If you’re like me, you grew up believing that 6 small meals a day was the “best” way to eat. Especially for fat loss. Gotta keep that metabolism up, right? But what if that was all wrong? What if we were actually supposed to limit how many times a day we eat?
In 1980, only about 15% of U.S. adults were obese. Today, about 40% of adults are obese. Add to that another 33% are overweight. While I realize that weight gain does not equate to autoimmunity, a new study showed that half of the diseases that affect humans are worsened by obesity (link to study here). See, when you’re overweight, the body stores toxins (heavy metals, plastic, etc) in adipose tissue, or fat. If you’re not losing weight, or not detoxing well, those toxins are going to stick around, furthering your symptoms.
In today’s society, many of us are constantly eating. Grazing as my clients call it. Not only does that cause the GI tract to go on overdrive and not properly digest food, it causes many to overeat and make poor dietary choices. That’s what’s contributing to the obesity epidemic and the rise of autoimmunity. This is where food choices and meal timing come into play.
Intermittent fasting is a term for eating patterns that cycle between periods of eating and not eating. As it’s commonly seen, most people fast between 14-18 hours a day. There are other ways of fasting though- full day fasts, Daniel fasts, alternate day fasts, fasting mimicking diets, etc.
While this sounds to be another fad, it’s actually been around for centuries, and Hippocrates recommended it for certain patients who were ill. Though we often hear about it for weight loss, the benefits go far beyond that. Studies have shown improvement in insulin sensitivity, reduced oxidative damage, lower inflammatory levels, and autophagy (a fancy term for cleaning out damaged cells). Additionally, since leaky gut can lead to autoimmune disease, fasting can actually help repair the intestinal barrier.
But I’ll Starve!
Now, you may be wondering why depriving yourself of food is healthy. First, you aren’t. With fasting, you should still be eating the same amount of calories (maybe a little less), but within a shorter period of time. Taking breaks from eating can help reduce symptoms of a flare in those with autoimmune disorders. Fasting gives the body the rest it needs to recover. If you’re constantly eating, and the body is constantly trying to digest, it is impossible for recovery to happen.
I advise starting with a larger eating window if you’re new to this. First off, take a look at your current eating habits. If you’re eating 8 small meals a day, try to scale that way back to 4. Then you can move into fasting and evaluate your hours of eating. If you don’t stop until 8pm and start eating at 6am, aim for a solid 12 hours with no food or beverage (water is fine). See how you feel at that for a week or so, and then if you’re up to it, move to a 14 hour fast.
Because every person is so unique, it’s important to listen to your body. If you feel weak or your symptoms become worse, that may be a sign that fasting is not right for you at the moment. Or, maybe you aren’t eating enough or the right foods. Whatever the case, listen to your body.
With women it’s always tricky because our pesky hormones get in the way. And for many with autoimmune disease, adrenals are already overworked and fasting can be a bit of an additional stressor on them. Again, a case to listen to your body. Just because Aunt Sally and your neighbor are seeing fabulous results from fasting, doesn’t mean you’ll experience the same, so go slow and monitor how you’re feeling.
Even if you aren’t ready to start fasting, or perhaps you tried and felt worse, one thing to remember is that constantly eating throughout the day is not beneficial. Snacks are not required, they’re often just habits. Work on shrinking your meal frequency down to 2-4 a day. Then increase how much you’re eating at each meal to help better regulate your symptoms and decrease inflammation.
Got questions? I’d love it if you dropped ’em below.