As many of you are probably already aware, I’m all about gut health. One of the most important steps in my personal recovery was healing my digestive system and as my gut lining started repairing itself and my gut flora became balanced, every aspect of my health dramatically improved.
It’s fascinating what an astoundingly accurate reflection of our emotional state our gut is. Conversely, if we take care of our digestive system, our emotions and mood will be affected in a positive way.
So if you want to feel great physically and emotionally, your best bet is to look after your gut to ensure that it is performing optimally. This means nourishing it with organic, natural, wholefoods, hydrating it with pure, filtered water and green juices, giving it a little boost with some probiotics and fermented foods and supporting it by eating slowly and mindfully, chewing thoroughly and keeping stress and negative emotions at bay.
However, your digestive system, the same as you, sometimes needs a little rest to be able to function at its best. That’s when intermittent fasting (or IF) can be really helpful.
Twice a week, I do IF to give my digestive system some well-needed restorative time. IF doesn’t mean that you have to stop eating altogether and starve yourself for the entire day. You can simply eat less and focus on nutrient-rich and easy to digest foods.
There are many IF protocols that you can discover and as so many of you have been asking me for it, I’m going to walk you through a typical day on a plate for me and go into a little more detail about how I’ve successfully implemented IF in my life. But firstly, let’s dive into some more information about how IF works and some of its health benefits.
First of all, you might not be aware of it, but you’re already doing IF! IF is basically alternating periods when you don’t eat (or eat less) with periods when you eat. So every night, between the time you finish your dinner and the time when you wake up in the morning, you are actually fasting. That’s why breakfast is called break-fast.
Humans have fasted since the beginning of time, whether it’s overnight, during extended periods of food scarcity, or for religious reasons, but in the last few years, the practice has been gaining popularity. It began in the fitness circles and more recently into mainstream nutrition and when we see the long list of IF benefits, it’s easy to understand why it has become so popular.
Clinical studies have shown that IF can:
- Reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce free radical damage
- Increase cell repair
- Increase fat burning
- Increase HGH levels (Human Growth Hormone, which promotes muscle growth, and boosts fat loss)
- Increase metabolic rate (making you a more efficient fat-burning machine)
- Improve the beneficial bacteria in your gut
- Lower blood glucose
- Normalise insulin and leptin sensitivity
- Normalise ghrelin (the hunger hormone) for better appetite control
Pretty impressive, list me thinks! Although, research in the area of IF is still at the early stages and has been mainly carried out on animal subjects, there is no doubt that by abstaining from food for extended periods, or simply eating less twice a week like I do, you automatically eat fewer calories while limiting your intake of chemicals and unhealthy foods. These two factors alone naturally yield improvements in a wide spectrum of health and body composition markers.
There are many IF protocols, each with its own guidelines for how long to fast and what to eat during the “feeding” phase. For example, some of them advise that you abstain from food for 24 hours or even more, others that you should only eat one meal, at night. No method is right or wrong, so experiment what works best for you and suits your lifestyle so it can become a regular practice. As with everything else, better results come with consistency and working within your own body’s needs.
I personally love breakfast and believe in the metabolism boosting properties of having a healthy breakfast within an hour or two of waking up after my yoga and meditation practice. So I usually have a light breakfast, a very lunch and an early dinner. If I’m feeling hungry mid-morning, I’ll have a light snack. I don’t ever count calories but as a guide, and to make it easier to plan IF for optimal results, the total calorific intake for the day shouldn’t be over 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men. I try and eat dinner as early as possible to achieve double benefits on my IF days: I eat small quantities of nutrient-rich, easy to digest foods during the “feeding” phase to lighten the load on my gut and try to have a longer overnight “fasting” phase than usual to give 12 to 16 hours of complete rest to my digestive system.
After some trial and error, I’ve found this to be the method that works best for my own body and lifestyle. But, again, I encourage you to experiment with different IF methods and find out for yourself what suits you best. You might find it easier to skip breakfast because you’re never that hungry in the morning anyway. Or you may want to pass on lunch so that you don’t have to worry about bringing your meal to work or time wasting in an overcrowded food court.
I’ve pulled together a few tips that you can implement to incorporate IF into your life and make it a smooth transition from day to day.
On your IF days, try to focus on healthy protein and good fats like eggs, avocado, and fish and try to minimize your carbs like grains, bread and potatoes.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying well hydrated will make the fasting periods much easier to get through.
- Change your thoughts: think of fasting as a self-care practice, a needed time out for your gut that your body and health will thank you for. This is NOT another FAD diet or a period of deprivation.
- Keep busy. Plan your IF on days when you know you won’t be home, sitting on the couch and tempted to reach for an unhealthy snack.
- Do some form of gentle exercise. Adding regular physical activity will help you get even better results.
- Remember to start slow. Maybe begin with only one day a week and gradually work your way up to two or three days a week. If you’re goal is weight loss then three days will see optimum results. It takes a few weeks but once you get used to it, you won’t feel hungry anymore and you’ll be amazed how focused and clear you are and full of energy.
So here's my IF day on a plate:
Poached egg with spinach and dulse flakes (100 calories)
- In a frying pan, poach 1 egg in a couple of inches of water and ACV.
- Add a handful of organic spinach after a minute.
- Once egg and spinach are cooked to your liking, server with dulse flakes and Celtic Sea Salt.
Slippery elm porridge (30 calories)
- Add 1 heaped tsp slippery elm powder to a little cold water and mix well.
- Then add about a 1 1/2 to 2 cups more of hot water, whisking ingredients into a smooth porridge.
- Add any spices that you like: cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, lemon zest, dusting of cacao etc.
- Sweeten with stevia.
Slippery elm is a mucilaginous herb that has soothing properties for anything it comes in contact with. When taken internally, it makes wonders to an inflamed gut and helps with diarrhea and constipation. It contains various nutrients, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, beta-carotene and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and vitamin C.
Sardines and cucumber with a lemon and apple cider vinegar dressing (100 calories)
Lemon and apple cider vinegar dressing:
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar.
- Squeeze of lemon juice.
Note: You can double the proportions to prepare the dressing for your dinner ahead of time.
- Simply lay sardines on a plate ( I use canned sardines in extra virgin oil and drain the excess oil on fasting days).
- Add organic cucumber slices.
- Drizzle with the lemon and apple cider vinegar dressing.
Sashimi, nori and edamane (270 calories)
(Sometimes I go to my local Japanese and order this or make my own).
- 4 pieces of sashimi.
- 1 nori sheet, finely chopped.
- Beans from a handful of edamame (up to half a cup).
- Drizzle with lemon and apple cider vinegar dressing (see previous recipe).
Or you could make a delicious wakame salad:
- Soak 30g dried wakame in warm water for 10-20 minutes.
- Drain and trim tough central spine, if any.
- Wrap wakame in absorbent paper to extract moisture.
- Chop wakame.
- Add some edamane beans.
- Serve with 4 pieces of sashimi.
- Drizzle with lemon and apple cider vinegar dressing (see previous recipe).
Have you ever tried IF? What’s your favorite method? Let me know your experiences in the comments below.
If this daunting prospect is still delaying your trial of IF, then why not break into a healthier eating pattern with others? Often going to a retreat to lose weight in a healthy way is an easier introduction to gut health, so why not visit Chi of Life. This health retreat customises its programs to suit the needs of each attendee. With focuses on both wellness and weight loss, Chi of Life’s successful program empowers its participants to positively change their lifestyle and diet. By providing guidance and nutritional education, this retreat gets people started on the journey to a healthier life.
You'll be ready to embrace the fast on your return!
PS: Have you heard about my Heal Your Gut program yet? Find out more here.