If you are following trends in the health, weight loss, and fitness world, you have most likely come across the term intermittent fasting (IF). IF is quickly dominating the health and fitness industry by helping people lose weight, boost their energy levels, prevent certain diseases of old age, and, yes, even delay the ageing process altogether. More studies are also showing IF’s positive effect on brain health, including studies funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to look at its impact on Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders (1).
Certain religions embrace fasting throughout history and even some of the most popular Western philosophers and writers, like Plato and Mark Twain, practiced fasting for greater physical and mental agility. So how does it work? Well, in a nutshell, the power of IF stems from calorie restriction and the effect this has on your cells. Early humans did not have the availability of food we have in modern-day and fasting helps mimic those early days of scarcity by tricking your cells into survival mode, which studies find can delay disease and make your body stronger. Thus the reference to the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
IF refers to an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. The most common IF methods include daily 16 hour fasts with 8 hours of eating period, or fasting for 24 hours twice a week. During a fast, one may drink water, coffee and other non-caloric beverages. This can help reduce hunger levels. However, during the eating period, one needs to eat a healthy, nutritious diet to make sure your cells are nourished. This is also very important for weight loss or weight loss maintenance as over-eating to include binge eating on junk food can (and will) offset benefits of IF. It is worth touching on this point a bit as some IF practitioners may assume fasting gives them the green light to eat anything they want in unlimited quantities.
I fell into IF during my weight loss journey by accident. After practicing my FIVE DAILY DISCIPLINES for 90 days, I found myself not only losing all the weight I had wanted to lose and some more (i.e., 45 pounds) but also not feeling as hungry as I used to think in the mornings. I began to listen to my body and hold off on my first meal of the day into following morning, or even lunchtime. If you are following me as a coach, you know I recommend that you try to fall into IF naturally like I did by first fixing certain unhealthy habits you may be practicing and forming new healthy ones that will help you with your overall success. The aim should be to make this a sustainable lifestyle that you can do in the long-term. Here are a few tips I pulled together to help you along the way.
#one. If you are not hungry, then don’t eat it.
One of the unfair advantages I gained by focusing on fixing my metabolism and gut health to burn fat naturally for 90 days was that a lot of my sugar cravings diminished. I also found myself to be less hungry and so it was easier to start with IF. It fell into my lap! Many of us have been raised with the belief that eating first thing in the morning is right for you. However, if you are not hungry, then you should listen to your body and wait a bit. Giving in to cravings quickly is also a mistake. Desires can be badly formed habits to eat dessert, for example, after a meal. You don’t always have to give in to a craving, so try to make it a habit not to.
#2. Plan your IF 16/8 hour cycle to include sleeping hours.
Most nutritionists will tell you that eating right before bedtime is not a good idea. Many health experts recommend feeding your last meal three hours before bedtime. When I do 16/8 hour IF, I use the hours I sleep at night towards the 16 hours of fasting; you can do this too. This has been key to my success, and it has also helped me sleep more extended hours. Health professionals recommend that you try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily. So, if you eat your last meal at 7 pm and go to bed around 10 pm, then you would be able to finish your fast by 11 am the next day.
#3. Try to fall into fasting naturally
IF is not for everybody, but the benefits can outweigh the discomfort. I would recommend you try to first heal your body with nutritional guidance that focuses on improving your gut health and fixing your metabolism. This will help with craving later down the road. I eliminated certain foods from my diet for 90 days to include processed foods, sugars, alcohol, grains, and dairy. This allowed my body to heal and also get used to smaller quantities of unhealthy foods (i.e., processed foods and refined sugars). This period of cleansing allowed for my body to connect with my mind again and allowed me to make peace with my diet and practice a more “intuitive” approach to eating, eating in moderation but staying away from processed foods.
IF is not for everyone and one should consult with a physician before starting it. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or taking certain medications, you should hold off and consult your physician!
Isabel Otero holds a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals (including The Lancet Oncology) in the area of cancer prevention, health policy/education, and public health. She served as a senior program analyst and project manager at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 15 years, where she worked alongside NIH scientists to promote evidence-based public health guidelines around the world. After giving birth to her two beautiful children, she left her career to become a full-time mom. She found herself gaining weight during this time of transition, and her academic work was of no help. After trying several diets and vigorous exercise routines with little success, she focused on healing her gut, her hormones, and her metabolism to start burning fat naturally. She was able to lose 45 pounds in 90 days, and more importantly, get so much energy back, by adding five simple, safe, and sustainable habits to her new busy “mommy” schedule. Now she enjoys writing about health and weight loss and helping other working moms and professionals lose weight and get healthy through a low-time consuming training program based on her five daily disciplines. For more information on her healthy lifestyle, or to get in touch with her, send her a message to Now she enjoys writing about health and weight loss and helping other busy moms and professionals lose weight and get healthy through a low-time consuming training program based on her five daily disciplines. For more information on her healthy lifestyle, or to get in touch with her, send her a message to Now she enjoys writing about health and weight loss and helping other busy moms and professionals lose weight and get healthy through a low-time consuming training program based on her five daily disciplines