The Ultimate beginner’s guide to Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a popular diet and lifestyle approach that involves alternating between periods of eating and fasting. Some popular forms of intermittent fasting include the 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window, and the 5:2 diet, which involves eating normally for 5 days and fasting for 2 days of the week. Intermittent fasting has been shown to have a wide range of potential health benefits, such as improved metabolic and cardiovascular health, increased fat burning, and improved cognitive function. It can be a great way to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle and achieve your health and fitness goals.
While there are numerous potential health benefits associated with intermittent fasting, it is important to be aware of potential side effects as well. If not done properly, common side effects may include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and mood changes. Additionally, some people may experience dehydration, low blood sugar, and constipation. It is important to consult with a doctor before beginning an intermittent fasting regimen to ensure that you are healthy enough to do so and to discuss any potential side effects.
In this blog, we will explore a safe way of intermittent fasting suitable for the Indian diet and lifestyle. Fasting has long been a part of our culture and is widely promoted as holistic healing and preventive care. In regards to fasting, it is recommended as a way to support the body’s natural detoxification process. The idea is that fasting helps to reduce the number of toxins that have built up in the body. Fasting also helps to rejuvenate the body and promote digestion. However, fasting should be done in a mindful way, with an emphasis on eating wholesome and nourishing foods. Fasting should also be done in a way that is sustainable and doesn’t overly tax the body. Regular rest and relaxation should also be included during a fast to ensure that the body is not overly stressed.
We will also explore another important aspect of fasting, i.e. the time of food consumption. There are a lot of fitness enthusiasts who believe and promote that “a calorie is a calorie”, no matter what you eat and when you eat. Well, there is some truth in this statement but the whole truth needs us to dive a little deeper into our body’s mechanism and its relationship with our environment. As a practising nutritionist and dietician, “a calorie is a calorie” only and only if your ultimate goal is to reduce or gain weight. If your goal is holistic wellness for the long-term upkeep of your body; what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat, all three of these aspects play an integral part.
Our body follows an internal timekeeping system known as a circadian clock or natural rhythm. This rhythm is in sync with the daily cycle of Sunrise and Sunset, which regulates our body’s cycle of sleep and wakefulness, hunger and digestion, energy levels and hormonal activities. For most of us, our digestive system and metabolism are at their peak performance at the time of sunrise and reduce overtime during the day as the sun goes down. Saying so, it is best if our fasting schedule is also in sync with our body’s natural capacity of digesting food and providing us with energy throughout the day.
Now that the importance of time for food consumption is addressed, let’s talk about “what to eat”. Many intermittent fasting newbies eat anything and everything under the sun during their eating window. I am sorry to break it to you, but this never works. Food is the fuel for your body and the quality of the food you take will determine the quality of your health. It is important to consume nutrition-dense food which is balanced and caters to your health conditions and lifestyle. Ideally, one must begin their day with the fruit within an hour of waking up. This must be followed with a wholesome and balanced breakfast. Having breakfast is crucial for the success of intermittent fasting. Your metabolism is at its peak in the morning and your body is ready to absorb all the nutrients at its best, your breakfast will provide you with all the nutrients and energy to kick-start your day. It improves you are cognitive behaviour and impacts your mood. What you eat in the morning will set the tone for your day.
Your breakfast should keep you full for at least 2-3 hours, allowing you to work in peace. This must be followed with a quick snack or tea/coffee for those who prefer caffeine. One serving of fruit or nut & seeds is also a good option for snacking if you are not consuming caffeine.
Your lunch is your midday meal and it should also be a mix of all the essential neutrals like carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It is important to note that our body is not capable of absorbing all the nutrients at the same time. Therefore people who consume large amounts of food in a single go often lose out on the nutritional benefit of the food they are consuming. hence, portion control is critical. The quantity of your lunch must leave you with enough appetite to have a snack in form of fruits or nuts in the evening.
Dinner must ideally be consumed at the time of sunset. It's best to keep the dinner light and have at least a 3-hour gap between your last meal and bedtime. This encourages our body to digest food properly and helps us to sleep better. It also provides our body with an appropriate fasting period of 12 to 14 hours.
When intermittent fasting is done by having early dinner and breakfast at your usual time it is in sync with our body clock and benefits us with a good start for the day and sound sleep. It also provides a larger eating window for you to include a variety of fruits and nuts in a form of snacks. It keeps the body energised during all your waking hours and sugar levels are maintained, which in turn promotes hormonal balance and a good mood, keeping your cravings at bay. Early dinner also prevents acidity and aids in efficient digestion.
What not to do:
A lot of people try intermittent fasting by sleeping late, skipping breakfast and running short of energy throughout the day. This goes against their body clock, leaving them with less time to eat in their waking hours, as a result, they are forced to eat more in a short duration of time which in turn leaves them with fewer choices to include a wide variety of micronutrients in their diet. This pattern forces them to eat fruit along with their main meals or skip fruits and nuts altogether. Often times they are forced to club their tea or coffee along with the main meals due to a shortage of time. Which hinders the body from properly absorbing any of the nutrients from the food they eat. Some might find success in form of weight loss, by following this flawed pattern but this way of intermittent fasting is never sustainable. It leaves havoc on the body when it's made to work without feeding it first! The hormonal levels go for a toss, metabolism comes under strain, sugar levels are constantly oscillating between too high or too low, not to forget mood swings, acidity, and constipation. It becomes too much to sustain and most of the time people lose hope in the fasting culture and give up.
If you are someone who wants to give intermittent fasting a try, here are some tips to get you started:
Start small. Before jumping into a full-fledged intermittent fasting regimen, start with a few days a week. This will help your body adjust and get used to the new pattern.
Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is important during intermittent fasting, especially in the early stages. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your energy levels up.
Eat nutrient-dense foods. During your eating window, focus on nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
Get enough sleep. Intermittent fasting can be physically and mentally draining, so it's important to make sure you're getting enough sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours of sound sleep per night.
Don't overdo it. Even with intermittent fasting, it's important to keep your calorie intake in check. Eating too much will negate the benefits of fasting.
Food timing is crucial- breakfast within the hour of waking up, a small snack followed by wholesome lunch, mid-evening snack and dinner latest by 7:00 PM.
If you decide to give the right way of intermittent fasting a try, here are a few clues which will help you identify if the diet is working for you:
1. You wake up fresh and energised
2. You wake up hungry and ready for breakfast
3. You sleep well
4. You are not constipated and you clear your bowel in the morning
5. You eventually lose weight, mostly visceral fat
6. Stress and inflammation in the body reduce
7. Your blood report improves for parameters like blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and inflammatory markers.
As a bonus, here is a sample diet you could follow and modify as per your preference:
7:30 am – A banana/apple/ soaked almonds at the time of waking up.
9:30 am – Breakfast – Milk or milk products (Dairy or vegan), Anyone cereal in the form of Poha/Upma/Idli, Protein like eggs or paneer.
11 am – A fruit or coconut water.
1 pm – Lunch – Mix of dal, roti/rice, vegetables, curd and choice of meat for non-vegetarians
4 pm – Snacks or nuts with tea/coffee
6 pm – Dinner – Curd rice/Chicken rice/ oats with milk and jaggery. Something light, and easy to digest.
10 pm – only for diabetic patients – Glass of milk with a date
Some people may have disrupted circadian rhythm, and may not align with the natural cycle of day and night due to factors like continuous lighting, noise, night shift jobs, mechanical ventilation, pain, fatigue, stress, sedation, or critical illness. Meal timings suggested in this blog may not apply to those people.