Growing up, many of us learned that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. With a fully belly first thing in the morning, we should be ready to take on the challenges and obstacles of the day with ease and energy – right?
Not necessarily. Scientists, doctors, and nutritionists are now questioning the importance we put on breakfast. Some are even suggesting that skipping it might be a healthier habit. The new “best” way to start your day might be by avoiding eating breakfast…at least for a little while.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary trend that has become popularized by weight loss aficionados, dieticians, holistic medicine practitioners, and now researchers. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the intermittent fasting trend to learn why it’s so popular – and if breakfast still holds its place as the most important meal of the day.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Unlike diet plans, intermittent fasting doesn’t recommend what to eat, but when. But before we jump into how it all works, let’s take a look at a “normal” day.
On a typical day, our bodies fast for several hours while we are asleep. Once we wake up, say around 7AM, we head to the kitchen and have our first meal. As the day goes on, we eat snacks, lunch, dinner, and even dessert as late as 8, 9, or even 10 PM. Over the course of the day, our digestive systems have been actively processing food for 12-15 hours.
In an attempt to reduce the strain on the digestive system, improve detoxification, and preserve energy, we can switch to an intermittent fasting meal schedule. At its most basic, intermittent fasting is simply an eating pattern that limits the number of “eating hours” per day by increasing the time spent between the last meal of one day and the first of the next.
From a more scientific point of view, intermittent fasting helps to balance the body’s chemical and hormonal levels to encourage health. Stored body fat is more accessible as a source of energy (and therefore burned easily), cellular repair processes occur more readily, and insulin levels drop.
Overall, both doctors (including our AlignLife chiropractors) and intermittent fasters themselves claim that this eating pattern can help us lose weight faster and achieve our health goals.
What are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting has gained a lot of attention as a weight-loss method. But, it does more than just limit your available snacking time. There are many reasons why reducing your eating hours could be beneficial to both your digestive system and body as a whole. Let’s learn more about the potential benefits of intermittent fasting and how it may help you reach your health goals:
1) Aids in Weight Loss
Studies suggest that various intermittent fasting plans may help people in their weight loss efforts by encouraging fat loss (especially harmful belly fat) while promoting lean muscle mass. The practice also helps to manage the hormones involved and balance insulin levels. The end result is a faster metabolic rate, more calories burned, and weight lost!
2) Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is a major cause of illness and chronic disease. Because diet is one of the main contributors to systemic inflammation in the body, fasting (especially when paired with an anti-inflammatory diet) can help to reduce inflammation in the gut and the body as a whole.
3) Improves Digestion
By reducing the number and frequency of meals, intermittent fasting gives our digestive system a rest. This not only leads to better weight management, but improved gut health, healthier bowel movements, and less bloating.
4) Boosts Heart Health
Some studies show that intermittent fasting may have several benefits to the cardiovascular system, including reducing the “bad” LDL cholesterol, blood lipids, inflammation, blood sugar, and insult resistance.
5) Improves Brain and Mental Health
Those who use intermittent fasting often remark on how much more energy, clarity, and focus they have, all thanks to their eating patterns. Research shows that these experiences do have some merit, as intermittent fasting increases the hormone BDNF, a key hormone for nerve cell health and development. Additionally, intermittent fasting may prime our brain to work more optimally, have more balanced moods, and be more resilient.
6) Slows Aging and Enhances Longevity
Could intermittent fasting lead us to the fountain of youth? Interestingly, some studies showed that rats who were fasted intermittently lived 36-83% longer than those who did not. The jury is still out on if fasting has a similar effect on humans, but the combination of reduced oxidative stress, leaner weight, and better mental health do point to healthier aging.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
Fasting is not a new trend. In fact, fasting has been a practice throughout human history. Our ancestors fasted either through necessity (when food was scarce) or for religion or cultural reasons. In reality, only in more recent times have we been able to eat at any hour of the day. Before electricity, refrigeration, take-aways, and late-night Netflix binges, people ate their last meals much earlier in the day – often before the sun went down.
While fasting feels uncomfortable to us in our modern age, our bodies have evolved to manage occasional periods of time without food. In fact, many people even think that fasting is the key to a long and healthy life.
Additionally, because it involves a very short fasting period, intermittent fasting usually has few side effects. As you might have guessed, the most common challenge of intermittent fasting is hunger. Along with feeling hungry, you may notice some of the other issues that arise when hungry, such as brain fog and irritability.
In most cases, these initial side effects are short-lived as your body reacclimates to the new eating schedule. After a few days of intermittent fasting, you are likely to feel more balanced, energized, and alert.
Is Intermittent Fasting for Everyone?
As with all diet plans and eating patterns, however, it is important to consider your unique health and lifestyle before trying intermittent fasting. In some cases, intermittent fasting is simply not recommended. Avoid fasting or ask your doctor before starting a fasting routine if any of the following apply to you:
- Are underweight or have a history of eating disorders.
- Have diabetes or struggle to manage your blood sugar levels.
- Have low blood pressure.
- Experience irregular menstrual cycles.
- Are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to become pregnant.
- Taking medications.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
Ready to start intermittent fasting? With so many potential benefits, there is good reason to give this eating pattern a try. Before you do, however, make sure you’re familiar with the best intermittent fasting practices:
1) Intermittent Fasting Do’s
- Check with your chiropractor or doctor to make sure that intermittent fasting is right for you.
- Ease into intermittent fasting by increasing your fast time gradually.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Focus on nutrient-rich foods and avoid processed foods.
- Keep moving with light exercise.
2) Intermittent Fasting Don’ts
- Stop fasting if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or ill.
- Don’t start a fasting regimen without professional medical advice if you are in an at-risk group.
- Be careful not to overload your digestive system with big meals after fasting. Make your first meal small and eat until 80% full.
3) Choose Your Intermittent Fasting Schedule
There is no one strategy when it comes to intermittent fasting. Here are three potential ways to schedule your meal times. To find the schedule that works best for you, feel free to try different strategies to find one that works for you and your lifestyle.
- 16:8 Schedule
This practice is one of the most common ways to practice intermittent fasting and tends to be a great way to start fasting. With this practice, you’ll reduce your eating window to 8 hours and fast for 16 hours. For instance, you could eat your first meal at 11AM and your last meal at 7PM.
- Eat-Stop-Eat Schedule
With this method, you fast for 24 hours once or twice a week and eat normally the other days.
- 5:2 Schedule
On a 5:2 plan, you eat normally for 5 days of the week, then restrict your diet to 500-600 calories on two days of the week.
For most people, 2-3 weeks is a good amount of time to give intermittent fasting a try and notice a few improvements. Be sure to support yourself through this transition period and listen to your body.
So, is Breakfast Still the Most Important Meal of the Day?
Intermittent fasting offers some amazing health benefits. But, taking on this new eating pattern doesn’t mean you have to give up breakfast completely. In fact, your breakfast (even if delayed) still has a great impact on how you’ll feel for the rest of the day.
So, when you do break your fast, make it count! Fill your plate with as many healthy vegetables as you like (the more colorful the better), lean proteins (like eggs or beans), and healthy fats packed with omega-3’s (like avocados, nuts, and seeds). If you prefer a sweeter breakfast, choose whole grains like oats, farro, or quinoa and try to pair with some protein. As for fruit, limit to one serving to keep blood sugar in check.
Intermittent Fasting and a Healthy Lifestyle
Like any healthy practice, intermittent fasting offers the most benefits when paired with a lifestyle that encourages health and wellbeing. To reap the many benefits of intermittent fasting, we must also establish a healthy diet, regular exercise, restorative rest, and dedication to self-care and stress relief.
Ready to try intermittent fasting? Reach out to your local qualified AlignLife chiropractors today to see if intermittent fasting is right for you. We’ll also help you learn the best strategies to lose weight, feel energized, and achieve your biggest health goals!