Rather than prescribing a specific form of fasting, the term “intermittent fasting” (also, called interval fasting or periodic fasting) describes a rhythm of eating. In comparison to a strict fasting regimen, an intermittent fasting schedule provides for good meals confined to specific times, and only at certain intervals.
The process of intermittent fasting calls for alternating between times of normal food intake with periods of calorie restriction. Though the term ‘intermittent fasting’ sounds new, monks and nuns, including Hildegard of Bingen used these forms of intermittent fasting diet for centuries to address age-related illnesses and impose a healthy discipline for weight management.
Intermittent fasting: recalling the dietary rhythm of our ancestors
Our modern age of abundance supports the continuous supply of food. Always at our disposal, grocery stores and bodegas remain open at all hours, carrying everything we desire.
Our hunter / gatherer ancestors experienced life very differently. Before humans settled down to domesticate crops and cattle, they commonly experienced brief periods of famine, without solid food.
These involuntary fasting spells did not cause harm. On the contrary, they relieved stress from the body, and helped to develop resiliency.
Fasting days relieve and improve health
Common sense reminds us that overeating leads to poor health. When we eat too much, we increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, along with increased morbidity and mortality. Notwithstanding a universal awareness of the dangers in overeating, many of us continue to face the challenge of controlling or reducing food intake.
Revisiting the way our ancestors lived and ate has become the focus of numerous modern research projects. Scientists continue to evaluate how to achieve health-promoting effects of dietary lifestyles, without reduced food intake.
Intermittent fasting results – the dietary rhythm that works
Modern studies have concluded that an alternate dietary rhythm by itself can minimize cardiovascular risk factors, protect against degenerative diseases of the nervous system, and improve overall health. Intermittent fasting emerges as the most compelling alternate dietary rhythm to accomplish health goals, particularly as we get older.
Insulin resistance, asthma, seasonal allergies, viral and bacterial infectious diseases, fungal infections, autoimmune diseases, osteoarthritis, symptoms of inflammation of the central nervous system, cardiac arrhythmia, hot flashes during menopause, all appear to respond positively to intermittent fasting.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting helps to revitalize the body’s fat burning process, supporting gentle weight loss. Intermittent fasting compares favorably to traditional diets because it does not require meticulously tracking food intake, or measuring calories and grams consumed.
Ultimately, intermittent fasting leads to increased fat burning and weight loss, forcing our bodies to use fat stores as fuel.
The process of losing weight with intermittent fasting
When you eat, your body uses glucose (sugar) as its primary source of energy, and stores everything left over as glycogen in the muscles and liver.
If you don’t give your body a steady stream of glucose, it starts to break down glycogen as fuel. After depleting glycogen, the body looks for alternative energy sources, such as fat cells, which it breaks-down to drive energy.
Intermittent fasting keto
The results of intermittent fasting resemble a ketogenic diet, where you deprive your body of carbohydrates, forcing it to consume stored fat for energy. We talk a little about this phenomenon of a ketogenic diet in our post “Is sugar bad for you?”.
Studies show that the weight loss results derived from most forms of intermittent fasting compare closely with the results of continuous diets. However, intermittent fasting shows a greater decrease in body fat compared with ordinary dieting; approximately 90% of total weight loss (as body fat), compared with 75% of total weight loss in continuous diets.
In addition, intermittent fasting generally resolves feelings associated with hypoglycemia or intensified hunger.
How to Do Intermittent Fasting?
The practice of intermittent fasting is simple and natural. Phases of normal food intake follow with periods of calorie restriction.
There are two basic variants of intermittent fasting, which in turn allow for numerous variations. In our post “Periodic Fasting” we explain the different fasting programs, specifically inspired by Hildegard of Bingen.
Intermittent fasting meal plan
An intermittent fasting meal plan generally contains little sugar and other isolated carbohydrates (white flour, white rice). This keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low and the body derives disproportionate energy from burning fats. Bitters can be used to limit sugar cravings during fasting periods.
More information on the health effects of increased sugar consumption can be found in our post “Is sugar bad for you?“
Does intermittent fasting make you hungry?
Intermittent fasting remains unfamiliar to many people, especially those who eat snacks or drink soft drinks on a regular basis. While they may think they are hungry, they may be confusing hunger for habit.
Out-of-balance blood sugar levels trigger feelings of hunger. This is especially the case following the regular consumption of meals containing simple carbohydrates, such as sweet bars, sweet drinks, rolls, biscuits.
Simple carbohydrates lead to spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Hunger often follows a rapid rise blood sugar. As blood sugar levels decline, the body signals a desire for sugar replenishment.
Intermittent fasting and exercise
The effects of intermittent fasting, including a nutritional plan, limiting simple carbohydrates, trains the body to regulate blood sugar levels for survival over several hours without food, and without pangs of hunger or weakness.
Pauses between meals create space for maximum physical and mental performance. If physically demanding activities are integrated into everyday life, reserve those activities for a few hours after the last meal. For example, Hildegard would always promote walking after dinner.
Taking a pause after a meal, and before exercise, provides the organism with sufficient energy and nutrients for anabolic (muscle building activities) and metabolic (calorie burning) exercises, without the distraction of digestion, which comes directly after a meal.
Intermittent fasting: the sooner the better!
The sooner we incorporate this form of nutrition into our lives, the greater the positive effects on the body’s resistance levels and in prevention of age-related diseases. The first noticeable changes, such as more energy and greater sense of well-being, occur in the first few weeks of starting an intermittent fasting program.
The benefits of fasting seem to increase with age. Observations among
a cohort of older mice (and, later in humans) showed: extended life span; reduced presence of cancer; strengthened immune system; reduced inflammatory diseases; slowed bone mineral density loss; and improved cognitive abilities. Follow-on studies in humans demonstrate similar health benefits related to fasting.
Intermittent fasting: fasting crises do not occur
While fasting crises arise commonly in strict fasting programs (total renouncement of any calorie-containing food for 3 days, up to several weeks), the same fasting crises do not occur with intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting does not change the way energy is produced. As long as our food arrives regularly, we derive the same basic energy; even if it arrives at longer intervals, as with intermittent fasting.
The body continues to use its glycogen reserves (stored carbohydrates) to generate energy. When these get used up, the body burns fats. The fat-burning process is therefore gradual, but sustainable and healthy.
Fasting crisis: difference with strict fasting programs
With strict fasting, we enforce the permanent absence of calorie-containing food. This forces the body to change its method of energy production after only a few days. In the absence of more glucose, the body stops storing glycogen and begins to break down its own fats and proteins.
This degradation process leads to the intensive release of metabolic products such as ketone bodies and purines. At the same time, we release stored byproducts and toxins. These substances enter the blood during fasting, putting the liver and kidneys to work in breaking down and excreting toxins. All of this results in a heavy strain on the body, which leads to unpleasant symptoms we call a fasting crisis.
Alternative forms of fasting, including those inspired by Hildegard von Bingen serve the purpose of relieving and cleansing the body, but do not require a complete renunciation of food. For more information see our eBook “Fasting According to Hildegard von Bingen” with a complete fasting guide.
Intermittent Fasting Results: the Health Benefits
In an experimental study in Cell Metabolism, intermittent fasting contributed to a prolonged lifespan in yeast cells and delayed the aging of mice. A pilot study demonstrated that people benefit from regular and extensive dietary restriction.
Weight loss with intermittent fasting takes longer than with other, more rigorous fasting methods. Of course, weight loss does not occur if large amounts of unhealthy food are consumed during the eating periods; or, if one fails exercise. According to basic Hildegard nutrition, we do not promote healthy weight loss by limiting healthy food.
By itself, intermittent fasting won’t serve as a miracle weight loss diet. Instead, think of intermittent fasting as a supplement to creating a healthy lifestyle, where the results include losing weight.
Intermittent fasting reduces hunger
Leptin, also known as the saturation hormone, is a hormone produced by fat cells and helps to signal the time to stop eating. Your leptin level decreases when hungry and increases when feeling full.
Because leptin is produced in fat cells, those who are overweight or obese tend to have higher levels of leptin circulating in the body. However, too much leptin causes leptin resistance, making it harder to effectively eliminate hunger signals.
A study of 80 participants investigated leptin levels during intermittent fasting and found that levels were lower at night during fasting. Lower leptin levels could lead to less leptin resistance, less hunger, and possibly even more weight loss.
Intermittent fasting reduces inflammation
Everyone seems to be talking about inflammation these days. Inflammation represents the immune system’s normal response to injury. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, leads to chronic diseases. Research links inflammation to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
A study published in Nutrition Research followed 50 people who observed Ramadan and showed that they had decreased levels of inflammatory markers during Ramadan fasting. Specifically, interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and biochemical parameters during prolonged intermittent fasting.
A further study from 2015 showed that a longer period of fasting at night was accompanied by a decrease in inflammatory markers. In the journal “Rejuvenation Research”, Alternate Day fasting helped to reduce markers of oxidative stress.
Although more research is needed, these studies provide promising evidence that intermittent fasting helps reduce inflammation and ward-off chronic diseases.
Intermittent fasting regulates blood sugar levels
The health benefits of intermittent fasting derive from our internal biochemical processes.
Intermittent fasting leads to reduced blood sugar and insulin levels, which alone represents a meaningful health improvement. We know that unfettered blood sugar levels contribute to many negative health conditions, including diabetes, acne, cancer, hormone instability, depression, and chronic inflammation.
Intermittent fasting lowers high blood pressure
Intermittent fasting, also contributes to stabilizing blood pressure, by resolving some of the effects of high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, together with high blood sugar and insulin levels, are among the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Experiments with rodents and other mammals carried-out since the beginning of the 20th century have repeatedly confirmed the value of intermittent fasting in improving these health conditions.
Uniform studies in humans have not yet been carried-out to the same extent as in rodents, but similar observations appear in random fasting studies in human subjects.
Intermittent fasting regulates cholesterol levels
Studies carried-out on fasting Muslims during the month of Ramadan are also used for comparison purposes.
The practice of fasting during Ramadan closely resembles a form of intermittent fasting. One eats only pre-dawn and post-sunset; a finite period, limiting food intake to only few hours per day.
Observations in participants show significantly reduced values of potentially vascular-damaging LDL cholesterol with a simultaneous increase in vascular-protective HDL cholesterol. This suggests a conclusion that, in addition to blood sugar and blood pressure levels, blood fat (lipids) values realize a positive influence from intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting protects against modern impacts to the nervous system
Studies show that intermittent fasting (ideally combined with calorie restriction) improves nervous system health by favorably influencing basic metabolic and cellular signaling routes.
Reduced blood sugar and insulin levels (during dietary abstinence) help to stimulate the production of protective proteins and antioxidant enzymes. They all help cells to cope with today’s ubiquitous oxidative stress.
Intermittent fasting promotes the release of so-called neurotrophic factors (NTFs). These are proteins released in the central nervous system by mature nerve cells. The task of NTFs is to control the growth, differentiation, and health of newly developing nerve cells. In this way, neurotrophic factors reject ill or inefficient nerve cells.
Neurotrophic factors contribute to the quality of our nerve cells by promoting maintenance and adaptation.
Intermittent fasting slows the aging process
Hildegard called for fasting, beginning in middle-age and continuing throughout our lives. Perhaps because intermittent fasting contributes to protecting our nervous systems, fortifying our cell membranes, and preserving our DNA (genetic material).
As a result, intermittent fasting helps slow the natural aging process, and helps reduce the risk of degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Try Intermittent Fasting!
Intermittent fasting is worth the challenge. Try it out! Start with a low stress variation. For example, do a 16-hour fasting period (16/8). Take your first meal before 10 AM and a second meal after 5 PM.
Design your two meals according to the nutritional guidelines of Hildegard of Bingen, eat slowly, and chew thoroughly. Consciously enjoy every moment and drink only water or a herbal teas between meals.
An appetite for fasting
If you want to practice a gentle fasting program for cleansing and detoxification, take a look at our eBook Fasting according to Hildegard von Bingen or have look in our fasting section for many more resources.
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