The Practical Application of Intermittent Fasting

Introduction

Intermittent fasting does not actually require you to count your calorie intake or strictly forbid you from eating certain foods, making this more of a lifestyle choice than a diet. However, there are still a lot of unwritten ‘rules’ to this lifestyle that you should take into consideration to ensure that you reap all of the benefits.

And although intermittent fasting is gaining popularity, it can be quite confusing and daunting to know where to start. From knowing which fasting protocol to choose, to knowing what foods will best complement your fast, whether you are allowed to exercise, and everything in between. In this tile, we will take a look at the practical side of implementing a lifestyle of intermittent fasting into your everyday life. From starting a fast to ending it, we’ll cover all the bases so you’ll properly understand all the hows and whys of intermittent fasting, in order to make the best decision for your practice.

The Do’s of Intermittent Fasting

Firstly, make sure you are not going into intermittent fasting without planning ahead of time, and without researching different intermittent fasting protocols. If you are new to intermittent fasting, you might want to transition into it slowly. Following the 16:8 method a few days a week instead of every day, or trying a 12-hours fast might be a better choice at first. You can gradually work your way up to other more advanced fasting protocols.

It is also important to listen to your body when you start intermittent fasting. You may be following a method that simply isn’t working for you. Don’t force it, rather try another method instead. While you do want to give each protocol a good amount of time to see whether it is a good fit, don’t go months being uncomfortable and miserable.

The Don’ts of Intermittent Fasting

When you’re fasting, your body is lacking the normal amount of energy you typically get from your daily meals. So, don’t push your body beyond its limits. While exercising during intermittent fasting is healthy, it’s important to not overexert your body to the point of exhaustion. 

The whole purpose of having a feeding window is to give your body the energy it needs to function. This is why it is important not to over-restrict your body on its calorie intake. It can be tempting to restrict calories during this period but that can actually derail your progress and cause your body to crave more food and break your fast before you’re ready.

It is also important not to binge eat or overindulge during the eating window. The opposite of restricting calories is binging and it can slow down or even erase the benefits of fasting altogether.  What’s more, overeating and eating the wrong foods (e.g. high in sugar or starch) can make your fast more difficult by increasing hunger during your fasting periods.

How to Choose an Intermittent Fasting Protocol

This is a common question, but the answer depends on your fat-adapted state and your goals. 

The ketogenic diet helps with fasting because it helps transition your body in utilizing stored fats for energy.

Starting with the 16:8 fasting is easiest for both keto and fasting beginners when you’re not yet fat-adapted as it can be achieved by simply skipping breakfast (and maybe delaying lunch a bit). Once your body gets used to fasting you can extend your fasting windows.

In the end, the best plan is the one you can stick to, so be realistic with yourself about what protocol to follow.

Fasting goals come into play when you’ve mastered fasting or keto. Perhaps your goal is to get back into ketosis after a particularly bad cheat day (we’ve all been there). In this case, a 24-hour fast may help get you back on track and into ketosis. For many, the goal is breaking through a weight loss plateau.

Take note that whatever method of intermittent fasting you choose, it’s important to apply the same fundamental nutrition principles to intermittent fasting as to other healthy eating plans.

A great thing about the protocols and methods in this pathway is you can think of them as tools in your toolbox to help you achieve your health goals.

How to Know If You Are in Ketosis

It can be hard to know whether you have entered into ketosis or not, but there are several signs to look out for [1]. The most obvious of these is increased ketones in your blood. Blood tests measure the amount of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) in your blood, which is the primary ketone present in your bloodstream.

A common side effect that can happen when you reach full ketosis is bad breath. Some other common symptoms of ketosis include, suppressed appetite, rapid weight loss in the first week, short-term fatigue in the early transitioning stages of ketosis, and at a later stage, increased focus and energy. A less common side effect of ketosis is digestive issues and insomnia.

How to Measure Ketones

Testing ketone level in the blood, glucose levels, and other measurements can be an engaging way to quantify changes in your body while fasting. It’s fun and motivating!

Ketones going up during your fasting, (assuming you’re not supplementing with exogenous ketones), means that your body has entered into ketosis; burning your stored fats and turning them into ketones for fuel.

There are several ways to measure your ketones, including blood tests, urine tests, and breath tests. Each of these methods has its own set of pros and cons and applications.

The urine test makes use of strips that measure acetoacetate (a ketone body). When your body enters into a state of ketosis not all of the ketones are used and instead of storing the ketones as fat, your body gets rid of them in urine. The biggest advantage of this method is that it is readily affordable. The disadvantage is that this method of measuring ketones is very limited in terms of accuracy when compared to something like a blood test.

How to Measure Ketones - Continued

Blood test:

Blood tests to measure ketones are readily available at pharmacies and online.  These tests require you to prick your finger and dab a drop of blood on a blood meter. It measures the beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) levels in your blood, which is the primary ketone body that shuttles energy throughout your body during ketosis. This method is the most accurate method to measure ketones, but it might not be for everyone.

Breath test:

During a breath test, a Ketonix meter is used. This meter is also easily obtainable from many pharmacies. This meter measures acetate/acetone in your breath, which is a ketone body produced from the metabolism of BHB to acetoacetate and into acetate. Acetate/acetone levels are therefore related to your BHB levels. More acetate means more BHB. BHB is the primary ketone body.

Unlike blood and urine tests, the Ketonix meter is reusable, but the readings are indirect and can be inaccurate.

The method that you choose for measuring your ketones will boil down to your budget and personal preference.

Pros and Cons of Exercising While Intermittent Fasting

Some research shows that exercising while fasting may affect muscle biochemistry and metabolism that are linked to insulin sensitivity and the steady management of blood sugar levels. 

Evidence shows that it is best to exercise immediately after a meal – before digestion or absorption occurs. This is particularly important for anyone with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

Probably the best benefit of exercising while fasting is that your stored carbohydrates, known as glycogen, are very likely depleted, so you’ll be burning more fat when you work out [2]. 

While it is technically possible for your body to begin breaking down muscle protein while exercising on a fast, in reality this only happens with very strenuous exercise bouts during extended fasts. In addition, the release of HGH (human growth hormone) while fasting serves to preserve muscle mass even while in caloric deficit (up to a point). A far more common downside to exercising while fasting is one might feel they have less energy and thus won’t be able to exercise as vigorously as they might be used to.

Difference Between a Long and Short Fast

Every night when we stop eating and then go to bed, we go through a short-term fast until our first meal of the next day. Depending on when you ate dinner and when you consume your first meal after you wake up, you can easily go through a 12 to 16-hour fast — with no physiological change to digestive functions.

Although there is no clear accepted delineation between a short- and long-term fast, a general rule of thumb can be used to distinguish between the two: In general, anything less than 24 hours is considered time-restricted eating, fasts between 24 and 36 hours as a short-term fast, and anything longer than 36 hours a long-term fast.

Time-restricted eating and short-term fasts don’t require specific precautions when breaking the fast. Just remember it is a good idea not to binge on highly-processed, sugary, or high-carb foods because you may undo some of the advantages of the fast, particularly those linked to hormonal changes. Plan to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal and you’ll be just fine.

Potential Side Effects of Breaking a Long Term Fast

If you’ve been fasting long enough for your body to slow down its production of digestive enzymes, then you may be at risk of experiencing some gastrointestinal distress when you start to eat again. This may come in the form of diarrhea or loose stools, passing of undigested foods, gas pains, bloating, and, in rare cases, nausea and vomiting. 

This happens because your body doesn’t have the necessary digestive enzymes and juices available to break down your food, which can cause the food to sit in your stomach for much longer. It can take a few hours or more for your body to start to produce what it needs to break down the food. It’s during this period that you may start to experience unwanted stomach pains.

Apart from shortening the duration of your fast, the best way to minimize these side effects is to eat food that will help reduce these symptoms when you break your fast. Smoothies, fermented foods, and soups are all gentle foods that can help your body ease back into its normal working state.

Refeeding Syndrome

Refeeding syndrome is a metabolic disturbance that, though very rare, can occur when resuming food consumption after periods of malnutrition or extended times without eating (fasting). 

The primary clinical markers of refeeding syndrome are very low blood phosphorus levels, or hypophosphatemia, as well as low blood serum levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium (electrolytes).

These shifts can cause heart rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias), cardiac failure, respiratory problems, convulsions, or even a coma.

During the refeeding period, insulin and counterregulatory hormones such as cortisol and noradrenaline are suddenly reactivated. This leads to the movement of the major intracellular ions like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium into our cells. However, due to the overall depletion of our body stores, this becomes quite excessive and leaves us with too little of these ions in the blood.

Fatigue, weakness and confusion, difficulty breathing and high blood pressure are all some of the milder symptoms that these nutrient imbalances cause. In severe cases these shifts can cause seizures, and even death.

These symptoms typically appear within two to four days of the start of refeeding.

How to Avoid Refeeding Syndrome

Refeeding syndrome is not something that happens very often. It normally only occurs in severe cases where people have experienced intense malnutrition or starvation. But if this concerns you and you want to be extra careful, there are several things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing refeeding issues when you do break your fast. You should avoid breaking your fast with a meal that is high in carbohydrates; stick to low-carb, high-fat meals. Avoid meals that surge insulin and blood sugar.

It is also important to stay hydrated during your fast and to ease back into eating (especially after a fast extending past 3 days). Consume plenty of electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium to prevent complications during your fast and do not overeat when you break your fast. You can supplement with a pinch of natural salt such as Himalayan salt a few times throughout the day.

It is also important to consult with your healthcare provider before attempting an extended fast.

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