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To Breakfast or Not To Breakfast – How Fasting Works

Week Three of Demystifying Diets: Achieving Balance Through the Art of Eating

Each week in August our Chiropractors and our guest Nutritionist Melanie have deciphered the research and science to help you understand different diets and ways of eating. We hope this helps you when deciding what food might be right for you. 

Fasting or intermittent fasting (IF) has been practiced for thousands of years and has recently become a popular practice. The most common method is the 16/8 intermittent fasting which  involves eating only during an 8-hour window and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. I myself skip breakfast and do not eat till lunchtime and have found I have more mental clarity and energy.  In this article I will look into what fasting is, what it does to your body and the different types of fasting.

 

What is fasting:

Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of fasting (not eating) and eating. Fasting is the voluntary avoidance of food for spiritual, health, or other reasons. It’s done by someone who is not underweight and has enough stored body fat to live off. When done correctly fasting has numerous benefits including, weight loss, increased fat burning and lowered blood insulin and sugar levels. At its very core, intermittent fasting simply allows the body to use its stored energy, by burning off excess body fat. Furthermore, it’s important to realise that humans have evolved to fast for short time periods – hours or days- with numerous health benefits. 

 

Scheme and concept. eating and fasting windows. Vector illustration. Infographic

What happens in your body:

Body fat is merely food energy that has been stored away. If you don’t eat, your body will simply “eat” its own fat for energy. However, with anything, it’s about getting a balance and figuring out what works for you. If fasting doesn’t feel right then listen to your body and do not continue. Generally, when we eat, more food energy is ingested than can immediately be used. Some of this energy must be stored away for later use. Insulin is the key hormone involved in the storage of food energy. Insulin rises when we eat, helping to store the excess energy in two separate ways. 

 

Carbohydrates are broken down into individual glucose (sugar) units, which can be linked into long chains to form glycogen, which is then stored in the liver or muscles. There is, however, very limited storage space for carbohydrates; and once that is reached, the liver starts to turn the excess glucose into fat. This process is called de-novo lipogenesis (meaning literally “making new fat”).

 

The process goes in reverse when we do not eat. Insulin levels fall, signaling the body to start burning stored energy because no more is coming through food. Blood glucose falls, so the body must now pull glucose out of storage to burn for energy. Glycogen is the most easily accessible energy source. It is broken down into glucose molecules to provide energy for the body’s other cells. This can provide enough energy to power much of the body’s needs for 24-36 hours. After that, the body will primarily be breaking down fat for energy.

 

So the body only really exists in two states – the fed state and the fasted state. Either we are storing food energy (increasing stores), or we are burning stored energy (decreasing stores). It’s one or the other. If eating and fasting are balanced, then your weight is more stabilized.

If we start eating the minute we roll out of bed and do not stop until we go to sleep, we spend almost all our time in the fed state. Over time, we may gain weight because we have not allowed our body any time to burn stored food energy.

 

Different types of fasting:

There are many different types of fasting but these are the three most common:

 

  • The 16/8 method involves fasting every day for 14–16 hours and restricting your daily eating window to 8–10 hours. Doing this method of fasting can actually be as simple as not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast.
  • The 5:2 diet involves eating normally 5 days of the week while restricting your calorie intake to 500–600 for 2 days of the week. 

  • Eat Stop Eat involves a 24-hour fast once or twice per week. By fasting from dinner one day to dinner the next day, this amounts to a full 24-hour fast.

Please note it’s best to talk to your doctor before trying intermittent fasting, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

 

Benefits

Intermittent fasting has more benefits than just weight loss.  The fasting period often can be called ‘cleanses,’ ‘detoxifications’ or ‘purifications,’ however historically it was believed that this period of abstinence from food would clear their systems of toxins and rejuvenate them.

 

A lot of research is being done on the effects of fasting with some of the purported health benefits of intermittent fasting including:

 

  • Weight and body fat loss
  • Increased fat burning
  • Lowered blood insulin and sugar levels 
  • Possibly improved mental clarity and concentration
  • Can experience increased energy
  • Potential of reduction in inflammation 

 

If you’re interested in fasting , best practice is to listen to your body and see how you feel from it. Furthermore, if you have underlying health issues it’s best to talk with your doctor before trying it. Fasting is also not suited to people who are pregnant or underweight. What I have found with fasting is that it’s given me a bit more balance, clarity and energy throughout the day that I wasn’t quite getting when I was having breakfast. Now it’s just part of my routine to fast until lunchtime.

 

References:
  • Harvie, M., Pegington, M., Mattson, M., Frystyk, J., Dillon, B., Evans, G., Cuzick, J., Jebb, S., Martin, B., Cutler, R., Son, T., Maudsley, S., Carlson, O., Egan, J., Flyvbjerg, A. and Howell, A., 2010. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. International Journal of Obesity, 35(5), pp.714-727.
  • Johnson, J., Summer, W., Cutler, R., Martin, B., Hyun, D., Dixit, V., Pearson, M., Nassar, M., Tellejohan, R., Maudsley, S., Carlson, O., John, S., Laub, D. and Mattson, M., 2007. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 42(5), pp.665-674.
  • Sievert, K., Hussain, S., Page, M., Wang, Y., Hughes, H., Malek, M. and Cicuttini, F., 2019. Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ, p.l42.
  • Rothschild, J., Hoddy, K., Jambazian, P. and Varady, K., 2014. Time-restricted feeding and risk of metabolic disease: a review of human and animal studies. Nutrition Reviews, 72(5), pp.308-318.
  • Persynaki, A., Karras, S. and Pichard, C., 2017. Unraveling the metabolic health benefits of fasting related to religious beliefs: A narrative review. Nutrition, 35, pp.14-20.
  • Mattson, M., Moehl, K., Ghena, N., Schmaedick, M. and Cheng, A., 2018. Intermittent metabolic switching, neuroplasticity and brain health. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 19(2), pp.81-94.
  • Catenacci, V., Pan, Z., Ostendorf, D., Brannon, S., Gozansky, W., Mattson, M., Martin, B., MacLean, P., Melanson, E. and Troy Donahoo, W., 2016. A randomized pilot study comparing zero-calorie alternate-day fasting to daily caloric restriction in adults with obesity. Obesity, 24(9), pp.1874-1883.
  • Ganesan, K., Habboush, Y. and Sultan, S., 2018. Intermittent Fasting: The Choice for a Healthier Lifestyle. Cureus,.
  • Moro, T., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A., Marcolin, G., Pacelli, Q., Battaglia, G., Palma, A., Gentil, P., Neri, M. and Paoli, A., 2016. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. Journal of Translational Medicine, 14(1).
  • Persynaki A, Karras S, Pichard C. Unraveling the metabolic health benefits of fasting related to religious beliefs: A narrative review. Nutrition. 2017;35:14-20. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2016.10.005
  • Adeva-Andany, M. M., González-Lucán, M., Donapetry-García, C., Fernández-Fernández, C., & Ameneiros-Rodríguez, E. (2016). Glycogen metabolism in humans. BBA clinical, 5, 85–100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbacli.2016.02.001
  • Song Z, Xiaoli AM, Yang F. Regulation and Metabolic Significance of De Novo Lipogenesis in Adipose Tissues. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1383. Published 2018 Sep 29. doi:10.3390/nu10101383

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