I was a guest on a radio health talk show recently and I talked about intermittent fasting. I will like to discuss it with you. Before I proceed, permit me to share a story with you. I had a bout of malaria that defied treatment in 2010. Despite my phobia for injections, l had to ask for them when all medications failed. I got a little relief but the feverish feelings came again.
One day, my blood sample had to be taken and while the lab attendant was coming with my result, she had a smile on her face to calm me down. As she got to me, she announced jokingly that typhoid was having a party in my bloodstream. I heaved a sigh of relief that at least, we got to the root of the cause of the illness. I was placed on another set of medications but the more I took them, the more the pain all over my body increased. My family panicked at that point.
One day, a three-day marathon fasting was announced in my church. The fast was to start on a Sunday and end on Tuesday. At first, I felt it was suicidal joining them to observe the fast because of the way I was feeling but I later changed my mind and observed the fast. By the time it was the third day, I felt no single pain in my body! Do you feel it was a case of divine healing because I was in the church? Well, I will not rule that out but the truth is that fasting detoxifies the body and that was exactly what it did to my body. You have not even heard it all; by the time I got home, everyone screamed, “You have lost some weight!” That year was a remarkable one for me because I learnt that fasting is a way of healing the body and also a weight loss measure.
Let us go history lane to familiarise ourselves more with fasting. The early great philosophers, thinkers and healers used fasting for health. Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Galen all praised the benefits of fasting. Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine, was quoted as saying, “Fasting is the greatest remedy – the physician within.”
Fasting works because the body has the capacity to heal itself and when the process of digestion stops, healing is accelerated. To understand how fasting works, you first need to know that our bodies store sugar in the form of glycogen and when we stop eating, the stored glycogen is used by the body. Fasting after glycogen stores are depleted (which occurs during the first 24-48 hours of a fast), sets off complex biochemical pathways in the body that aim to conserve energy while adequately fuelling vital organs. These complex biochemical pathways have tremendous healing benefits.
Abstaining from food is frequently a requirement for contemporary medical procedures such as cholesterol screenings, blood sugar checks and major surgeries. Water fasting involves drinking only water for a set amount of time. Juice fasting entails only drinking vegetable or fresh fruit juice for a certain period. Partial fasting is when certain foods or drinks such as processed foods, animal products or caffeine are eliminated from the diet for a set period. This week, I will pitch my tent with the type of fasting called “intermittent fasting”.
Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that switches between fasting and eating on a regular schedule. How fasting and eating are divided each day is called an “eating schedule”. While it may have some of the same health benefits as a diet, it is really an eating pattern. It means you fast during a certain period of time each day (usually an extended period of time). You then eat during another period of time each day (usually a smaller period of time).
Research shows that intermittent fasting is a way to manage your weight and prevent or even reverse some forms of diseases. Many diets focus on “what to eat” but intermittent fasting is all about “when you eat”. Johns Hopkins’ neuroscientist, Mark Mattson, has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years. He says, “Our bodies have evolved to be able to go without food for many hours or even several days or longer”. In prehistoric times, before humans learnt to farm, they were hunters and gatherers who evolved to survive and thrive for long periods without eating. It took a lot of time and energy to hunt games and gather nuts and berries. Mattson says that after hours without food, the body exhausts its sugar stores and starts burning fat. He refers to this as “metabolic switching”.
Types of intermittent fasting
16:8 – This method of intermittent fasting is the most common of them all. It involves a 16-hour fasting period followed by an eight-hour eating window. Let me give you an example. Let us agree that today is Monday and you want to start your 16:8 intermittent fasting by 7pm. From 7pm to 11am on Tuesday morning is your 16 hours fasting window. Between 11am and 7 pm on the same Tuesday is your eight hours eating window. Let me give another example: 8pm on Monday to 12noon on Tuesday is 16 hours, your fasting period. From 12noon to 8pm on the same Tuesday is eight hours, your eating window. The trend continues on and on. It is important to keep your eating window at the same time every day.
20:4- This intermittent fasting method is most common for people who have dipped their toes in the waters of fasting before and want to kick it up a notch. You fast for 20 hours and eat for 4 hours.
24-hour fast- This fast is a longer fast that involves not eating for a full 24 hours. Typically, this method is only done sporadically. Maybe a couple of days a week or a few times a month. This intermittent fasting method is recommended to reboot after an overindulgence or to aid in weight loss.
5:2 – People following this eating plan eat standard amounts of healthful food for five days and reduce calorie intake on the other two days of the week.
Other types are alternate day fasting and 12 hours a day.
What can I eat while intermittent fasting?
During the times when you are not eating, water and zero-calorie beverages such as black coffee and tea are permitted. Be careful not to add any cream or sugar to your coffee (and tea) because even a splash of milk will break your fast. During your eating periods, “eating normally” does not mean going crazy. Research shows that you are not likely to lose weight or get healthier if you pack your feeding times with high-calorie junk food, super-sized fried items and treats. Most nutrition experts regard the Mediterranean diet as a good blueprint of what to eat. Whether you are trying intermittent fasting or not, you can hardly go wrong when you pick leafy greens, healthy fats, lean protein and complex, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains