Intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary practice that’s getting a lot of attention these days. In a nutshell, it involves fitting all your calories for the day into a condensed window of time and ‘fasting’ outside those hours.

Many intermittent fasters eat within an eight-hour window – for example, noon to 8pm – and fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day. The 8/16-hour ratio isn’t a hard and fast rule though; it can be adjusted to suit your needs and schedule.

Though intermittent fasting goes against what most of us have been told our whole lives (don’t skip breakfast!), there are several benefits to this way of eating. Our resident nutritionist Evian, who practices intermittent fasting himself, gave us the low down on what you need to know about IF – and how to do it safely.

5 Benefits of intermittent fasting

  1. Better digestion. Giving your body a break from food gives your body more time to digest what it ate and gives your digestive system a complete ‘reset’ each day.
  2. Cell regeneration (which has anti-aging benefits). Autophagy, which is the destruction of damaged or redundant cellular components is heightened when you fast. So taking a break from food helps your body recycle old cells into new ones.
  3. More energy for daily tasks (because it isn’t being ‘used up’ on digestion)
  4. Better mental clarity (because when you eat your body has to put some of its energy into digesting that food. When there’s none in there the body can send more energy to your brain).
  5. It can help with fat loss – for several reasons. Firstly, it makes it easier to stay within your daily caloric target AND can prevent mindless eating at certain times of day (ie: late in the evening). But beyond that, it allows your body to use up all the glycogen you’ve stored in your liver for energy, and begin using fat as a fuel source.

A TYPICAL IF DAY

For an example of what intermittent fasting looks like in practical terms, here’s a look at a typical day for Evian:

Wake up until noon: Fasting (no food; but drinking lots of water and coffee is ok too)

Noon: A big (healthy!) lunch

Sometime between 6 and 8pm: A big (healthy!) dinner

8pm onward: Fasting until bedtime (and overnight)

Evian is able to eat whatever and whenever he wants between noon and 8pm – there are no restrictions within the eating ‘window’ – though he tells us his meals are so filling he doesn’t usually need or want to.

And, to reiterate, the window can be adjusted – both in terms of length and timing. Many people find it easiest to skip breakfast and start their day with lunch (as Evian does) but you could stop eating at 6pm and begin again at 10am if that feels more doable and appropriate for you.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE BEGINNING

As is the case with most things, the transition into IF is the tougest part. Because your body is used to eating at certain times (ie. breakfast first thing), it releases a hormone (called Gherlin) to signal hunger and make you want to eat at those times.

The first week or so is all about ignoring – and resetting – those signals. You WILL be hungry as you adjust – but Evian advises that you remind yourself that you’re not starving and that you’re hungry because your body is secreting Ghrelin. Within a couple of weeks your body will adjust to your new routine and you won’t feel that same hunger.

During the transition – and beyond – you can consume coffee and other calorie-free drinks during your fasting windows. Drinking lots of water and the odd cup of coffee and/or tea is a good way to fend off hunger at the beginning.

If you want to try reducing your eating window to 8 hours but it feels like a big leap from where you are now, Evian recommends easing into it by decreasing your eating window gradually until you reach 8 hours (or the right number for you).

That said, it’s important to note that IF isn’t for everyone. Specifically, those with diabetes or hypoglycemia are not good candidates for this lifestyle because blood sugar levels can drop too low for their tolerance. And, as always, it’s best to speak with your health care provider before significantly altering your diet in any way.