For many people over fifty, losing weight is one of the biggest changes he or she can make to positively influence health and longevity.
The center for Disease Control found that 70% of adults nowadays are overweight, or obese. That’s more than two thirds of the population! Heart disease is the biggest killer every year, killing more than half a million people. Obesity is a direct cause of heart disease. I don’t know about you, but that’s motivation enough for me to shed a few pounds!
Why has there been such an increase in weight in the population? The answer lies in our food choices.
Eating Like Our Ancestors
For thousands and thousands of years, humans evolved as hunter gatherers. We are typically a nomadic species, always on the move, with lots of exercise and mobility. The hunters would go out into the wild and track down whatever game they could encounter. Sometimes they would be on hunts for days at a time, subsisting on very little. Nuts, berries, roots, seeds, etc. Our bodies are physiologically wired to sharpen our senses when low on food. When this happens, we’re better equipped to hunt down that rabbit, deer, bird, or wild game. We’ve evolved to be able to not only survive, but thrive during periods of relatively low caloric intake.
When the hunters were fortunate enough to finally track down and kill a wild animal, they’d bring it back to the village and feast with everyone else.
Contrast that with our current eating and exercise pattern.
The Modern Day Eating Pattern
For breakfast, we eat bagels, cereals, pancakes, donuts, pastries, fruit and fruit juices. Our whole lives we’re led to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
For lunch, we consume soups, sandwiches, burritos, leftovers, and salads. Often times there’s also that afternoon snack to tide you over for supper. Then comes that large meal at night full of meats, potatoes, breads, and the occasional serving of vegetables. Many of us consume so much at dinner we feel slow and sluggish for hours afterwards.
Let’s not forget that bowl of ice cream, slice of cake, cookie, or brownie to enjoy while watching your favorite television shows.
Couple that with the time we spend sitting down at our desks while we’re working. Then add the time spent on the computer, or in front of the tv. We sit or lay down when we’re sleeping, eating, working, relaxing, and socializing.
Simply put, in this day and age, we’re eating too much, and moving too little. This is why so much of our population is obese, and dying from obesity-related ailments like heart disease.
Let’s do Something About it
Enter: Intermittent Fasting (IF). It’s a pattern of eating, rather than a particular diet. A diet is all about restricting certain foods for a given amount of time. It’s hard to stick to, because it’s often-times temporary, and prevents us from eating many of the foods we enjoy.
Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, is all about changing the way we think about eating food. At the core of it, it’s about behavior change. In intermittent fasting, there are periods of time when you fast, and periods of time where you eat. The most popular (and easiest) method of intermittent fasting uses a 16 hour window of fasting, and an 8 hour window of eating.
The great news is you’re already doing this to a certain extent. Have you ever had a meal on a Friday night, slept in on Saturday, and then had a late brunch or lunch? If so, you had a fasting period of about 16 hrs (8pm dinner, 12pm lunch the next day).
When we give our bodies time to fast, we’re able to spend energy on detoxing and burning fat, rather than simply digesting the foods we consume. There are numerous health benefits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ) to following an intermittent fasting style of eating.
This one is everyones favorite, and frankly it’s much needed for many people. One of the most significant benefits of intermittent fasting is how easy this protocol makes weight loss. A large portion of the weight loss often times tends to be body fat as well. When we reduce our feeding window to 8 hours per day, it lessens the chance that we’ll consume more calories than we need. There’s simply less time to mindlessly consume calories, so we tend to eat less when following an intermittent fasting protocol.
Improved Fat Burning
When we’re fasted, our body has time to repair itself. When it needs energy, since we haven’t consumed food, it turns to body fat. When our body is burning its fat for energy, we’re in a state called ketosis. The longer we fast, the more our body is able to burn energy from our stored body fat. Fasts of up to 36 hours have incredible benefits with very little risk of adverse consequences, but we can gain benefits from fasting for as short as 16 hours.
Intermittent fasting lowers insulin resistance. This means that it will lower blood sugar levels, which reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also means that since your blood sugar is more stable throughout the day, you’ll experience less moodiness, cloudy thinking, irritability, and sugar crashes. When fasting, our bodies also produce more human growth hormone, more testosterone, and they’re better able to repair injuries and muscle tissues.
Better Appetite Control
Once our bodies are accustomed to an intermittent fasting style of eating, we experience far fewer cravings throughout the day. Since our insulin sensitivity is reduced, and our hormones are in check, our bodies aren’t signaling us to constantly eat. We learn to listen to our bodies and eat when we’re hungry, and stop eating when we’re full. Over time, it becomes easy to control the amounts of food you consume each day.
Intermittent fasting reduces inflammation throughout the body, because when our bodies aren’t digesting food, it can spend energy healing and repairing itself. Inflammation is a contributor to many chronic illnesses and skin conditions, including alzheimers, arthritis, chrohn’s disease, exzema, psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis.
How to Do it
The simplest method to abide by is a 16:8 protocol. 16 hours of fasting, and 8 hours of feeding. It’s even easier if 8 of those hours are spent sleeping. If that’s the case for you, skipping breakfast is a very simple way to start intermittent fasting.
Wake up in the morning, and don’t consume any calories until about 12 or 1 in the afternoon. Coffee and tea are fine in the morning, as long as you don’t add any sugar. A small splash of milk is ok, but avoiding it is ideal. Coffee is particularly helpful in the morning because it suppresses hunger cravings. If you start to get hungry, drink a few glasses of water, or even try sparkling water – it can be a big help in reducing hunger pangs.
When lunch time rolls around, break your fast with whatever food you want. The ideal choice would be a salad or a meal filled with plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein.
In the afternoon, if you want to have a snack, go for it! A healthy option is a handful of mixed nuts, a serving of fruit or vegetables, or even another salad or small meal.
For dinner, eat whatever you’d usually eat. Meat, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, soups, and stews. Intermittent fasting is not about limiting your food choices, it’s all about limiting the window of time in the day where you’re consuming food.
If you want to have that dessert after dinner, go for it if you must. Just make sure that you finish your last meal no more than 8 hours after you broke your fast. You’ll probably find that you sleep better when you don’t eat right before going to bed.
The next morning, do it all over again.
The first few days, it may be tough to adjust to this style of eating. After years and years of eating breakfast first thing in the morning, your body becomes accustomed to it. When you get started on intermittent fasting, it’s helpful to keep your schedule busy the first few days. That way you’re not sitting around idly thinking about when you can eat food.
After a few days or a week of intermittent fasting, you’ll notice that you’re no longer hungry first thing in the morning. Most practitioners actually experience more energy and focus in the morning when they’re in a fasted state. Your sugar cravings will be gone, you won’t be worried about what to eat for breakfast, and you’ll have more time to accomplish the things you want to get done first thing in the morning.
If you know you need to lose a few pounds, want to experience less cravings, and want to feel all around healthier, give an intermittent fasting style of eating a try. Nothing will change if you keep sticking to the same routine over and over, so only you can be the one to make a change to improve your health. If after a month, you realize this approach isn’t for you, that’s ok. Just recognize that you have the power to make a change in your health. Nobody is as invested in your health and longevity as you are, so take things into your own hands!