By Ellie Kempton, Simply Nourished Nutrition
TO FAST OR NOT TO FAST
It’s a fad right now to be sure. But does the hype hold up to the facts?
Having led 100s of beautiful women around the country toward a space of confidence in food choices and metabolic transformation, I continue to cast my net out into the world of research behind weight loss and the “metabolic recalibration levers" available to us women as we work to optimize our biochemistry.
I wholeheartedly believe in and teach fasting as one of the “metabolic recalibration levers" but one which can only be tugged transformationally in the context of other foundational levers.
It’s so tempting to jump straight to fasting before evaluating the following factors that play such a pivotal role in weight- especially pertaining to women.
- meaningful relationship with food
- consistent daily food patterns
- seamless digestion
- thyroid + adrenal health
- sound sleep
All 5 of these are critically important “cogs” that when “clicked into gear” make mindful fasts a medicinal tool to be explored. The irony of they hype behind fasting is that it’s not new.
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Fasting as a conscious meditative “art” has been around for centuries. Historically, periods of feast followed by famine were a mainstay for humans around the world for millennia and still are for animals. More refined practice has merely been birthed from rote necessity. However, now that we live in a society of abundance, fasting has fallen by the wayside. Until recently, fasting was most consistently practiced in a spiritual context leveraging the clarity of mind, body and spirit in order to experience a more meaningful relationship with a higher power. The ruthless elimination of excess in and of itself can be an enlightening experience.
WHAT IS FASTING:
Before we get carried away with the “why" and the “how," let’s pin down what fasting is. Fasting is the intentional abstinence from something [really anything!]. When performed correctly, fasting can be the "art of meditative abstinence.” When it comes to food, fasting can be performed in a multitude of ways. There are short fasts, long fasts, juice fasts, water fasts and dry fasts.
While popular social media posts these days would lead you to believe that fasting [in order to count] needs to be performed for long periods of time, a circadian fast [time away from food during dark periods of the day] is technically a fast and the type of fast I most often teach and highly recommend. We are designed to eat during the light hours of the day and dedicate intentional time to sleep, rest and renewal in the dark. With the advent of electricity, it’s so easy to lose sight of this. However, even a mindful acknowledgement of darkness inviting us into a space of fasting from food in and of itself can have a positive impact on health. Here’s why:
A SCIENCE DRIVEN [MODERN DAY] APPROACH TO FASTING
In the face of abundance, what clinical role does fasting play? If any? The answer lies in the science. But to date, most science as it pertains to fasting, has only been performed on rats and men. While not as easily applicable to us in the realm of women’s wellness, sound research is worth our attention. And having scoured the most recent research, here’s what you need to know [as it pertains to the benefits of fasting]:
- Fasting can normalize the hormones [namely insulin + leptin + ghrelin + CCK] involved in hunger + satiety thereby resetting your body’s internal cues that prompt you to eat [and more importantly- help prevent you from over eating].
- Fasting can increases lifespan by inhibiting the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in driving the aging process.
- Fasting can positively impact cholesterol levels by reducing LDL and blood triglycerides.
- Fasting [when performed correctly] gently stresses your cells making them more resilient [through the process of hormesis].
- Fasting can expedite the process of autophagy [the programed cell death – required to rid the body of damaged cells, toxins, and waste].
- Fasting can boost production of brain-derived neurotrophicfactor [BDNF] activating brain stem cells to convert to new neurons [protecting the brain cells from changes associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease]. Research conducted by Dr. Mark Mattson [a senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging] found fasting to boost BDNF by anywhere from 50-400% depending on the brain region.
More and more science is being published daily around fasting. It’s up to us to stay tuned and capture the best of what is being published. I’m committed to it and will continue to spoon feed what I find! Until then, click HERE to indulge in the most compelling studies I’ve compiled thus far.
THE PRE-REQUISITES TO FASTING
If the science speaks to you and you’re like me, you crave a step-wise tutorial guiding your journey into the art of intentional fasting.
1. refine your relationship with food - do you live in a state of abundance, nurturing a sound relationship with wholesome foods? All relationships with food are unique and there is no "right relationship.” But if you are struggling with a meaningful relationship with food in general, it’s best not to take food out of the equation. Instead this is where your work lies. Slowly but surely building your “Rolodex” of foods you embrace is step one because the consumption of food is what makes fasting meaningful. Only once we’ve given our body information it understands to renew and repair the body that we can step away and let it weave this information into the tissue while fasted.
2. lean into consistency - once you have a meaningful relationship with food, it’s time to look at patterns and make sure that you are getting enough of this food with a consistency that you body can depend upon. If the body is being given incredible information one day via food and processed // refined information from food the next, this “spotty” communication will only make fasting an “amplification” of this inconsistency rendering it more of a threat that your body just “tolerate” than a tool the body appreciates and uses.
3. support seamless digestion - consistent nutrient intake is only as good as your extraction of those nutrients. And extraction of nutrients occurs in the digestive system. If compromised, the body is always in a pseudo fast since it is never getting exactly what it needs. Amplifying a fast can then exaggerate the deficit. Short-term fasts [in the case of circadian fasting] can be a tool to allow the gut to heal itself but engaging in an extended fast [when the body is already starved of nutrients] can be registered to the body as a form
of threat / starvation. Optimizing the gut microbiome and making sure the food you eat is energizing [a good reflection of optimal extraction] lays a solid foundation upon which the body can “stand” during a fast.
4. take a peek at your thyroid health - on the clinical side of things, it’s critical to take a peek at what lies beneath the surface by evaluating the state of health of the master metronome of the body and the 2 “minions” who conduct the work [the thyroid and the adrenals]. If thyroid health and adrenal health are compromised, fasting for longer periods of time will only further tax these working glands. The results of the fasts will also be frustrating which can feel defeating when in fact the stumbling block to a fruitful fast lies far upstream.
5. savor sound sleep - it is at night when the body heals and repairs itself. And if you’re sound asleep you most assuredly are fasting. But if sleep is continuously disrupted the body cannot recalibrate hormonal cues, tap into it’s reserves and leverage the fasted state. If you happen to be a “dolphin” in the midnight hours [a hungry dolphin at that!] consider targeting a night of sound sleep which will lend itself inevitably to a fruitful fast while you are sound asleep.
The intricacy of the female physiology must be honored in order to work with instead of against our bodies while engaging in any form of fasting.
Once you’ve explored the pre-requisites to a fruitful fast, it’s time to explore the benefits of fasting merely by engaging in a circadian fast. As the seasons change, consider completely abstaining from food during the dark hours of the day. Depending upon where you live, 8 hours might be the “window of light" you have at your disposal in the deep dark hours of the winter. Whereas summer will invite you into more like a 16 hour window of food.
Regardless of where you are in matching your food consumption to the circadian rhythm of the season, consuming plain water and tea will not impede the benefits of a circadian fast giving you something to playfully sip on until you intentionally open up your food window [breaking your fast] and tapping into the consistent nutrition your body craves.
THIS is fasting. It’s simple and it’s accessible and it’s pure. While I teach different variations of fasting, I will always and forever start with a circadian fast. If you are already tuned into this traditional approach to fasting, you are already leveraging the benefits science is corroborating behind the art of fasting.