Healthy Habits: What Is Intermittent Fasting and How Does It Work?

Intermittent fasting: It sounds like a scary term, doesn’t it? Well, would you believe me if I told you that it’s actually one of the biggest buzz phrases in the health and nutrition world right now? But before diving in, first things first…

What is intermittent fasting?

Nutritionists and health experts define intermittent fasting as a cycle of fasting (not eating) and non-fasting (eating) periods that allow your body to remove toxins, waste, damaged cells, and fat cells. There are several different ways to do it—you can fast for as short as a 6-hour window in the middle of the day, or go as long as 24 hours without food (although, we wouldn’t recommend the latter). The intermittent portion of this cycle means it is an eat-stop-eat plan that lets your body go into a fasting, fat-burning mode.

What are the benefits?

Now that I’ve gotten that behind us, let’s talk benefits (and some science, too). Health experts explains that intermittent fasting (or IMF) has been around for centuries, but has become very popular because there is a lot of great research coming out on fasted workouts and the benefits of fasting. Pioneers like Brad Pilon and Dr. Valter Longo of USC are paving the way with this research that shows how, not only can you break down fat cells for weight loss while fasting, but you can also break down unwanted immune cells for rejuvenation.

By fasting, you can experience apoptosis of immune cells, autophagy of neurons and a reduction in liver size (which is extra great for those ladies who get in the habit of a glass of wine to unwind after work), and the removal of damaged cells, toxins, and waste.

IMF is an approachable way to achieve these cleansing benefits and there are multiple methods to do so. In fact, animal studies** show that fasting is life-extending and promotes beneficial changes in genes related to longevity. Studies have shown that IMF can promote over a 300% increase in growth hormone and a significant drop in insulin levels, both of which facilitate fat burning and lean muscle gains.

How does it work?

The best way to begin an intermittent fasting phase is when you’ve already been eating clean and healthy—meaning no ice cream binges beforehand! It is much easier to enter a fast when you have balanced blood sugar or are currently in a fat adaptive or ketogenic state (a state where your body is burning heathy fat, proteins and vegetables for fuel, not sugars and carbs), she says. This can help prevent the fasting flu symptoms, like headache or nausea, you might experience from fasted cleansing. From there, the cycle involved doing a 6-hour, eat-stop-eat routine that is easier on both your appetite and your mind than an extreme 24-hour or longer fast. Here’s what that looks like:

Note: I am not recommending or condoning this cycle for everyone, but simply explaining what a day of intermittent fasting looks like based on research.

Eat: Wait to have breakfast until later in the morning, around 11:30am. This will keep the body in the fasting mode it was in during the time it were asleep. Kelly recommends smoothie with a healthy fat like almond butter or coconut oil, or a carb-free, protein and fat-rich dish like scrambled eggs with spinach and avocado.

Stop: Now it’s ideal to try not to snack or have any drinks besides tea or water between the late breakfast and early dinner. This is the 6-hour fasting phase and it’s crucial to avoid snacking in order to reap the metabolic and cleaning benefits.

Eat: Six hours later, so around 5:30pm, have a clean dinner that combines all of four ingredients (protein, greens, healthy fat, and fiber). This can be include grilled chicken and steamed broccoli, baked salmon with roasted asparagus, or a veggie-packed salad with chicken and a light salad dressing like this one.

Stop: Then, it’s time to stop again. This is the longest fasting phase during the 24-hour period, but it’s also the easiest since the body is sleeping for the majority of it. Sip on herbal tea or bubbly water during the evening when tempted to open the fridge and snack. The great part is that during a fasting phase, the body will need more rest since it’s cleansing.

What would someone expect?

During intermittent fasting, one will feel mental clarity, lose fat around their midsection and have an increase in metabolism. Basically, this process will allow the body to surge with human growth hormone and testosterone, which will help decrease insulin sensitivity. This is good for the metabolism, and good for brain fat—it hits body and mind all at once.

But before you get started…

One important note from Kelly is to take this in moderation. While IMF can be very beneficial when done correctly, it is not for everybody and you don’t want it to get out of hand. Extreme IMF dieting does have the propensity to create eating disorders, food anxiety and binge eating when it is taken too far. This is why Kelly does not recommend fasting for 12 to 24 hours, but instead tells clients to use the eat-stop-eat method. “If my clients are interested in IMF, says Kelly, “another practice I recommend is getting up and having a Fab Four Smoothie, enjoying a nice lunch and then skipping dinner instead.” It’s important to remember that IMF is used as a one-day reset when you feel your body needs to cleanse—not a lifestyle—and it is not for everybody.

As with trying any new diet or health plan, you should consult your doctor before trying intermittent fasting, especially if you have a history of hypoglycemia.

And there you have it! I know, that was a whole lot of information and a lot of science to absorb. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments below.

What other trending health topics would you like to see me cover next?


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