One of the most common questions from parents is centered on intermittent fasting and how it works. This is equally important as discussing mental health since our food intake affects our brain health too.
What you put in your mouth has an impact, whether positive or negative, in both our mind and body. And so, it’s good that a lot of people hear about it because of articles and posts circulating online.
Fasting is not something new but rather it’s been around for a long time. However, most people think otherwise. Thus, it’s best for us to shed more light on what you should do to maintain or reach a good health condition physically and mentally.
How intermittent fasting is different from skipping breakfast
As mentioned, intermittent fasting has already been around for a long time. In fact, it dates back to Biblical times and it's part of all the major religions largely because it was incorporated into spiritual events but the easiest way to think about fasting is it's eating less often.
People like to make things complicated but to make the discussion simple and concise, fasting is as simple as eating less often. It could be as simple as eating dinner at 6pm and then, you don't eat breakfast until 8am the next morning and that gives you 14 hours in a fasted state, which most of the time is spent sleeping so you're not even cognizant of it.
This is a large departure from the kind of traditional methodology that we need to eat three meals a day and snacks. With the rise of the processed food industry coupled with a lot of ingredient changes, I would be the first to argue that these changes have lead to chronic diseases, inflammatory disorders, metabolic disease, and more.
People eating too frequently is already a public health threat. We have to monitor our food intake and regard it as important and impactful because it also affects our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
If you think about it, intermittent fasting is sustainable and it can be flexible. It can shift from day to day and it can work around your lifestyle. It's not designed to be complicated; the more simple we can make it, the easier it is to make those changes and get more successful and effective results.
What is the difference between fasting and caloric restriction?
One of the important things for people to understand is that while you are in a fasted state, there are counter-regulatory mechanisms in the body that help get rid of things that don't belong.
There’s this body process called autophagy which is similar to taking out the trash and the only time that it's potentiated or magnified is when we're in a fasted state. We also think about the fact that a lot of the benefits we get from fasting are direct reflections of better hormonal balance.
When our insulin levels are low in response to when we're not eating, we are able to eventually get into a process where we can tap into fat stores for energy. We have these specific types of ketones that diffuse across the blood brain barrier and that's oftentimes what gives us a lot of mental clarity.
To differentiate, fasting is what goes on in the body in a non-fed state. It is not as simple as calories in and calories out. Rather, it is something that's kind of a very reductionistic way of thinking.
Typically, people on fasting are skipping meals. They're eating within a condensed feeding window. But with fasting, the beauty lies behind the scenes. That's where you can tap into some intrinsic survival mechanisms that are in the body.
Alternatively, these mechanisms are blunted or not fully utilized in our chronically overfed state where we have access to hyperpalatable processed foods, and the overeating that most of us are doing.
How do people best start with their fasting journey?
If you're eating three meals a day and having snacks, the first recommendation for you is to stop snacking. You have to get to a point where you can structure your meals properly to avoid getting hungry in between your meals. Otherwise, if you get hungry, that means you didn’t eat enough protein.
It's critically important for people to understand that most of us are consuming too much carbohydrates and not enough proteins. This is necessary to point out in relation to setting a starting point which is 12 hours of digestive rest.
12 hours of not eating is a good starting point. So, for example, you eat dinner at 6 in the evening and don't eat again until 6 in the morning. Most of us when we wake up in the morning, we're not hungry. The mindset that we get up in the morning and need to eat is just a product of habit. Sometimes, it can just be dehydration that makes you think that you need to eat.
Equally important is being hydrated. More often than not, when your stomach growls, you're dehydrated, and you're not actually hungry. And so, if you increase your hydration, you’ll feel different and certainly less hungry. That's an important distinction we have to remember.
Change things up when it comes to fasting windows, food and exercise.
Most people are most familiar with the window of 16/8 intermittent fasting wherein you slowly work your way to 16-hour fasting with an 8-hour feeding window. But this does not mean that once their body is metabolically flexible to switch between fats and carbs as a fuel source, people want to stay in that gear all the time.
It’s good to change things up when it comes to fasting windows, food and exercise. We don’t have to do the same thing everyday. Some people shift effortlessly while others take longer to adapt.
Sometimes, the more processed and carbohydrate laden someone's diet is, the longer it's going to take them because they get out of sync.
When you're not metabolically flexible enough to retrain your body, you're gonna have to work around it.
Generally, you have to check with your physician or health care provider whenever you want to start something new especially if you have specific conditions. Google’s great in providing us answers but to avoid uncertainty and risks, it’s important to consult with experts. So the 45-day program laid out by a professional who is the recognized expert in women's intermittent fasting is recommendable to start with.
What is the dishwasher cycle?
What the dishwasher cycle does is it cleans things up. When you're cleaning up the brain, we're getting rid of mycotoxins and things that interfere with how our brain works. We're regulating our blood sugar, giving it more protein and ideally, fat.
It’s important to have an appropriate amount of healthy fats for good brain health and for gut microbiomes. These are things that we know help with brain vitality to help us think faster.
Don’t stick with a single routine. Having the same thing everyday is not good for brain health and inflammation. Some of the benefits you’ll get from fasting improve the overall brain health and brain function. Your tension levels are different and reduce your anxiety and ease your depression.
Interrelationship between insulin and cognitive issues
What people don't understand is the interrelationship between high insulin and cognitive issues like Alzheimer's. When we're not in a fed state, our fasting insulin levels are low.
For both men and women, when insulin levels are low, we are able to diffuse the efficient use of breakdown of fatty acids. The brain doesn't love glucose but loves fat which fuels it more. It gives us a lot more cognitive clarity and more executive functioning.
When we're in a fasted state, we're also producing brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which greatly helps with neuroplasticity. And when we’re getting healthier brain connections, we have increased stress tolerance which is of significant importance.
Stress will derail what you’re eating.
Stress can both be beneficial and detrimental. What we want is the right amount of stress at the right time. That's why intermittent fasting can be a hormetic stressor. Stress makes us stronger cognitively and to tie with metabolic health, we have to keep our insulin levels low.
We don't want to run the risk of developing insulin resistance, leptin resistance and diabetes because these are not just metabolic issues, they are brain health issues too.
It's not an easy road and stress will derail what you're eating. It’s understandable that most of us consume carbohydrates too much since they are the most accessible for us. For me, intermittent fasting is a way for parents to increase the regulation of their brain in their body so they can deal with stress better.
Stress is stress. It's just a matter of how we look at it and how we solve the issues. You might wonder if your kids or teens should do this or is this not for them? It really depends on the situation; it’s always a case-to-case basis. But what we’re really talking about here is for adults.
When kids are still growing, it’s important to be deliberate about ensuring that they’re not missing opportunities to eat.
When someone is still growing, it’s not a good choice to limit their food intake. You have to be deliberate about ensuring that they're not missing opportunities to eat.
One of the things that is helpful for people is to understand the interrelationship between our brains and our guts. The food choices we make can make healthy neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This can directly impact your kid’s mood.
In many instances, people start making better food choices even when they're still fasting. They tend to have less major depression, less anxiety, and better executive functioning. These are all the things we need; this is what we should be aiming for.
How do you feel on the inside when you’re depressed?
What people don't realize about anxiety and depression is that we’ve all been led to believe that there’s only one way to fix neurotransmitters and that’s by pharmaceuticals but that’s far from the truth.
Many people are surprised when they hear about serotonin, how it is tied to mood regulation and how it is 95% almost exclusively created in the gut. And so, if your microbiome is not in a healthy balance, that’s going to affect neurotransmitters which means that your anxiety or depression is more likely to be an issue.
Intermittent fasting and making sure that we are having a healthy microbiome can balance you out and can help reduce the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. This is both surprising and exciting for most people when they realize how much control they have over their anxiety and depression.
Serotonin begets melatonin. Melatonin is not just a sleep hormone. It is the master antioxidant in the body. We've got melatonin clocks throughout our body, including our guts.
When we get a healthier microbiome, we're making more serotonin and more melatonin. This means we’re going to have a better quality of deep sleep. That translates into some profound benefits for our health.
What are things you can do to bring some balance into your life?
With the need to bring some balance into your life, intermittent fasting is a great way to bring into a lifestyle. Routine and structure makes it easier. It’s quite similar to the concept of atomic habits. You set the goals, you put things in place, you make it happen, and you take action. For a lot of people, it becomes an easy part of daily existence.
The important and helpful things we should incorporate in every area of our lives are flexibility and variety. And so, adjusting those fasting and feeding windows and adjusting your sleep schedule have profound benefits.
There really are a lot of physiological benefits from intermittent fasting for mental health specifically for anxiety and depression. These are especially beneficial during this pandemic since we have the highest levels of anxiety and depression because of the pandemic.
It all boils down to you, what you can do, and what you want people to feel the power of what they can do. That's why intermittent fasting is one of those tools that help you bring balance to your life.
How is intermittent fasting going to help women with their hormones and their mental health?
Some women undergo intermittent fasting for weight loss while others have other reasons. But how does intermittent fasting help women in particular with their hormones and their mental health?
There’s an entire book you should check out that is devoted to the unique needs of women honoring rather than the usual fear mongering about our physiology.
There are many profound health benefits beyond the physical things that a lot of people like to focus on. However, what is most important is that people feel good from the inside, which is a great strategy to embrace.
There are multiple physiological reasons for every intermittent fasting. Some people do it for brain health because they always need their brain to be working in its optimal condition. But the good thing about people trying intermittent fasting out of curiosity is that they stick with it for all the other benefits.
Intermittent fasting changes lives. It’s absolutely more than just skipping breakfast. It is a tool that we should fully utilize to ensure good brain health.
Watch out for more episodes that will surely make parenting easier!
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