Intermittent Fasting

by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Joseph Mercola

Dr. Joseph Mercola

Intermittent Fasting is a hot new topic in the media, but this lifestyle approach is still very controversial – for decades we have been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

What changed?

We now have an obesity epidemic and two out of three of us are overweight. As a nation we are getting fatter and sicker. Obviously, the old model of low fat diets doesn't work, 95% of diets fail. Intermittent fasting is not a diet, it is a lifestyle that allows your body to increase the enzymes that burn fat and become far better at using the stored fat in your body as your primary fuel, rather than relying on carbs as a quick fix for fuel because you are unable to access the large amount of stored fat fuel you already have.

You select your own unique 8 hour window to eat, you fast the remaining 16 hours. You are in control. You can decide if your window is 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. – it accommodates your personal schedule. I do recommend people go to sleep around 10:00 p.m. Sleep is your repair mode, and those first few hours before midnight are critical for proper recovery from your daily physical and mental stresses.

Though fasting has been utilized for centuries, it wasn't necessarily intentional. Hunters and gathers would start their day with a warm drink – tea or coffee – and begin their day of harvesting and hunting. Typically the main meal was eating at night upon return. There are some exceptions, for those trying to conceive or already pregnant, teenagers, or those who have very laborious jobs that require more energy this may not be an ideal restriction. I personally have been very impressed with the results and it is now a part of my daily eating strategy. The most amazing part of the transition has been the virtual elimination of cravings for unhealthy food. It has become really easy to skip meals when traveling when no healthy options are available.

It is important to realize that it typically takes several weeks for your body to shift from its current state to where it starts burning fat efficiently. Until you make that transition, there will likely be some hunger and lack of energy. Most find that healthy fats like coconut oil, macadamia nuts or avocados, which do not interfere with the transition to fat burning – and are easily metabolized for energy, can be quite helpful to consume in the process of becoming fat adapted. Additionally it is also helpful to reduce grains, especially wheat, and also seek to eliminate sugar and any type of artificial sweetener. You should combine the timed eating with proper nutrition to see maximum results.

Reviewed studies with similar results

Studies have been done at the Salk Institute in California and by the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore. Recently, 2,000 people were studied. The results determined that participants lost a remarkably amount of weight when limiting themselves to eating in an 8-hour period. They slept better, had higher energy, better mental clarity; and they felt healthier overall.

Some people have lost 20 pounds over six weeks. Whether you need to lose weight or not, you must be sure are getting all of the required good calories within those 8 hours.

Experts disagree

I cannot comment on the level of understanding that some may have. I can only provide data and studies and share my own personal experiences. And you just have to take a look around to see that our current model clearly does not promote healthy eating. For me, implementing intermittent fasting has been one of the best improvements to my eating strategy and it just made good sense.

We have created a society that lives to eat; we no longer eat to live. Our ancestors did not have the luxury of eating at will. They would feast, then experience famine. Modern society has created a monster. We are eating and drinking all day long. Food is accessible everywhere, and it is literally killing us as a society. The slick marketing campaigns and addictive food additives make eating healthy a daily challenge. With that said, there are always individual differences, but as your health improves so does your ability to listen to your body and fine tune your nutrition and lifestyle to help make you the very best you can be.

Intermittent fasting makes us healthier

It does so by helping to improve signaling between leptin and insulin receptors and many experts believe disturbed signaling of these hormones is the key to preventing chronic degenerative disease.

It also helps up-regulate the enzymes that burn fat as it more closely approximates the feast and famine experiences of our ancestors. Our glycogen stores are allowed to empty and we do not become reliant on burning sugar for fuel. It also increases the production of the enzymes that are used to digest and metabolize fat and decreases the ones that are used to burn sugar.

Dr. Ron Rosedale taught me and I believe this is true, that your health is in large part determined by the amount of sugar versus the healthy fats and proteins that you burn over a lifetime. Unfortunately, we've fallen prey to our receptors for sweetness, indicating safety of food. Food companies have exploited this receptor by making things sweeter and sweeter. While some receptors have safeguards like salt where one rejects items that are too salty – our sugar receptors don't appear to have this limitation and food companies exploit this by loading junk with significant amounts of corn syrup and other sugars.

Intermittent fasting can help avoid most major diseases

Intermittent fasting allows your body 16 hours to optimize your metabolic machinery and your insulin and leptin signaling, thus, empowering your body's immune system. I believe it has a profound impact on most cancers and heart disease and can be a useful approach to whatever strategy one is currently using to treat or prevent these diseases.

As I mentioned before, it is important to include exercise. I have found that replacing traditional cardio interval exercises with a combination of high intensity, weight and flexibility training can provide far more benefits in a fraction of the time. I have coined the combination of these exercises as Peak Fitness and have many more details about it on my web site.

When you enter your 8 hour window, include 7 to 8 power foods during those 8 hours. You want to radically decrease all your carbs except for high fiber vegetables like dark leafy greens. You can't forget to incorporate the soluble and insoluble fibers that promote good bacteria and digestive health. I believe there is also value in reducing protein intake for most Americans. I personally limit my total protein intake to around 70 grams a day but make sure it is from healthy animals with access to pastures. Most meat sold in grocery stores comes from animals that are raised in filthy concentrated feeding operations, and they're loaded with steroids and antibiotics just to survive the conditions they are forced to live in. They are also a major source of toxic pollution for our environment, so please don't support the industrial meat industry.

Replace missing calories with HEALTHY fats, NOT industrially processed omega-6 vegetable oils like soy and corn oil that are also GMO. Some healthy foods to include in your diet are; avocados, butter, macadamia nuts, olives, coconut oil, and olive oil. If you are not vegetarian or vegan you can have fish, although you must be conscious of the potential mercury levels. Eggs and raw butter from pasture-raised animals are also a good option.

Krill oil is a great supplement to add as well to get healthy omega 3 fats.

Closing thoughts

You can get additional information at Mercola.com. In a nutshell, if you respect the 8-hour window, giving your body the chance to allow yourself to more efficiently burn your fat stores and at the same time optimize your insulin and leptin signaling which are at the core of nearly every chronic disease known to man. Ensure you are consuming high quality foods as I mentioned, don't skimp when it comes to your body – you'll pay for it later!

The most amazing benefit of the intermittent fasting lifestyle, is that it ultimately, almost magically, eliminates your cravings for bad foods all together, foods that cause disease; empowering you to take control of your health.

I started my website, Mercola.com in 1997 and it is loaded with thousands of free access articles that are available by using the site search engine and they go into far more details on these topics if you are interested in more information.


About Dr. Joseph Mercola

Dr. Mercola is an osteopathic physician (also known as a DO) and board-certified in family medicine. Osteopathic physicians practice a "whole person" approach, treating the entire person rather than just symptoms. Focusing on preventive health care, DOs help patients develop attitudes and lifestyles that don't just fight illness, but help prevent it, too.

He has made significant milestones in his mission to bring people practical solutions to their health problems. A New York Times Best Selling Author, Dr. Mercola was also voted the 2009 Ultimate Wellness Game Changer by the Huffington Post, and has been featured in TIME magazine, LA Times, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, Today Show, CBS's Washington Unplugged with Sharyl Attkisson, and other major media resources.

Meet the Founder

Berkley BedellBusinessman and retired Congressman Berkley Bedell founded the Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine in 1998. Learn more...

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