by Dr. Will Cole
In my functional medicine clinic, I often see chronic inflammation as the underlying cause of many health problems. Even though acute inflammation is a normal response of a healthy body to fight off infections, chronic inflammation that never subsides can lead to cancer, autoimmune conditions, and even heart disease.
Intermittent fasting – when you go without food for a period of time – is one of my favorite go-to tools for naturally driving down inflammation.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Now, I know you are probably wondering why eating is a problem if what you are eating is made up of healthy, whole-food sources. It’s not that eating is bad, instead, fasting gives your digestive system a chance to rest thus soothing inflammation. Therefore, intermittent fasting has been shown to have some powerful benefits:
1. Lowers cancer risk
Research has shown a link between a reduced risk of breast cancer and intermittent fasting.
2. Enhances heart health
3. Improves autoimmune conditions
4. Stabilizes blood sugar
5. Encourages weight loss
Underlying hormone imbalances can often contribute to people’s inability to lose weight. For example, leptin resistance happens when your brain stops recognizing leptin’s signals to use your body’s fat stores for energy. Your body ends up continuing to store fat instead of using it for energy. Intermittent fasting can drive down inflammation that blunts your brain’s leptin receptor sites.
6. Kills cravings
You don’t have to worry about starving while fasting! Your hunger hormone ghrelin is decreased during intermittent fasting while your brain’s dopamine levels are increased. By transitioning your metabolism from a sugar-burner to a fat-burner your body will no longer crave that unhealthy junk food. Plus, regularly fasting can also help people free themselves from emotional eating.
7. Increases cognitive function
According to research, intermittent fasting plays a role in improving degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
8. Improves lung health
A study looking at people with asthma showed that intermittent fasting was able to reduce symptoms as well as oxidative stress.
9. Heals the gut
Intermittent fasting lowers gut inflammation to help improve inflammatory gut disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and IBS.
The idea of intermittent fasting can be overwhelming, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is especially compared to other types of eating plans. Fasting means you’ll be eating less food, thus reducing the need for intensive meal prepping. The meals you do eat will mainly focus on healthy fats, clean protein, and whole-food carbohydrates like sweet potatoes. Remember, this isn’t an excuse to binge on unhealthy food during your windows of eating!
Intermittent fasting: Scheduling meals
With any sort of diet or lifestyle change, make sure to talk with your doctor to determine if it is the best choice for you. Women in particular should be more cautious with fasting since it may impact balance of female hormones. Adrenal fatigue and gut issues are also health problems that may need extra monitoring. If you struggle with an eating disorder be especially mindful if this is the right choice for you.
Most likely you’ll find that when you start intermittent fasting you’ll feel fuller faster after each meal that you do eat, thus keeping the meals you eat simple. Since there are many different ways to fast, I broke down each of the various plans into beginner, intermediate, and advanced along with a one-day meal plan for each. The specific combination of nutrients will help enhance the benefits you’ll already be gaining from fasting. You can use this as a guide for your specific health case and take into consideration any food intolerances or other modifications you need to make.
Beginner: The 8-6 Window Plan
You will eat between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. This is a great plan to start with since it allows you to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner within normal hours while still getting 14 hours of uninterrupted fasting time in a day.
Breakfast: Green Smoothie – 8:00 a.m.
I like to ease into eating with an easy-to-digest smoothie. A green smoothie avoids the high-sugar content often found in fruit-based smoothies which will help you avoid getting on a blood-sugar rollercoaster. Smoothies are also great for packing a lot of healthy fats into one meal.
- 1 avocado
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1 small handful blueberries
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 1 cup greens of choice (spinach, chard, etc.)
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend to combine.
Lunch: Grass-Fed Burgers – 12:00 p.m.
I love to prep multiple grass-fed liver burgers to warm up throughout the week. Up the health benefits by making a burger salad with greens packed with B-vitamins and a homemade dressing loaded with healthy fats to increase methylation and detox pathways.
- ½ pound grass-fed beef
- ½ pound grass-fed beef liver
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Desired cooking oil
- Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix with hands to form desired-size patties.
- Heat cooking oil on medium-high heat in a skillet.
- Cook burgers until desired doneness.
- Store in the fridge in a sealed container and use within 4 days.
Snack: Cinnamon Roll Fat Bombs – 2:30 p.m.
Fat bombs are a delicious way to satisfy your sweet tooth while still giving you enough healthy fats to keep you full until dinner. The yummy cinnamon roll taste will make you forget all about the cinnamon rolls of your past!
- ½ cup coconut cream
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons almond butter
- Mix together ½ teaspoon cinnamon and coconut cream.
- Line an 8-by-8-inch square pan with parchment paper and spread the coconut cream/cinnamon mixture at the bottom
- Mix together ½ teaspoon of cinnamon with coconut oil and almond butter. Spread over the first layer in the pan.
- Freeze pan for 10 minutes and then cut into desired-size bars or squares.
Dinner: Salmon + Veggies – 5:30 p.m.
Salmon is one of my favorite sources of omega-3 healthy fats but any type of wild-caught seafood will work as well. Serve fish with vegetables roasted in avocado or coconut oil and you have a complete superfood meal.
- 1 pound salmon or other desired fish
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Mix together ghee, garlic, and lemon juice.
- Place salmon on top of a sheet of foil and pour lemon and ghee mixture over the top.
- Wrap foil over salmon and place on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 15 minutes or until salmon is cooked through.
- Roast vegetables alongside salmon on a separate baking sheet at the same time if your oven size is big enough.
Intermediate: The 12-6 window plan
This plan is exactly the same as the beginner plan but with an added 4 hours of fasting time. This is what I personally do during the workweek. Since I am not a fan of breakfast I like to sip on a few cups of herbal tea throughout the morning. You’ll be getting a full 18 hours of fasting and only eat between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Make sure to drink enough water during the fasting period so you don’t get dehydrated. Herbal tea is still ok to have while fasting and in fact, tea contains catechins that have been linked to a decrease in the hunger hormone ghrelin which can help make fasting a lot easier. Since you’ve added an additional four hours of fasting each day your first meal needs to contain enough healthy fats. The same burger from the beginner plan will be a great meal for this plan as well, especially if you add in more fats with an avocado!
Nuts and seeds are also high fat and make a great snack to munch on in between your first and last meal. Just make sure to soak them for at least 12 hours before eating to help neutralize naturally occurring enzymes such as phytates that often cause digestive distress. Any sort of clean protein source with vegetables for dinner will finish off your day of eating.
Intermediate: The modified 2-day plan
This plan is structured a little different than the first two. You’ll be eating clean for 5 days of the week (which days are up to you) and on the remaining two days your calories will be restricted to no more than 700 calories. Calorie restriction provides a lot of the same benefits as a full day of fasting. During the 5 days of eating you can structure your meals however you like but they still need to contain healthy fats, clean meats, vegetables, and if desired, some fruit.
On restricted days you can structure your day however works best for you, whether that is smaller meals throughout the day or two moderate sized meals. Again, you’ll want to be eating healthy fats, clean meats, and produce. Food tracking apps like MyFitnessPal allows you to log what you are eating so you can track your calories up to 700.
High-intermediate: The 5-2 plan
Just like the modified 2-day plan you will be eating clean for 5 days of the week. However, the other two days you won’t eat anything for 24 hours and these days must be nonconsecutive. For example, you’ll fast completely on Sunday and Wednesday. Everything you do eat will again consist of healthy fats, clean protein, and produce. Remember, you shouldn’t jump right into this plan if you haven’t intermittent fasted before. Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting any fasting protocol to determine if it is the best choice for your health case.
Advanced: Every-other-day plan
This plan is extremely simple. Alternate between days of eating and not eating. Even though this is intense it offers some amazing benefits. On days that you are eating, you guessed it, focus on healthy fats, clean meat sources, vegetables, and some fruit. On fasting days, you are still allowed to have herbal tea and small amounts of caffeinated tea and coffee. Also, make sure to drink enough water!
This information should give you everything you need to feel confident in meal planning while intermittent fasting. Although it may seem complicated right now, fasting will become a habit and part of your natural routine. Start slow and gradually work toward more advanced fasting protocols once you have discussed this option with your doctor.
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