when fasting. This one spawns from the notion that your body needs food constantly for energy and to survive. Let me debunk this by stating that your body is much more resilient than that!

You can technically go several days without consuming food, as long as you are having adequate amounts of water. In my experience, over the years with time restricted eating, energy levels are sustained as long as the proper macro and micro nutrients are consumed during each eating window.

If you leave yourself deficient from each eating window by way of not consuming enough calories or nutrients, then yes, of course energy levels will be down the proceeding day.

However if your focusing on consuming high quality nutrients and hitting all your ‘numbers’ during your eating window, energy will certainly not be an issue.

How and When to Use Intermittent Fasting

All too often I hear people pushing the limits right away and going for 18, 20, 24 hour fasts within their first week of adopting the practice, and to be perfectly frank this is not a good idea.

I understand some people get overly excited about the results and the hype around intermittent fasting, however the best practice is to condition oneself by slowly easing into the process. I’ve suggested starting with 14 hours fasts, utilizing mostly sleeping time, for those starting intermittent fasting.

After a week or so of 14 hours daily fasts, gradually move to 16 hours the second week, then 18hours the third week, and if feeling really ambitious and seeing amazing results, move up to 20 hours fasts on some days. That means consuming all calories for the day within a 4 hour eating window!

Where many fall short with fasting is being able to consume the proper amount of overall calories including adequate volumes of protein, carbs, fats (macro-nutrients), and micro-nutrients. Many do not consume the correct amount of food during the eating window, or they don’t space meals out correctly.

There’s a few issues that can arise when one doesn’t consume proper nutrients within the eating window, let us examine some:

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  1. The body lacking adequate energy to sustain multiple days, or long term fasting
  2. The body is beginning to lose weight from muscle because it does not have enough nutrients to sustain energy levels
  3. When not spacing out meals, the body is not having enough time to digest food properly and thus not fully absorbing nutrients

Another problem which arises from my experience is poor eating habits being carried-over to intermittent fasting.

Someone has a crappy diet and thinks that by implementing time restricted eating or IF, they’ll start leaning up like Hollywood movie stars.. this is simply poor logic!

If serious about getting results in a healthy way, the diet should be cleaned up. This is because your body only has a certain amount of time to consume food (eating window), and if that time is being clogged-up with processing junk food, you won’t be reaping the benefits of IF.

Having said this, I do admit to having fast-food during eating windows at times, and though this can be a quick way to pack daily calories, and macro-nutrients, there is a significant lack of micro-nutrients; so when I go this route, it’s critical that my vitamin and mineral intake be on point!

Lately I have been consuming more carbohydrates and generally more calories during my eating windows because for the past 2 years, my goals have shifted from weight loss and leaning-up, to building lean muscle mass.

Putting on weight and building lean muscle mass while doing intermittent fasting is a tricky en-devour, mainly because the nature of IF is one of weight loss, fat loss, and ramping-up metabolism. What’s tricky is that at this stage of my life, my body has become quite efficient at processing and breaking down foods quickly; metabolic efficiency is quite high.

It didn’t start that way, in fact it was quite slow for the first couple months, but after training steadily and implementing time restricted eating for 6 months, I was well on my way to becoming a metabolic beast.

Now after having implemented intermittent fasting for well over 4 years, my body is quite adaptive and efficient at stripping nutrients from food, and leaving me with necessary fuel (carbohydrates and fats) for training.

My current goals entail acquiring 0.5 – 1lb of lean body mass (muscle) every month, totaling around 10lbs of lean muscle per year. This is very reasonable and attainable, however it certainly is challenging when also incorporating intermittent fasting.

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IF does help with the production of new muscle tissue by way of improving the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone, however, it also burns up any excess fats very quickly. So at this stage I find myself consuming in excess of 4,000 calories on a given day, and up wards of 6,000 calories on training days – that’s a lot of eating!

The challenge then arises of how does one consume 6,000 calories in a 4 or 6 hour eating window? Lot’s of caloric dense foods helps, however they lack nutrients in most cases as I had noted above.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

The benefits of fasting are wide ranging, from weight loss (of course), to improved muscle development, to reduced stress levels, to clearer skin, and much more! Of course, this all comes if one is following the correct protocols for intermittent fasting as we have examined earlier in this article.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the key benefits of intermittent fasting in this video first:

Fasting has been proven to improve biomarkers of disease, reduce oxidative stress and preserve learning and memory functioning, according to Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, part of the US National Institutes of Health. Mattson investigated the health benefits of IF on the cardiovascular system and brain in rodents, and like many others, has called for “well-controlled human studies” in people “across a range of body mass indexes”.[2]

Mattson has contributed to several other IF studies and caloric restriction. In one, overweight adults with moderate asthma consumed only 20% of their normal calorie intake on alternate days.[3] Participants who adhered to the diet lost 8% of their initial body weight over eight weeks. The participants also saw a decrease in markers of oxidative stress, inflammation, and improvement of asthma-related symptoms and several quality-of-life indicators.

In another study, Mattson and colleagues explored the effects of intermittent and continuous energy restriction on weight loss and various biomarkers (for conditions such as breast cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease) among young overweight woman.[4] They found that time restricted eating, or intermittent restriction, was as effective as continuous restriction for improving weight loss, insulin sensitivity and other health biomarkers.

Mattson’s research has also been in the direction of determining the protective benefits of fasting to neurons. For instance, if you don’t eat for 10 to 16 hours, your body will seek its fat deposits for energy, and fatty acids called ketones will be released into the bloodstream. This has been shown to protect memory and learning functionality as well as slow disease processes in the brain according to Mattson. From my own person experience of intermittent fasting I can attest to increased mental alertness and acuity.

Something that most won’t consider is the ‘detox’ and ‘cleanse’ aspects to intermittent fasting. I know you must be thinking “oh man, not another cleanse pitch”.. and I hear ya! But you do actually clean up the gut and digestive tract quite a bit with fasting.

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You can do this with dry fasting, or water fasting (which I’m more of a proponent of). I would only recommend dry fasting for a maximum of 24 hours – and this is done by not even consuming water during your fasting period. There are two purposes to dry fasting:

1. You deprive the body of moisture which can clean-up the gut by not allowing moisture-thriving bacteria to form or sustain existence. Any unhealthy bacteria will in essence die-off when there is no food or water to sustain it.

2. Many claim that standard or dry fasting yields mental clarity which can be beneficial for spiritual practices. Personally I have had some experience with this, where during prolonged fasting periods I feel much more in-tune with my sense perceptions, and albeit cognitive alertness.

When I perform my ritualistic meditations such as transcendental meditation in the morning, or any time of the day while fasted, I feel much more deeply connected and dialed-in with the meditation itself. This could be due to a lack of substances/external stimuli such as food or water that the body needs to allocate resources to process.

Perhaps when the body isn’t breaking down nutrients, and left to rest, it has the ability to hone-in on any given task with much more clarity and efficiency.

Conclusion

If you want to lose weight, improve mental health, and overall well being – consider trying Intermittent Fasting, but as mentioned, start gradually and work your way to longer fasting periods as time goes on.

The main benefit of fasting is arguable and varies depending on an individuals goals – Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to improve metabolic efficiency? Or do you want to improve overall energy levels? There’s lots to choose from in terms of overarching benefits.

Featured photo credit: Ethan Sykes via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] CMAJ: Intermittent fasting: the science of going without
[2] J Nutr Biochem 2005;16:129–37
[3] Free Radical Bio Med 2007;42:665–74
[4] Int J Obesity 2011;35:714–27

More by this author

Adam Evans

BioHacker, competitive athlete, researcher in many fields including health and fitness, science, philosophy, metaphysics, religion.

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

More About Boosting Memory

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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