By now, you’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting. This has become a popular approach to eating for a number of reasons. Many people find it simple, intuitive, and effective. And fasting can definitely be beneficial – if you do it the right way.
Fasting can help you lose weight, maintain energy, keep your mind sharp, and even clear up your skin. Here are some approaches you can consider and some potential pitfalls to watch out for if you’d like to try this route to radiance.
When you eat every few hours, your body doesn’t worry too much about burning fat. It knows it’s going to get another infusion of calories soon. Fat burning is more likely to occur when the body is fasting.
Most of us typically sleep long enough to spend at least some time in this fat-burning zone. After all, the first meal of the day is called “break-fast” for a reason. But extending the time you’re fasting can help you burn even more fat. Plus, you’ll likely take in fewer calories overall when you restrict your eating window.
With intermittent fasting, people typically fast from 12 to 18 hours every day. This means their eating windows range from as long as 12 hours to as short as 6 hours.
Many people find a 12/12 split to be highly sustainable. This simply means that you wrap up dinner by 7 pm and don’t eat again until breakfast at 7 am. But if your goal is to lose weight, you may have to fast for 14 hours at first.
Other people do variations throughout the week. For example, some people fast for periods of up to 48 hours, followed by eating normally the other days. Other people eat plenty of calories five days a week and restrict their diets to 500 calories per day the other two days.
All of these patterns can be beneficial for some people. Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight (as long as you don’t overdo it in your eating windows). It can increase your lean muscle mass. It can help you have more energy. It can help your cells respond better to stress. It can even help you make more neurotrophic growth factor, which offer cognitive benefits. Women who are overweight also typically see insulin sensitivity improvements. But some of the most overlooked benefits have to do with the skin.
Overlooked Benefits for the Skin
For starters, intermittent fasting can help reduce overall oxidative stress and inflammation. We talk a lot about how bad inflammation is for your skin. The reason I want you putting so many antioxidants in your body and on your skin is to combat oxidative stress. But of course, stopping this type of stress before it gets started is your best bet for healthy skin.
Imbalance in the gut is a major source of inflammation and oxidative stress. We’ve talked a lot about how an overgrowth of bad bacteria can lead to intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut.” Tiny gaps in the intestinal wall allow the contents of the intestines to seep out into the rest of the body. As it should, the immune system mounts a response. This response involves inflammation throughout the body, including the skin.
Fasting allows the gut to reset. When it’s not busy breaking down food, it has more time to repair those gaps. And if your diet is less than ideal, fasting means that you’re not constantly feeding those bad bacteria that cause the problems in the first place.
Underlying systemic inflammation can be a particularly strong contributor to acne, especially cystic acne. If you’ve tried topical solutions for years with little success, you may need to try working from the inside out instead. Many people find that reducing gut inflammation truly transforms their skin.
Of course, as with any approach to eating, it’s important to keep moderation in mind. This is particularly true for women and fasting.
Women’s bodies can be very sensitive to changes in food availability. That’s because when we’re in our reproductive years, we need to be prepared to sustain not just ourselves but a potential pregnancy as well. So if your body thinks a famine is coming, your body might try to stop itself from becoming pregnant. Even if you have no intentions of becoming pregnant anyway, this can wreak havoc on your hormones. If you’ve tried fasting and noticed that your period became irregular (or stopped), that’s a sure sign that you’re overdoing it. Other warning signs include anxiety and sleep issues.
Pay Attention to These Warnings
Too much hormonal stress can lead to metabolic stress, which is the opposite of what you’re aiming for. And you can even end up with fertility issues or shrunken ovaries. Even if you don’t want to become pregnant right now (or ever), this is not the right way to go about avoiding pregnancy!
Hormonal imbalances can throw your entire body into chaos. You’ll notice effects in your energy level, your digestion, even your blood pressure. So you want to be wise in your approach. The good news is that if you do intermittent fasting right, it can actually help your hormones.
There are a few guidelines you should follow to make sure you don’t overdo it. And if you need to scale back even further, do so. The key is to pinpoint what works best for your body.
First, don’t fast for more than 24 hours at a time. You may see fasts that call for 36 to 48 hours of fasting. That’s probably enough to send you into the irregular hormone state I described above, especially if you try it regularly. And don’t fast for 24 hours more than twice a week.
A better bet is fasting for 12 to 16 hours per day. A 12-hour fast can be quite sustainable. The key will be to avoid snacking after dinner. And these snacks aren’t usually when you’re making your best food choices anyway.
If you’d like to try stretching your fast to 16 hours, ease into this pattern for two to three weeks. Do it every other day to allow your body to adjust. This means you’ll only be fasting this long for three or four days a week at first. That’s ok. Give it time, and see how you feel.
Tips to Make Fasting Work Better
While you’re fasting, you can and should drink plenty of fluids. Don’t feel like you need to stick to water. Give herbal tea or bone broth a try. Just don’t choose anything with caffeine – it can make you feel jittery on an empty stomach.
You should also avoid vigorous exercise on your fasting days. Yoga, walking, stretching, or light jogging if you’re already a runner are ok. But this isn’t the time to go all-out at the gym or start training for a marathon. If you want to engage in more intense activity, this isn’t a good time for you to try intermittent fasting. That’s ok! There are seasons for our health goals. Figure out what your top priority is and whether fasting will help you meet your goal or slow you down.
If you’re following these guidelines, you can try any pattern that alternates eating and fasting periods. You can stick to the same schedule every day, or you can add total fasts of up to 24 hours up to twice a week.
Another option is a pattern known as the 5:2 or “Fast” diet. Rather than fasting for 24 hours twice a week, you eat 500 calories on your “fast” days. People typically divide these calories into two small meals of 250 calories each. Then you eat normally the other five days of the week. Early anecdotal evidence suggests that this method can be quite effective, and it seems to be safe for women.
Who Shouldn’t Fast?
Of course, if you are already pregnant or nursing, intermittent fasting probably isn’t a good fit for you. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your weight or the hormonal changes are affecting your skin.
You also may not be a good candidate for intermittent fasting if you’re in the midst of a stressful situation, have trouble sleeping, or have a history of disordered eating. Once again, talk to a doctor if you’d like to try intermittent fasting but aren’t sure if you’re a good candidate or not.
What to Focus On During Your Eating Windows
Finally, keep in mind that if you want to experience the benefits of intermittent fasting, especially for your skin, you need to continue to fill your eating windows with healthy, antioxidant rich foods. A major goal of intermittent fasting is to reduce inflammation. But your body won’t be able to do the repair work it needs if you’re fanning the inflammatory fires every time you do it.
Inflammation is a key driver of skin woes. We talk a lot about how to quiet and fight it. But sometimes, all you need to do is…nothing. Once you’ve eaten your final healthy meal of the day, close the kitchen. And don’t open it back up until your gut has had a chance to rest. Your dishwasher just might thank you too.