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Here’s why regular fasting might work for you

Here’s why regular fasting might work for you

The warm temperatures and increased physical activity that come with spring and summer means many people will be eating less.

That means it could be a good time to introduce intermittent fasting (IF) to your lifestyle. Of all the things I have done to improve my health, IF has been the easiest and made the most difference.

I chose the 16/8 fast, which means I eat during an eight-hour window primarily between noon and 8 p.m., allowing my body to fast for 16 hours. Intermittent fasting (avoiding food for shorter periods) can be just as beneficial as periodic fasting (avoiding food for 24 hours or longer).

Variations of intermittent fasting include 16/8, Warrior diet (fast for 20 hours), Eat-Stop-Eat (fast between dinners) and 5/2 fast (2 days per week, your calories are reduced to 500 calories daily).

Here are some of the benefits of any approach you choose:

  1. Supports mental clarity and brain health: Mental clarity is very important to most of us. Studies have shown that IF enhances cognitive function, protects against memory loss and dementia and generally slows the brain aging process.
  2. Promotes weight loss: It may not surprise you that skipping a meal will result in weight loss, but it’s about more than reducing the number of calories you consume. When fasting, your body will automatically start to use stored fat and ketone bodies as energy sources. In other words, your body will become a fat-burning machine.
  3. Reduces hunger: I have a reputation at work for never being seen eating. It’s so unusual that when I do eat, some team members come around to see me in action. That’s because fasting can result in decreased hunger. This is partly because you are using your body fat stores as energy. You also reduce leptin hormone resistance when fasting. Leptin hormone is your satiety hormone. With less leptin hormone resistance, your feeling of being full will be greater, resulting in a decreased desire to eat.
  4. Helps to reverse type 2 diabetes and improve blood glucose control: Instead of relying on carbohydrates/glucose as an energy source, people who fast will use ketones (fat) as energy. With a switch from metabolism depending on glucose to ketones, blood glucose (sugar) levels will be better controlled without the spikes and crashes diabetic frequently experience. Over time, insulin sensitivity improves, which ultimately could start the process of reversing type 2 diabetes.
  5. Improves cholesterol markers: The so-called good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) is only improved by a few things: Exercise, high-fat diets and IF.
  6. Advances anti-inflammatory benefits: Of all the things you can do to improve your overall health, reducing inflammation may be one of the biggest keys. Whether you suffer from arthritis, obesity or simply want to reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes or stroke, IF may provide an answer. By giving your body a break from inflammatory foods by not eating, you can reduce inflammation and all the medical conditions associated with it.
  7. Improves cellular repair: Through a process called autophagy, cellular waste removal can be accelerated, removing dysfunctional cells that build up in your body. This may protect against cancer and dementia.
  8. May extend your lifespan: When studies on rats are done with IF, they have extended lifespans. In one study, rats that fasted every other day lived 83 percent longer than rats who didn’t fast. More studies need to be done to prove the same is true for humans.

IF is generally safe for most of us, but discussing this with your doctor first is always a good idea. People who should use caution include those who are pregnant or have adrenal, thyroid or gallbladder conditions. Children and those with eating disorders also may not be the best candidates. Diabetics, in consultation with their doctors or advanced practice clinicians, may need to reduce or adjust medications.

Dr. Tony Hampton is a family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group.

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  1. This is really dangerous to be promoting…

  2. I’ve been doing this a bit, but I wonder if the benefits have kicked in.

  3. Bobby Ferguson May 1, 2019 at 12:46 pm · Reply

    While the article doesn’t specifically state, I assume the 16/8 fast is everyday. Doesn’t this run counter to what we have always been told — not to skip breakfast, that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?

  4. Andrew Segal May 1, 2019 at 7:16 pm · Reply

    Dr. Hampton, thanks for your well-written article packed with valuable points. Very motivating. In the past year or so I have encountered similar articles on the benefits of intermittent fasting. This is a big departure from the long-standing recommendation to eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day.

    Recently, I have tried intermittent fasting of maybe 14 hours (except coffee and water) and am able to function without difficulty. The science is there. Hope our associates read this and take action themselves.

  5. Does the 16/8 IF allow for herbal teas or black coffee outside of the eating window, without “ruining” the fast?
    Thank you!

  6. Dr. Tony Hampton

    Creating awareness about the benefits of various dietary options does require some education to ensure a particular option done safely. That’s why this article does mention persons who should use caution. In general however, the benefits of fasting in this article are evidence based and will benefit the majority of persons who use this approach to improve their health.

  7. Dr. Tony Hampton

    When it comes to fasting and drinks, my rule of thumb is to avoid any drinks with added sugar. If sweetener is needed, consider Monk Fruit or Stevia. Drinks that are okay include herbal teas, coffee, water, water with apple cider vinegar, or bone broth (beef, chicken, etc.).

  8. Reverse type 2 diabetes, what? Type 2 diabetes can be controlled but NOT reversed. Once beta cells are lost they are lost forever. One of the core problems with type 2 DM is that when not eating, the glucagon level is not well controlled and the liver dumps too much glucose back into the blood. Often they will see an increase to their blood glucose level when they skip meals. American Diabetes Association does not recommend fasting for people with diabetes. They are encouraged to eat every 4-5 hours while awake. There is not a one size fits all diet but generally speaking, intermittent fasting should not be recommended for people with diabetes.

  9. Dr. Tony Hampton

    My definition of reversing Type 2 diabetes = eating a low carbohydrate higher fat diet with or without fasting while maintaining normal Hemoglobin A1cs values. Rather considered reversing or controlling, my goal is to get patients off medication with lifestyle changes. I take patients off medications including insulin on a regular basis which never occurred when I was primarily focused on managing diabetes with medication. Most organizations that promote eating every 4-5 hours do this because when people are on medications, they don’t want their blood sugars to get too low. I teach my patients to eat low carb higher fat diets while reducing their medications until they don’t need them. In other words, instead of treating the medication with food, I encourage them to treat the diabetes with diet. Many of my patient, with my guidance, are able to do intermittent fasting but typically are not taking medication during the fasting phase. Fasting is the fastest way to reverse diabetes and restore the function of the pancreas.

  10. Carolyn Boatman May 3, 2019 at 9:57 am · Reply

    Dr Hampton,
    Thank you for this article! I am an RN and Acupuncturist with Aurora and agree there is solid evidence of the benefits of intermittent fasting. I was surprised by how easy it was once I let go of the splash of creamer in my coffee in the morning and truly had zero calories. I feel great! I was nervous I would lose muscle (I lift 4 days/week) but I have actually decreased body fat % while maintaining same weight.

    As for the common belief that breakfast is the most Important meal of the day…that was a clever marketing campaign

  11. I have been doing the IF 18/6 for the past 2 weeks and have never felt better. No more bloating!! Very easy to fit into any lifestyle.

  12. Thanks for the article. Can you please elaborate more on the cautions/concerns you reference above for those of us with thyroid conditions (I had Grave’s Disease, had radiation, and now am hypothyroid)? Thanks much!

  13. Dr. Tony Hampton

    Some studies, like the one entitled Fasting-Induced Changes in the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Thyroid Axis published in the Journal Thyroid in 2008, suggest that fasting may alter the levels of your thyroid hormones. Therefore, anyone with thyroid concerns should discuss with their clinician rather intermittent fasting should be avoided. Here’s a link to the study:

  14. Just wondering how to do this when I work different shifts? I am usually up from 0700 to Midnight. .

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About the Author

Dr. Tony Hampton
Dr. Tony Hampton

Dr. Tony Hampton, MBA, CPE is Board Certified in Obesity Medicine and Family Medicine. He currently is the physician lead for Advocate's Healthy Living Program as well as Regional Medical Director for the South Region of Advocate's Medical Group. He is an inspirational public speaker, blogger, coach, and has authored a book entitled Fix Your Diet, Fix Your Diabetes. He has led multiple programs and works with AdvocateAurora to coach patients on their journey to achieve their health care goals by balancing nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, increased sleep, and needed medical interventions. He believes that a shift is needed in healthcare where we all work together focus on prevention and wellness. He is married and a father of two college-aged boys.