You may have heard of intermittent fasting and you may have even heard some common myths about this increasingly popular lifestyle choice. People often start out fasting to lose weight but stick with it because it makes them feel good.
Intermittent fasting is used to improve physical, mental, and brain health by both men and women. Many women fast because as they enter into perimenopause, they experience weight gain and look for methods such as fasting to bring balance back into their lives.
Many use fasting to improve their mental health especially because anxiety, OCD, and depression are on the rise in all age groups. Many of our clients in our BrainBehaviorReset™ Program where we combine science-backed tools that calm the brain, such as neurofeedback, PEMF, and nutrition with new learning through counseling and coaching in order to reset behaviors, use anti-inflammatory diets.
They also use very specific diets such as the Mediterranean diet, keto, or intermittent fasting in order to improve mental health and lower stress and brain fog. There are science-backed natural treatments for brain fog and attention issues but adjusting one’s diet to include more nutrient dense foods is one that anyone can start doing today.
Here are some of the most common myths about intermittent fasting.
Cynthia notes that when we're not in a fed state, our fasting insulin levels are low and this is a really important distinction because on a lot of levels, people don't understand the interrelationship between high insulin and not only metabolic diseases, but also cognitive issues like Alzheimer's. Interestingly, women in many ways are protected from the risk of cognitive decline until they go into menopause when hormone declines fuel memory issues.
For both men and women, when our insulin levels are low, we are able to diffuse and efficiently use our breakdown of fatty acids, our ketones, beta hydroxybutyrate, right across the blood brain barrier, which we need for health.
With metabolic health, we want to keep our insulin levels low because we don't want to run the risk of developing insulin resistance, leptin resistance, or diabetes because these are not just metabolic issues, they are brain health issues too. Fasting is a lifestyle choice that allows one to keep their insulin and glucose levels balanced.
What people don't understand is that our brains don't love glucose, they love fat. Fat is better fuel and it will give us a lot more cognitive clarity and better executive functioning.
With brain fog on the rise, we all need ways to increase mental clarity in order to function in our busy lives. Brain fog interferes with our attention and executive functioning, which is the ability to prioritize and plan for future events or tasks.
Breaking your fast with healthy fats is a biohacking technique that optimizes brain functioning and improves neurotransmitter communication.
We falsely believe that being hungry means we are stressed but that just isn’t the case physiologically. Lowering our food intake is a habit that we can incorporate into our daily lives and not just for weight loss and a boosted metabolism but to actually lower stress levels within the central nervous system.
When we're in a fasted state, we're also producing BDNF or brain derived neurotrophic factor, which can help with neuroplasticity, or flexibility in the brain. BDNF is an important factor in stress management.
Neuroscience tells us that neuroplasticity, or brain flexibility, means we're getting healthier brain connections, which helps with increased stress tolerance. And having done more than 10,000 QEEG brain maps has shown me that what you eat makes a HUGE difference in a person’s brain flexibility not just with neurofeedback but in how one handles stress.
Neuroplasticity is a key factor in having that all important calm brain that lets kids and adults alike manage stress because they have the foundation to flexibly do so.
Ok, while yogurt can be a part of a balanced diet for most, yogurt bacteria alone isn’t going to repair a gut that has dysbiosis or an active infection. You need at least high quality probiotics to start.
Having balanced bacteria in your gut is critical for neurotransmitter production and maintaining good mental health. There is a gut-brain connection that has a direct impact on conditions such as anxiety, OCD and depression.
Studies show there are many health benefits of fasting, both physical and mental health but improving the gut bacteria supports healthy serotonin neurotransmitter production. We need serotonin for mood regulation and managing stress.
So many people resist or avoid intermittent fasting because they think it is complex when in fact, if nothing else, it’s one less meal you have to think about. That makes meal prep much easier because you are focusing on two meals and not one.
Many actually stick with intermittent fasting because they enjoy the cleaner, more simplistic lifestyle that it brings. A skipped breakfast means you have more time with your kids or time for walking with your friend Debbie before work.
It really can be as simple as that and you can take baby steps with alternate day fasting or play around with your eating window.
Good mental health involves committing to those micro-steps that get you to the mountain summit. In order to calm the brain, one must commit to changes that regulate the nervous system and work on those small steps that make big waves.
Fasting isn’t just about calorie restriction and one should see it as a resource that improves mental health. Intermittent fasting can be one of the tools in your toolkit that increase alertness, calm, and a positive mood. In fact, many use fasting specially to counter anxiety and depression.
I would encourage everyone who wants to learn more or start Intermittent fasting to check out Intermittent Fasting expert, Cynthia Thurlow, NP’s book Intermittent Fasting Transformation.
Frank, J., Gupta, A., Osadchiy, V., & Mayer, E. A. (2021). Brain-Gut-Microbiome Interactions and Intermittent Fasting in Obesity. Nutrients, 13(2), 584. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13020584
Kenna, H., Hoeft, F., Kelley, R., Wroolie, T., DeMuth, B., Reiss, A., & Rasgon, N. (2013). Fasting plasma insulin and the default mode network in women at risk for Alzheimer's disease. Neurobiology of aging, 34(3), 641–649. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2012.06.006
Manchishi SM, Cui RJ, Zou XH, Cheng ZQ, Li BJ. Effect of caloric restriction on depression. J Cell Mol Med. 2018;22(5):2528-2535. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcmm.13418
Zhang, Y., Liu, C., Zhao, Y., Zhang, X., Li, B., & Cui, R. (2015). The Effects of Calorie Restriction in Depression and Potential Mechanisms. Current neuropharmacology, 13(4), 536–542. https://doi.org/10.2174/1570159×13666150326003852
Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime.
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