When you first hear about intermittent fasting, the first questions that may arise have to do with how to actually do it or what the long-term effects may be. By now you may agree that fasting is one of the easiest, cost-effective, and most powerful health interventions and disease prevention methods there is.
However, there are some situations when it’s not a good idea to fast. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you stop time-restricted feeding or fasting altogether. You can simply make some minor adjustments and in so doing maintain both the health benefits of fasting as well as the metabolic flexibility.
Although fasting heals the body, it’s still a catabolic stressor that can become too stimulating. It’s a hormetic stressor that has a dose-specific effect on your metabolism and endocrine system.
Fasting raises certain stress hormones in the body such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine that will heighten your awareness and mental clarity. Chronically elevated levels of these stress hormones may promote fat gain, low thyroid, exhaustion, and adrenal fatigue.
When doing intermittent fasting or any type of demanding activity, it’s essential to remember how big of a stressor it is and how well adapted you are. Fasting itself won’t necessarily make you stressed out or weaken your immune system. It’s always context-dependent and the other lifestyle factors need to be kept in mind.
If your cortisol levels get too high because of combining fasting with other stressors, then it’s natural that you may be overdoing it. In that case, you’d have to assess what things are causing me most harm and whether or not I want to keep them.
Here are a few common stressors in your life that will make fasting much worse than has to be:
– Being stressed out because of work makes you more prone to overeating and too much cortisol.
– Not sleeping enough promotes weight gain and insulin resistance, which will negate some of the benefits of fasting.
– Feeling anxiety and mental turmoil may cause the same stress as does physical pain and discomfort.
– Combining too much exercise with a lot of fasting may lower your thyroid functioning and lead to many plateaus.
– Poor food quality and not enough nutrients will lead to some deficiencies that make you more tired and can cause health problems
Our recommendation for all of those stressors is to deal with the root cause, which usually involves imbalances in lifestyle and habits. Keep the fasting but eliminate the noise.
Should You Fast with Low Thyroid?
Low thyroid functioning is most commonly caused by too much stress on the body. If there are too many stress hormones circulating the blood, you’ll lower the thyroid hormones as well as a body’s means of self-defense.
Hypothyroidism is caused by too low amounts of thyroid hormones in the blood and it usually happens in people who’ve had Hashimoto’s disease, thyroiditis, or have had their thyroid removed.
Thyroid cells absorb iodine found in some foods and combine them with the amino acid tyrosine, which is used to create thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). They are then released into the bloodstream to affect your body temperature, your daily caloric needs, your heart rate, and what’s your metabolic rate.
To prevent low thyroid from fasting you want to make sure you get enough calories during your eating window. Slow metabolism isn’t the result of time-restricted feeding per se but more by not giving the body adequate nutrients.
If you already suffer from low thyroid and experience the symptoms of hypothyroidism, then it would be a good idea to shorten your fasting window a little bit to allow your body to recover. Simply have your food a few hours earlier and you’ll speed up your metabolic processes.
Here’s what you can do to overcome low thyroid without medication:
– The thyroid needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones. Even small doses of 250 micrograms of iodine a day can help the thyroid. You can get iodine only from diet and rich sources for that are sea vegetables, algae, wild-caught fish, eggs, seaweed, shellfish, iodized salt, and some dairy.
– Limit Goitrogenic Foods. Goitrogens are compounds that can affect the thyroid gland if consumed in large amounts. Foods high in goitrogens are things like cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and some fruit. However, the benefits of these foods far outweigh the downside. They’d become a problem only if you eat too many raw vegetables. If you cook or steam them lightly then you’ll lower the number of goitrogens in them.
– Tyrosine-rich foods that support the thyroid are pumpkin seeds, beef, poultry, almonds, avocados, eggs, and fish. They also have B12 and selenium. You should aim for organic meats because they’re not injected with antibiotics and other harmful hormones.
– A Healthy Insulin Spike. If you eat some carbohydrates like sweet potato or rice, then you can boost your metabolic rate. Especially, if you’re eating a low carb diet. Prolonged periods of dieting will slow down your metabolism and doing some carb cycling can be very beneficial.
– Eat More Calories –Dieting and restricting calories for too long will slow down your metabolism and thyroid functioning. Having a diet-break for a few days where you eat slightly above your maintenance can help you to boost your metabolic rate. However, you don’t want to be eating inflammatory foods like processed carbs, pastries, pizzas, or ice cream. Instead, you’d want to get more of the thyroid supporting foods we’ve talked about here.
Now for the things you don’t want to be doing if you suffer an under-reactive thyroid.
– Avoid All Gluten –Gluten is a common allergen that activates an autoimmune response on the thyroid. People with Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism tend to be sensitive to gluten as well. Gluten is found everywhere –not just in bread, pasta, and cookies –it’s in almost all packaged foods, sauces, meats, skincare products, and the particles can even float around in the air. So, I’d not spend too much time in front of bakeries or pastry shops.
– Don’t Drink Tap Water –Most tap water contains fluoride and chlorine that inhibit iodine absorption and dampen your pineal gland’s functioning.
– Limit other potential allergens as well such as dairy, nuts, shellfish, eggs, fish, soy, or meat if you are sensitive to these foods.
– Don’t Fast for Too Long –It’ll lower your thyroid functioning further and can decrease metabolic rate. Definitely, you shouldn’t fast for longer than 24 hours if you have low thyroid. Until you’ve healed your thyroid and metabolism, somewhere between 16-18 hours is fine.
– Reduce Your Stress –It’s going to make you feel more drained and exhausted. Don’t start exercising harder or get more stressed out about work but try to relax more and allow your adrenals to recover. You should also avoid stimulants like coffee and sugar because they’ll activate the adrenal glands.
Who should or shouldn’t fast
Should pregnant women fast?
What if you’re trying to grow another living being inside of yourself? Should pregnant women fast?
The fetus requires a lot of nutrients and growth factors to ensure its growth. That’s why it’s even more important for the mother to make sure they’re getting good quality nutrition and avoid the potential toxins or bad ingredients.
There are some studies that say that Muslim women who fast during Ramadan may get babies with lower body weight, they’re shorter, thinner, or more prone to premature labor. However, these differences are quite small.
Whatever the case may be, the mother should focus on being as healthy as they can to promote the health of her child in the future. Quality food, stress management, enough movement, and sunlight are all essential.
Fasting can be a good addition but only in a dose-specific manner and definitely not all the time. I would still recommend having a daily fast of at least 14-16 hours to promote the general health of both organisms. Then once a week you may have a 20 hour fast but definitely not any longer than that during pregnancy.
Women may react to time-restricted feeding more negatively than men because of their hormonal sensitivity. It makes sense physiologically as well because they need to be the caregivers and have to actually give birth to offspring.
Both men and women can fast just fine. However, to avoid any potential side-effects, women should have a slightly shorter fasts. A good rule of thumb is to lengthen the eating window by about 2 hours and break the fast a little bit sooner. The end result would be the same.
If the woman is also fasting in fear of getting fat during pregnancy, then the focus should yet again be on the other pillars of health, not their body image.
Should children fast?
What if the child has already been born? Should children do intermittent fasting?
That depends again on their age, health status, lifestyle factors, and situation.
A growing child needs adequate amounts of IGF-1 and mTOR to promote the proper development of skeletal muscle, bone strength, jawline, brain growth, and the right hormones. That’s why it’s even more important to make sure young kids get things like quality grass-fed meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, and even whole milk, preferably from the mother’s breast. It’s not a good idea to deprive children of these essential nutrients, especially during the most critical periods of growth.
Children already produce a lot of growth hormone, which helps them to build new tissue, muscles, and develops their brain. As you age this surge of growth begins to drop. Fasting is an amazing way to promote growth hormone production and increase longevity. But this may not be necessary for young children. However…
When you look at the body composition and health of most children today then you can see a growing concern with diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, and other problems. Fasting can cure a lot of those diseases but it’s still not going to compensate for an unhealthy lifestyle.
Children should learn how to follow their hunger more intuitively and recognize when they actually need fuel and when they’re simply craving junk food. This teaches them to be more flexible while still dipping into a fasted state.
Deliberately enforcing time-restricted feeding onto children isn’t necessary and parents should simply eliminate behaviors of snacking, binging, sedentarism, and cravings. If there’s one thing you could do to benefit your child’s future metabolic health, then it would be not teaching them to eat sugar and candy. It’s just conditioning that can be easily prevented by replacing it with only whole foods. Your kids learn their behavior from you and those around them. So, make sure you are a good role model first.
Should elders do fasting?
Should Old People Do Intermittent Fasting Moving on with the elderly. Should old people do intermittent fasting?
There is no real physiological reason why older people can’t do intermittent fasting. They’d gain the same health benefits.
The only problem with fasting when you’re older is that you may be more predisposed to muscle loss and catabolism. This may make you more prone to metabolic disease and more aging. As you lose muscle you’re more predisposed to bone fractures, insulin resistance, neurodegeneration, and cardiovascular disease.
In general, the trend already shows that all the anabolic hormones like HGH and testosterone drop alongside a reduction in lean body mass. Part of it has to do with becoming more sedentary and not doing resistance training but it’s also partly because of becoming less anabolic.
Leucine resistance, in particular, makes it more difficult for old people to maintain muscle, not to mention build it. That’s why longer periods of fasting may lead to accumulated sarcopenia. However, that can be easily alleviated by becoming more active and stronger.
To circumvent sarcopenia, you’d have to keep lifting weights, eat adequate amounts of protein, and avoid sedentarism. Increasing protein intake up to 35-40% can also be a good idea as to negate some of the leucine resistance. To stimulate MPS after exercise, you can even take 3-5 grams of leucine to promote muscle homeostasis.
It’s not recommended for old people above their 60s to have extended fasts for 3-5 days either. Going without eating for such a long time may have side-effects on muscle mass. The elderly go catabolic more easily because of low anabolic hormones. That’s why even on the daily IF schedule they should focus more on the 16/8-time frame instead of a very tight OMAD meal.
You can safely do intermittent fasting even when you’re old as long as you consume enough calories and protein to maintain your lean muscle tissue.
Additional mistakes to avoid when fasting
– Don’t Become Dependent on Coffee – caffeine is an amazing appetite suppressant that helps to continue fasting. At the same time, it can turn into a powerful drug. Don’t drink any more than 1-3 cups a day and periodically cycle off from it. There’s a bonus chapter at the end of this book that talks about strategic coffee consumption.
– Don’t Get Dehydrated –Although short dry fasting is beneficial, there’s the danger of not hydrating properly afterward. Just drinking water may not be enough, which is why you should eat plenty of vegetables and occasional fruit to hydrate the cells better.
– Don’t Neglect the Electrolytes –Insufficient sodium, potassium, and magnesium may not only cause cramping but will also raise cortisol. In fact, not getting enough salt can raise insulin and keep you in fight or flight mode. Use a bit of mineral in your water but also season the food properly.
– Don’t Bring In Additional Stressors –Make sure your life doesn’t get in the way of fasting. Get enough sleep, practice meditation, don’t over-work yourself, have downtime, do something fun, spend time with family, and don’t combine long fasts with a lot of caloric restriction and exercise.
– Don’t Freeze to Death –During fasting, you may feel slightly colder than normal. This is because of limited calories and lower heat production. If your fingers and toes are getting numb or blue, then you should stop and cover yourself up. Dress warmly and don’t push yourself too hard.
– Don’t Fast for Too Long Too Often –Be mindful of how well you can handle fast. Start off with daily time-restricted feeding. Then have a 24-hour fast, then a 48-hour one, and then a 3-day fast. Some signs of too much fasting are constant headaches, fatigue, feeling like being hit with a club, not sleeping well, shivering, and feeling very cold despite wearing a lot of clothes.
– Don’t Be Afraid of Hunger –Most people have manic fear of going hungry. It’s more psychological than physical. Fasting can actually help you to reconceptualize hunger and associate it with more vigor and success.
– Don’t Make It a Big Deal -If you think that you may potentially damage yourself, then you probably will, because of creating a stress response with your mind. Choose to see it as something that empowers not harms you and you’ll start to feel amazing.
– Don’t Gorge After Fasting –It doesn’t matter how long you fast if you jeopardize it all by eating excessive amounts of calories and still gaining weight. Moderation is key, especially in fasting and eating.
In this chapter, we talked about different situations when you should not do intermittent fasting but all gets tied back to still doing it.
There are no real reasons why you shouldn’t do intermittent fasting and there’s always a way to make it work.
You just have to know what kind of a signal are you sending to your body and how to leverage it according to your goals.
The concluding message would be that you should fast and time restrict your eating despite the day or what your condition is. Just modify it.