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Intermittent Fasting – Part 1: Is it Right For You & Specifics for Women

So what’s all the hype about intermittent fasting lately?

Unfortunately, intermittent fasting has become one of the latest, “this will fix my life” dieting trends.  What’s unfortunate is that there’s a LOT of legitimate science backing it up and it’s getting obfuscated by trendy bloggers trying to ride popular health waves and monetize it at all costs.  There’s lots of irresponsible, erroneous and misleading information out there so what my aim is with this post is to help you navigate whether or not intermittent fasting is right for you and to give you the right information so you can make a well informed decision.

Also, for the sake of not having to type it out a bunch because I don’t want to, I’m going to refer to intermittent fasting as “IF” for the remainder of this post.

 

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Fasting is simple – whether you should be doing it is another matter.

People have fasted forever.  It’s very therapeutic.  I’ll go over the large list of benefits in the next article.  You should first know that it can actually make things much worse for you metabolically if you’re not careful.  If you’re dealing with chronic disease and autoimmunity, don’t jump right in.  When dealing with anything like that, start with a basic “Paleo” style reset.  Go get some blood work done.  Have your microbiome checked out.  Find out what you’re allergic to.  Stop eating junk food.  The point I’m making is that IF is for people who are relatively metabolically healthy to begin with.

Please for the love of God don’t attempt to use IF to try and fix Hashimotos or something silly like that.  If you have to question it, it’s probably not a good idea.  If you feel like you have an edge case, feel free to leave a comment.  I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction.  And by that I mean I’m probably just going to tell you to go to a Naturopath.  It’s ultimately up to you.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here’s a quick list of folks who are “no-no’s” for IF:

  1. Pregnant/Nursing Moms
  2. People on Prescription Medication
  3. People under Chronic Stress
  4. People with a recent history of eating disorders
  5. People with Sleep Disorders
  6. People with Neurodegenerative Disease
  7. People with Autoimmune Disorders
  8. People with other Chronic Disease

Note: For #4 this might trigger an unhealthy relapse – there are psychological factors at play that create more complexity here

I know what you might be thinking, “well then who does that leave?” – and my answer is EXACTLY!  This problem goes pretty deep because I just hit a huge chunk of the US population.  With the exception of #1 (and maybe #4) on that list, every other one is a result of a broken food system, sedentary lifestyles and environmental toxins.

Again, to reiterate, start with addressing the symptoms listed above.  And they are symptoms.  Most if not all of them can be addressed and even alleviated through proper diet, exercise and lifestyle adjustment.  If you need a coach, contact a local Functional Medicine practitioner and ask for referrals.  Doing it alone is extremely difficult.  If nothing else, create some accountability within your friends and family.  It REALLY helps!!

 

 

Ladies – IF is beneficial in certain circumstances, but not all.

Another quick and monumentally important side note here is that IF is different for women.  Men and women are very different, especially when it comes to hormones.  Imagine that. (take that culture!)

Let’s talk about the 3 main players hormonally that make up that difference:

  • Leptin – Nicknamed the “starvation hormone”, it tells your brain when you’re satiated
  • Ghrelin – Nicknamed the “hunger” hormone, it tells your brain when you’re hungry
  • Insulin – Regulates the amount of glucose (a sugar used for energy in the body) in the blood

Women are more sensitive to these hormones because they all have to do with eating, energy and fat storage.  Intrinsically, women will be more sensitive to these hormones because of reproduction; as in they won’t produce eggs if the body doesn’t have enough stored energy to support a baby.  So that’s the first thing.  Don’t be a hero.  If you’re having a really tough time one day, then by all means just eat.

Fasting is supposed to be therapeutic and can be used to heal your body in a lot of ways.  Make sure to ease in to it.  Go into it with the mindset that you have to take each day as it comes.  Listen to what your body’s hormones are telling you on certain days.  From my research, because fasting is so different for women vs. men, here’s a short list of good AND bad reasons to give it a try:

Good:

  • There’s a significant amount of fat to lose
  • In conjunction with chemotherapy to improve its effectiveness (and with your oncologist’s permission of course!)
  • To improve cognitive function as therapy for cognitive decline and/or dementia

Bad:

  • Dropping from 16% to 12% body fat
  • Trying to keep your weight in check while pregnant
  • To really get the maximum benefit from your 5-6 times a week CrossFit metcons

Note: What I’m NOT saying is that fasting is not good for women.  I’m saying that regular intermittent fasting for an extended period of time might not be the healthiest option.  There’s a significant difference between intermittent fasting as a lifestyle and occasional therapeutic fasts.  Some examples would be for detoxing, resetting your immune system, religious reasons, etc.

What About Your Thyroid?

This is probably the biggest objection to IF that’s out there right now and it goes something like this:

“Intermittent Fasting….thyroid…..bad”

Most people can’t actually explain it to you.  The truth is that even those with thyroid disorders (hypothyroid, Hashimotos, etc.) can actually benefit from IF but ONLY if it’s done properly.  I know I said to not attempt to fix Hashimotos with IF earlier, but that was in the context of someone who has not cleaned up their diet and lifestyle and didn’t do it under the direct supervision of a Functional Medicine practitioner.  That’s an important distinction I wanted to highlight as a principle for nutrition and health in general.  There isn’t just one answer to these things.

The key things to remember when dealing with IF and your thyroid are the same as if you’re not doing IF.  In other words, these things are important for proper thyroid function all around.

Here’s another list (you’re welcome):

  1. Make Sure You’re Not Restricting Calories – IF is NOT low calorie.  You’re just eating all your calories within a specific window of time each day.  Calorie restriction is what jacks up your thyroid and slows down your metabolism.
  2. Get adequate amounts of Selenium.  This trace mineral involved in converting T4 to T3.  T3 is the active form of thyroid hormone.
  3. Intake adequate amounts of Iodine from whole food sources.  Sea Kelp is great because it will include all the necessary co-factors for proper assimilation.
  4. Get adequate amounts of Vitamin A & D (but mostly A) – this time of year get your Vitamin D from the sun or you can supplement with a reputable Cod Liver Oil.

I seem to remember writing an article about a Superfood last week that would easily get you the adequate amounts of Selenium and Vitamin A…hmmmm…

One last thing to note about the thyroid is that IF itself actually helps convert T4 to T3 so there you go.  Not sure where all the “controversy” is.  I think the problem, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, is false or misleading information on IF, not IF itself.

Stay Tuned For Part 2 Next Week!

So there you have it.  Next week I’ll be cover the health benefits.  This includes fat loss and gaining lean muscle mass at the same time effectively. how to get started, some tricks for getting through the fast when you’re feeling hungry and much more.  I’ll discuss what kinds of things to avoid when getting started.  You’ll learn how to differentiate between what’s normal and what’s not good.

Let me know in the comments what you think, ask a question or just tell me overall what’s your take on Intermittent Fasting…I’d love to hear your thoughts!