Episode #61: Fasting for PCOS: Is it For You and How to Get Started with Deena Thompson
What you’ll learn in this episode
In this episode, special guest Deena Thompson and I discuss the benefits of fasting for metabolic and hormone health. There is a lot of information today about fasting and a lot of it contradicts each other making it confusing if fasting would be beneficial for PCOS and more specifically for you. With the abundance of information available today, it’s no wonder that the concept of fasting can be quite confusing. We’ll discuss what fasting actually entails, shedding light on its various forms and practices. Join us as we simplify the protocols in our discussion of the many benefits of fasting.
Deena’s passion for nutrition and functional medicine comes from her own personal struggle with chronic digestive issues, mysterious autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, and other perplexing illnesses.
After years of stumping all her doctors and getting no answers, Deena spent years studying books, listening to podcasts, attending workshops, and applying what she was learning to her own life. Despite all of this, she still wasn’t feeling better.
She was frustrated and felt defeated, but continued searching and learning.
Eventually, she found an amazing functional medicine doctor who identified the root causes of her symptoms and over the course of several years, helped her get back on her feet.
With her newfound vitality, good health, and abundant energy, she felt compelled to help others. She went back to school and earned a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Functional Medicine from The University of Bridgeport.
Afterward, she completed a year-long fellowship at a functional medicine clinic in California helping people with dementia. This is where Deena learned about the incredible power of fasting for reversing disease and designed her own signature fasting method.
Today, she helps her clients gain back their energy, resolve digestive issues, eliminate sugar cravings, and reverse inflammatory conditions using a practical and holistic approach.
Insulin, POCS, and Fasting
Deena shares the incredible effects of fasting on metabolic and hormone health. With a myriad of claims and conflicting information out there, we’ll cut through the noise to highlight the scientifically-backed advantages of incorporating fasting into your lifestyle. From weight management to improved insulin sensitivity and how it can impact hormone health for women with PCOS.
Fasting for Women
Many common fasting practices work great for men but due to the biological differences and hormonal fluctuations during a women’s cycle protocols need to be approached differently for women. We discuss how a woman’s body responds differently to fasting but can still receive amazing benefits when her fasting protocols work with her body.
Listen now to learn more about fasting and if it might be a good option for you to explore further, the common mistakes women make when starting or continuing fasting in their lifestyles and so much more.
Let’s Continue The Conversation
Do you have questions about this episode or other questions about PCOS? I would love to connect and chat on a more personal level over on Instagram. My DMs are my favorite place to chat more.
So go visit me on IG @nourishedtohealthy.com
Let’s Continue The Conversation
Do you have questions about this episode or other questions about PCOS? I would love to connect and chat on a more personal level over on Instagram. My DMs are my favorite place to chat more.
So go visit me on IG @nourishedtohealthy.com
Spread the Awareness
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Read The Full Episode Transcript Here
I’m so excited about today’s episode because today we’re going to be talking about something that has been a huge help and assistance for me in my PCOS health journey and that’s the topic of fasting. I’m also really excited to have special guest, Deana Thompson here to discuss all things fasting with me today. We’re going to be going over the types of fast, what equals a fast, who should or shouldn’t fast, how you should incorporate fasting, and so much more. So you are going to find so much benefit from today because it’s going to really help you decide whether fasting would be a beneficial part of your PCOS hormone health journey. Deana Thompson is a board certified nutritional specialist, licensed dietitian, nutritionist, and a certified functional nutritional therapy practitioner. Deana’s passion for nutrition and functional medicine comes from her own personal struggles with chronic digestive issues, a mysterious autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue, and other perplexing illnesses. After years of stumping all her doctors and not getting any answers, Deana spent years studying books, listening to podcasts, and attending workshops while applying what she was learning to her own life. Despite all of this, she still wasn’t feeling any better. She was frustrated and felt defeated but continued searching and learning. Eventually, she found an amazing functional medicine doctor who identified the root causes of her symptoms and over the course of several years helped her get back on her feet. With her new found vitality, good health, and abundant energy, she felt compelled to help others. She went back to school and earned her master’s degree in nutrition and functional medicine from the University of Bridgeport. Afterwards, she completed a yearlong fellowship at a functional medicine clinic in California on helping people with dementia. This is where Deena learned about the incredible power of fasting for reversing disease and designed her own signature fasting method. Today, she helps clients gain back their energy, resolve digestive issues, eliminate sugar cravings, and reverse inflammatory conditions using a practical and holistic approach. This is why I’m so excited to have Dina here with us today as we give you some practical tips and considerations on the topic of fasting. So let’s get started.
You’re listening to the PCOS Repair podcast, where we explore the ins and outs of PCOS and how to repair the imbalances in your hormones naturally with a little medical help sprinkled in. Hi, I’m Ashlene Korcek and with many years of medical and personal experience with polycystic ovarian syndrome, it is my joy to watch women reverse their PCOS as they learn to nourish their body in a whole new way. With the power of our beliefs, our mindset, and our environment, and the understanding of our genetics, we can heal at the root cause.
Welcome back to the PCOS Repair podcast, where I am so excited to have our special guest, Deana Thompson, here with me today to talk about a really important and impactful topic of fasting and how it beneficial it can be to hormone health and in specifically PCOS health. Welcome, Deana. I’m so glad you can be here with us today.
Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here.
I know I introduced you a little bit already, but can you tell us a little bit about what got you so interested in the concept of fasting and the benefits that it can create in our health?
Yeah. My interest was really sparked during an internship. After I finished school, we had to do a year long internship, and I did this at a medical practice in Northern California. The clinic specialized in Alzheimer’s, dementia, autoimmune and metabolic disease and reversing or at least slowing the decline or the development of those conditions. Fasting was a tool that was used very therapeutically. I just saw dramatic changes in people’s health. It seemed to move the needle faster than a lot of other things and that got me really excited about fasting and interested in studying it more and learning about it more and developing a program that we ended up using in the clinic specifically around a type of fasting that I call modified fasting. So that’s where it started for me.
So as we dive into fasting, let’s start with just basically the benefits of what can it do for our health in a metabolic standpoint as well as from a hormonal base standpoint as we get into our discussions just so that everyone knows why might fasting be good for them and so forth?
Yeah, I think it’s really good to take one step back and just talk about different types of fasting because they actually have different benefits. So we have intermittent fasting, which there is actually an umbrella term. There’s actually several different types. Maybe your audience has heard of some of these, like alternate day fasting or time restricted eating or the five day fasting mimicking diet. These are all forms of intermediate fasting, meaning it’s something you do every once in a while. Then you have prolonged extended fast, and everything’s going to be a little bit different. One thing to point out that I think a lot of people get hung up on is that if a fast is too short, it’s going to have some really great metabolic benefits, but it’s not going to stimulate autophagy or some of those other really cool processes we’ll get into quite like a longer fast will. When I talk about some of the benefits of fasting, specifically going to talk about a more prolonged fast, and then I’ll talk about the benefits of the shorter overnight fast that people are really familiar with, if that’s okay.
Yeah. Maybe just so we can have them a little bit clearly defined since we all fast, right? We all go periods of time without eating. But when we think about putting a definition on it for the purpose of this episode, because I think it’s so confusing. Like you said, it’s so confusing. Everyone talks about fasting so differently and everybody’s approach to it is so different that there can be a lot of nebulousness around it. Let’s say for the purpose of today, what are some of the lengths of fast and so forth so that we can just refer to them like, oh, a 36 hours fast, or what would be an intermittent fast and so forth like that? We can always add to it. But what are some of the basic ones? and then we can move into the benefits of those.
Yeah. I think the type of fasting that people are most interested in is the time restricted eating, because that’s something you can adopt as a lifestyle. It’s something that, like you said, all of us are already fasting, right? We don’t eat when we sleep, so we’re already doing a fast, but it’s creating a time frame and bringing some intentionality to that. Time restricted eating is when you are limiting your window that you eat all of your food and then extending the fasting period so that you are fasting more than you’re feasting is the idea. More than 12 hours would be considered a time restricted eating or an intermittent fast. This is something that you can safely do day after day with a few caveats. I think one mistake that people make really often with this type of fasting is fasting for too long, day after day after day and there’s some really big drawbacks to that. One being the biggest one being potential for muscle loss and if you’re losing muscle, your metabolic rate will slow, it’s really not good for your long term health, it’s not good for your metabolic health, it’s not good for insulin sensitivity, which is going to be really important for PCOS and hormone balance. So we want to make sure that if we’re going to do an overnight fast, that we’re really sticking to something that’s 13 to 15 hours and not really going beyond that and this might sound totally opposite of what people have heard because the most common form that people are told to do is the 16 eight. So when people talk about their fasting windows, they typically refer to the fasting window first. So that’s the 16 hours and then the eating window second, which is the eight hours. So whatever time frame they’re doing, it adds up to the 24 hours in a day and I think I say 16 eight ain’t always great. That’s my motto. I really think that a 16 hour fast is too long for most people and it makes it much more challenging to get adequate nutrients, especially adequate protein throughout the day to maintain muscle mass and metabolic health and you just got higher risk of muscle loss and nutrient deficiency. So my recommendation for people is that if you’re going to do this type of fasting, definitely trim that fasting window down to something that, A, you can do consistently, and two, isn’t going to have any downsides.
And it is so much easier to do it consistently when you have a little bit bigger eating window because you’re not being so restricted into what’s happening in your day. You have a little more leeway to make that happen without.
So it’s easier, too, which is good. It’s always nice when the better approach is easier.
Yeah, no kidding. Yeah, it doesn’t interfere with your social life. I’ve heard people doing fasting schedules and they aren’t eating with their family. I don’t think that that’s a very sustainable approach, and I actually think it can be potentially detrimental to their health in the long run.
On the topic of intermittent fasting or eating within a certain time window, what are some of the specific benefits and why would this be an interesting approach for some women with PCOS or hormone imbalances to consider?
Yeah. So the main benefit that’s going to be interesting to people with PCOS or hormone and metabolic balance is its ability to improve insulin sensitivity. So this is a really big one. Insulin is a hormone that when it’s elevated, it puts us into a fat storage mode. So when we eat food, our blood sugar rises, in response to that insulin rises and it’s basically a signal that there’s food on board and so we’re going to use up that energy and anything extra we’re going to tuck away. So as long as insulin is elevated, you can’t really burn your own body fat and you’re just in a fat storage mode. When we develop insulin resistance, that insulin might stay elevated on a chronic basis, and it can make it almost impossible to lose weight, and it can make it really hard to feel good, consistent energy throughout the day but an insulin itself has such a profound effect on your other hormones, your sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, testosterone. It’s this ripple effect of the metabolic piece that affects your sex hormones and other symptoms. So for people with PCOS, managing insulin and reducing it and improving insulin sensitivity is a really big piece of the puzzle and fasting is one of the best ways to do that because it drops insulin quickly and drops low. I mean, not too low, but it comes down very quickly, I guess is what I’m trying to say. So that puts you into a fat burning state and it helps to balance your other hormones.
I think there’s two really big benefits there when you think about PCOS, because when you talked about how if your insulin is elevated, you’re fat storing versus fat burning and the biggest recommendation that women with PCOS get from their physicians is lose weight.
I haven’t tried.
But the age old advice for that is to cut calories and the problem with that is what you alluded to before is what you’re going to end up doing is burning muscle and lowering your metabolic rate. So your other option of trying to become more insulin sensitive, which is part two of what I was going to say, the second benefit with fasting is that when you try to just cut your sugar intake and lower your carbs, one, it can be difficult to sustain good nutrients. That’s a very difficult thing to get into a low enough glycemic index state when you’re used to not being there. That’s a big change. It’s difficult to sustain big changes when you make them abruptly like that and so with fasting, it allows us to do two things. It allows us to decrease that insulin resistant tendency or to improve our insulin sensitivity, while at the same time not having to overly restrict calories to lose weight and burn muscle. So it creates a nice bridge for getting this process started and getting into those metabolic hormones to help heal them so that we can actually lose some weight. Although weight loss is not the answer to PCOS, it’s that hormone balancing, which is what the fasting is addressing in the insulin world of your metabolic health.
Yeah, exactly. And I think you made a great point that weight loss doesn’t have to happen for your metabolic health to improve and for your hormones to improve and so those things can come. Sometimes I find that the metabolic health, those things have to improve first before the weight is actually going to come off and that can be frustrating for a lot of people because what they see in the mirror is the information that they get back every single day, which is why I’m such a huge proponent of lab work with my clients and actually testing their fasting insulin and I’ve just never seen anything work as quickly and as powerfully as fasting to lower that insulin and get it in a better place.
Because like you said, until you correct the insulin situation, you’re in a fat storing, not fat burning, and so you’re working against yourself and once you get an alignment with your body and help your body out by improving the insulin sensitivity, then your body can work with you if weight loss is your goal.
Yeah. And it’s a really important thing to be insulin sensitive, whether you have weight to lose or not, because of how it impacts so many other areas of your health.
Every area of your health, from longevity, eyesight, your circulation, your cardiac health, all of it. It’s so important.
I think that insulin sensitivity from a day to day standpoint is really important for maintaining good energy because insulin, when it’s high and it’s elevated, it blocks us from accessing our body fat and being able to burn it for energy and so we become completely reliant on glucose or carbohydrates. We completely rely on glucose for our energy and you and I both know that that’s really a radic source of energy, and it goes up when we eat and it goes down later. So blood sugar stability is a really important piece of maintaining that insulin sensitivity but I think what people can pay attention to if they’re not losing weight and maybe they’re trying fasting but they’re not seeing any weight loss is your energy better? Are you able to go between meals for longer and not feel hungry or just feel a lot more even keel and well regulated? That’s one of the benefits that you’ll get day to day and that can even carry on through better sleep at night because maintaining blood sugar at night is a really big challenge for your body. There’s no food coming in and so it has to keep blood sugar stable without any food and when we practice with these mini fasts every night, it’s like training wheels for your body and it gets better and better and better at managing blood sugar with food and without food and that carries over in so many areas, especially sleep, because now you can keep a stable blood sugar while you’re sleeping, and that just allows your body to get more restful sleep, deeper sleep, better sleep overall and then that improves your insulin sensitivity.
And your energy and your cycle.
Yeah. You’re going to feel better the next day. Your appetite is going to be more regulated if you’re sleeping well, all of that and all of that. That’s a powerful tool for getting the ball rolling in the right direction.
When you get the ball rolling in the right direction, it makes it so much easier to exercise, to choose healthy foods, to do all the things that you want to do but feel like you don’t have the energy for, you don’t have the time for, and it just can feel overwhelming. When we start to feel better, it feels a lot less overwhelming. That would be for Intermittent Fasting. What other lengths of fast do you think are important to define and talk about as well during our conversation today.
There are other types of fasting out there. The biggest concern or cautionary tale, I guess I would share is that you don’t want to do any fasting on a level, either the length of the fast or frequency of fasting that’s going to put you at risk for losing muscle or at risk of nutrient deficiency. We really have to find that balance for ourselves, and it might be different for different people. In general, the more extra body fat a person has on them, the more protection they have, and the more fasting that they can do without dipping into some of those negative side effects. If somebody is already very lean, fasting can still be a really useful tool. You just have to be a lot more careful because you’re more likely to start breaking down muscle if you don’t have a ton of extra fat storage for your body to pull from. It’s a little different for everybody, but I think there are some types of fasts. There’s a type that I teach called a modified fast and similar to Dr. Longo’s fasting mimicking diet, where the person is actually eating, but the calories, the protein, carbs and fat, everything is very carefully calculated for that person, and they’re given a meal plan to follow and it mimics fasting. It puts you into a fasted state even though you’re still eating and that allows you to fast for multiple days very safely and relatively easily and the prolonged fasting has some really cool additional benefits. One is that you’re going to get really dramatic changes in your insulin and much more insulin sensitivity just after a couple of days of doing that. The big benefit, though, is that prolonged fasting after about 24 to 36 hours in a fast, we start to activate autophagy. This is a really cool recycling system inside each of our cells. It goes around… Well, there’s multiple pieces to it, but we have this little PacMan guy that goes around and gobbles up all of the junk, the debris, misfolded proteins, broken DNA, viral proteins, bacterial proteins, all the junk that just collects in the cell and gobbles it up and then it fuses with a lysosome, which has really powerful enzymes that break all that down into amino acids and building blocks that your body can use to make what it wants. So it’s like the ultimate recycling system and really cool because on the one hand, you get this major spring cleaning, right? And on the other, your body has all of this building material to build the things that it needs. So it can be hugely regenerative and people will notice less inflammation. Inflammation actually drops in the research. It shows 40 to 60 % drop in inflammation in just a few days. So there’s enough cleanup of that waste and debris and reduction in inflammatory immune cells, those also get eaten up in this process. So it can reset your immune system and reset your whole baseline inflammation levels, resets your insulin down to a lower baseline. So it’s just a fantastic reset for your whole body and it’s happening inside each individual cell from head to toe. So it has really widespread benefits in terms of health and longevity and in controlling inflammation, which is a huge part of healthy hormones.
You talked a little bit about how different body compositions leading into that type of a protocol are going to determine a little bit how aggressive or how long you might be able to continue fasting if someone has extra stores and so forth. Do you have them lead into that with something where they get into a fat burning phase first, or does a modified fast like that help them get into a fat burning state pretty quickly and so that you don’t need to lead in with something else? Does that make sense?
There is a little bit of a lead in. The night before we start, I tend to encourage people to eat a lower carbohydrate dinner and that is a gentle way to drop the blood sugar a little bit and to gently guide somebody into the fasting and then day one of a modified fast is actually different from the other day. So it’s a little higher calorie, it’s higher fat and lower carb, which also just helps them transition into fasting. So they’re not going from eating three large meals to then just totally going into this fasting meal. So ease our way into it and it helps a lot.
And for most people, if you haven’t fasted before, for anyone listening, the first time can feel a little rough the first couple of days but it goes very quickly to where you actually start not thinking about food, not feeling… everyone’s different and if it’s taking longer, definitely reach out and ask for help for whoever’s guiding you through it but it’s definitely something that it’s not a long, suffering thing and then what what I find and what I’ve heard other people find, and I’d be interested if you have found the same thing, each time you do it, whether it’s restarting a timed eating protocol or a modified fast or any type of fast that you’re doing, the easier it is, especially if you’ve had some fasting protocols, not in the too distant future, your body knows how to switch into that fat burning and fasting state so much easier. It’s a lot less difficult to transition into as you become more familiar with it.
Yeah, absolutely. I use the analogy pretty frequently that fasting has a lot of similarities to exercise and just like exercise, the first time you do it, it doesn’t really feel really great. Or maybe you feel good when it’s over. Fasting can be very similar where it’s challenging your body, which forces it to make adaptations, to become more insulin sensitive, to get better at regulating blood sugar, to get better at producing energy, whether there’s fuel in your tummy or not. It’s challenging your body, and your body has to get better and stronger just like when you do a workout. When you’re working out, you’re not getting stronger, you’re getting weaker. You’re challenging your muscles, you’re depleting them of energy. You’re pushing them to the point that they’re like, We better do something about that. That’s very similar. It’s putting the pressure on your metabolism to say, We got to make some changes. We got to get better at getting a hold of that fat because we’ve got all this energy but we can’t use it, so we better get better at that and if she’s fasting and she’s not going to eat every two hours, then we got to figure out how to keep this blood sugar stable. So a lot of good things come out of it, very much like working out. You get stronger in the long run and you get better and better. You get faster when you exercise or you get stronger, whatever type of exercise you’re doing. With fasting, you get better at it and you get a stronger metabolism as a result.
I think you and I had talked about this in a previous conversation off the podcast, but I think sometimes in the health and wellness space, we’re so afraid of stressing our body either with exercise or with a fast, especially when it comes to hormones. I know you and I have similar views on this, that stress actually isn’t always bad as long as we are aware that there is a stress component to this. Like you said earlier, when we start to get too low a body fat composition, we may need to be more careful and things. As long as we’re aware of what we’re doing to our body and have a controlled environment for those stressors, they actually are aware growth and results can be born from. Can you talk a little bit about that in regards to fasting? Because I think sometimes people will hear the opposite, like fasting may be detrimental to our hormones and why we may want to reconsider that.
Yeah. I think back to our exercise analogy, I think we can use that same because it’s easy for people to grasp but we all know that if something is good, we have this idea that more must be better and that’s not always the case. So in our minds with the exercise analogy, you can overdo it. You can definitely over exercise, injure yourself, put yourself at risk, like, suppress your immune system. If you’re doing too much all the time, not getting a rest.
Or building up to your ability.
Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. If I try to go run a marathon tomorrow, bad things would happen. I’m not lot a runner. It would not look good and it would not feel good. Nobody would tell me that was a good idea. Nobody would be like, Oh, yeah, Deena, you’re going to get so much stronger after this. No, I’d probably get hurt. So we do have to take that same mindset when we go into fasting. One thing is that it is a challenge. It is a stressor on your body and you want to prepare your body for it and you do want to ease into it and build up to it. One thing that I really like to encourage with my clients is that first we focus on nourishment. Nourishment first, because your body, when it’s well nourished, it’s going to handle that stress so much better and it’s going to turn it into a positive. So if we’re going into fasting, already depleted, not getting enough nutrients, not getting enough protein, not getting enough of the things that really fill our cup physically and maybe emotionally and spiritually as well, we just dive into fasting. I don’t see that work out for people very well. I think it’s really important to go into a fast as well nourished as you can, because if you’re low and depleted in certain nutrients, that can actually really impair the effectiveness of the fasting in the first place. So coming at it from a place of nourishment first, are you building the foundations of stable blood sugar and daily movement or exercise? Are you nourishing your body, getting enough to eat on all the other days? And then when you bring the fasting in, it’s going to be a really positive stressor on your body rather than a negative one.
It’s like it wakes your body up and makes your body be more productive and grows its capacity for health rather than beating it down and depleting it further. There’s good stress and there’s bad stress, and we need to think about them as being different. Sometimes I think sometimes if we think, Oh, it raises cortisol or it causes stress on our bodies, it must be bad. It’s not as black and white as that.
Yeah. The only group of people that I pretty much say, Hey, fasting is probably not for you right now, are people who are dealing with extreme exhaustion. That’s one where I find that fasting, it when they’re in that place, you got to get somebody out of that place first before you bring fasting in or at least get them in a better place. I find that people who are really feeling totally depleted and exhausted are probably not in the place where fasting is going to be the most beneficial.
Yeah, I agree. So moving in a slightly sideline direction here, everyone has a different idea of what breaks a fast. When you’re talking about something like intermittent fasting, let’s start with that one. What would be considered something that breaks a fast when you’re in your fasting window that you would say avoid?
I love this question because nobody likes my answer. Any calorie containing food or beverage breaks a fast. So that would be your bulletproof coffee that would be there’s fasting bars out there that are supposed to extend your fast. I don’t know. I think it’s some marketing. I think it’s some great marketing but the threshold seems to be around 50 calories. So basically under that, we can get away with our body not noticing and continuing to stay in the fasted state. So typically that means water, water with electrolytes, which are a huge part of feeling good while fasting, or like mineral drops, herbal teas, black coffee, things like that are fine. With the coffee and tea, though, I typically don’t recommend people drink caffeineated beverages on an empty stomach. I think it’s better to wait and have that with your breakfast. I think it’s much better for your hormones overall and just feeling better and less wired and tired, which I think can happen when we’re having a lot of caffeine on an empty stomach. So while coffee and tea are okay to have during a fast, I find that they’re actually not as good for your energy and hormone balance in the long run if you’re having them on an empty stomach all the time.
And when you’re looking at a time to be eating… Sorry, were you going to say something else?
I was just saying basically it’s just water and water with electrolytes. That’s where I like to guide most people and you can make some fun drinks. I have some in my fasting program where we have a watermelon hibiscus tea, and then I use the watermelon flavored electrolyte powder from Element, and it’s really flavorful and it’s really delicious. So it’s not all bad news.
No and when you’re in a time restricted eating, it’s not that big of a window. You’re going to be sleeping the majority of it and then as someone who does a fair amount of intermittent fasting, I move my windows to fit where I want to drink my coffee in the morning. So if I want to start breakfast at a certain time, that’s when I start and then that dictates when I end. So I just move that according to if it’s summertime and my kids are home or if we’re trying to get off to school or I don’t move it every day. I try to keep it consistent in blocks of time, but you can make it work for you. It’s not a rigid, like, you can’t start eating until 11 or something like that. You can move it within the 15 hours protocol that you’re trying to follow, or like you said, between 12 and 15 that you said that you like. Yeah. So it’s flexible there. It doesn’t have to be completely miserable. It’s actually pretty easy to work around.
Yeah, that’s right. It shouldn’t be miserable. If it’s miserable, it’s not going to be sustainable. You’ve got to make it work for you. I think what you brought up reminded me of one of the unsung benefits of time restricted eating, that interminate fasting, and this restriction on during your fasting window, you’re not eating. One of the benefits of that that I think doesn’t seem like a benefit at first, but I think it really is, is that you start to notice how often you reach for food purely out of habit or for comfort or to manage your stress. When you have an eating curfew and you’re like, Well, I don’t eat after this time, or this is my fasting window, at first, you will open the fridge or the cupboard probably 20 times in that hour and then be like..
Oh. It’s tabbing. It’s tabbing.
It’ll be really frustrating. But it’s an opportunity to tune in. You’re like, Am I actually hungry? Because probably not. You probably are doing okay and it’s more coming from a place of trying to manage your stress or calm your nerves, or it’s just habitual, or we’re watching a movie, of course, we have to have popcorn or things like that.
Right. It’s almost like boredom. Habit, boredom.
Yeah. So I think one of the unsung benefits is just it gives you an opportunity to really tune into your hunger and satiety queues on a much more deep and intimate level and that can pay off when you are eating during the feeding time, because if you’re paying better attention to how you feel, am I genuinely hungry? and was that meal satisfying? It can help teach you that.
I know when I haven’t done any fasting for a while and I’m moving back towards some time restricted eating, I will find that I am just not really thrilled to not eat after a certain time, I would rather have something else to eat and then shorter as when you’ve done it longer, everything clicks back into place faster. But a few days later, it’ll be like, I probably should have a little bit more to eat today, but I’m really not hungry and I don’t really want to eat anymore. You’re making sure that you’re actually getting enough calories in the day because you’re no longer thinking about food. You’ve moved on to other things and it’s freeing. It’s a neat thing to be able to use as a tool.
Initially, you would be like, what do I do with myself? But I think it highlights one of those other benefits that doesn’t get noticed as often and I think it’s that you have to… It forces you to pay more attention to your meals and getting a better breakfast, lunch and dinner so that you are completely satiated and you got everything that you needed that day and then the fasting part becomes a breeze after that.
It really does. It’s almost like one last thing to do you don’t have to clean up the kitchen one more time. It’s nice. I know you talked a little bit about this at the beginning how some people need to approach fasting a little bit differently with different considerations. How do women need to approach fasting differently than men.
In your opinion? That’s a great question. I think there’s not a ton of really good research on this, unfortunately. Our medical establishment still thinks that men are the only people worth studying, and women get sidelined quite a bit still. So we don’t have a ton of really good research on this, but we have a lot of anecdotes and stories and experiences from women, and we do have some research. What we find is that women, especially in the luteal phase, so the weekish before your period starts, your hormones are such that your appetite is higher, your calorie needs are actually higher, blood sugar and mood, everything’s just a little bit more delicate. It’s easier to push things over the edge. You’re going to be hungrier, you’re going to be hungrier. You’re going to tolerate fasting, not as well as you would the other weeks of the month and so I encourage women to give themselves some grace during that period, either letting go of their fasting window or just shortening it, making it easier here on themselves and really paying attention to being really well nourished during that time, maybe getting extra rest or whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better and then I would say during that luteal phase, I would not do a modified fast or a 24 hours fast. That’s not the time. Pick another time of the month if you’re going to do any a water only fast or a longer fast like the modified fast I talked about.
How long do you typically do you have a modified fast going? Just so that when you think about a monthly cycle, is it something that is pretty easy to avoid a luteal phase?
Yeah. The modified fast is typically five days. It can be as short as three days. It can be as long as seven, although I’ve never put anybody on one that long but I know that there’s research on it being done for that long. It’s typically five days. You’ve got three other weeks of the month that you can make it happen.
Then how often do you recommend in general? Because it’s going to be, again, be very specific person to person in their situation. But how often do you recommend or are you seeing people repeat a modified fast? Is that something that they do once a month, every couple of months, a couple of months consecut, then take a break?
Yes. In my fasting fix program, I have everybody do three consecutive fasts, so one each month. You don’t want to ever do one more often than that. Your body really needs that time to recover from the fasting in order to get stronger. Just like with exercise, you need some rest days to actually get the benefit sets of the exercise. With fasting, you need a break from it in order to get the full benefit. We do it once a month for three consecutive months. You could do it for four consecutive months and then at that point, we repeat lab work. I have them do it at the beginning and at the end, and we use the lab work plus how they’re feeling to determine where we go from there. A lot of people will see pretty dramatic results as far as insulin coming down, fasting blood sugar coming down. We also see lower cholesterol and triglycerides. We see lower blood pressure and inflammatory markers come down in just three months. I think it’s really powerful to get those consecutive ones because it really pushes your metabolism, it forces it to change and then from there, I think most people can switch to doing it maybe four times a year at the most or two times, maybe at the least. So a couple of times a year after that to maintain the benefits. The research we have on this is that the benefits last three to five months after doing it. You can maintain that lower cholesterol, lower trichlorides, lower lower insulin without doing any other additional fasting, which is really cool. Just doing it a couple of times a year is enough to keep you on that better track.
Even without doing any intermittentt fasting in between?
Yeah, even without that. So if you were to do the in the fasting where you’re eating all of your food within maybe a 10 hours time period or something like that, then that would probably even help more. But the research is that that isn’t even required to maintain benefits but I’d still encourage people to do it.
Yeah. Well, one of the things that you’re teaching your body to do is to be flexible between fasted or unfasted states and knowing how to get its energy levels and so being able to go between fat burning and glucose burning and back and forth and so keeping your body on its toes a little bit throughout that process is a helpful thing, too.
Yeah. If you went to some month long boot camp and got super fit and then didn’t exercise for three months, would you maintain some of that strength? Yes. But would you be better off if you at least you weren’t working out that hard, but you did some? Absolutely. You’re going to be better off.
Makes sense. For women, the main consideration would just be don’t have a lay off on the fasting a little bit that week before their period. Any other big considerations between men and women that you’ve noticed in your practice as far as fasting?
Well, we know from research that men typically tolerate fasting a little bit better as far as their stress hormones. So women’s stress hormones may rise higher than a man who’s also fasting. I think just being conscious of what your stress levels are and if there are ways during your fasting, if you’re doing a longer fast, then definitely trying to remove extra stressors, I think is really important. But on the day to day basis, understand that if you’re going through a period that’s just extremely stressful on your body, then maybe dialing it back a little bit on the fasting and being a little bit more gentle is beneficial and I think all you want to look out for is that if you’re doing your fasting and it’s making your energy or fatigue worse, if it’s making your cravings and hunger worse, then we know that we’ve pushed it too far. It should help those things. It should diminish cravings. It should help regulate your appetite when it’s going well. So if you start sleeping poorly or you’re ravenously hungry or you’re all of a sudden dealing with all of these food cravings, that’s your cue to check in.
What is my stress? Do I need to change what I’m doing with my fasting? That thing. So pay attention to how your body is responding to it.
Would you say, though, the first couple of days they may feel lower energy? They may feel hungry and all of that. So give it a couple of days and then if it’s not letting up or if it’s returning, that’s when they should really question it. Correct?
Yeah. I guess I was speaking more to somebody who was already on the train and they’re like, Everything’s going great and then all of a sudden the train derails and they’re like, What’s going on? That’s what I’d say. Pay attention but yeah, if you’re starting out, you will probably feel some of that initially.
Then as we wrap up, what are some of the… I mean, we’ve probably touched on some of them, but to highlight them, what are some of the common mistakes that people make when they start fasting or as they’re continuing to keep fasting as part of their lifestyle?
Yeah with intermittent fasting, like a daily overnight fast, the biggest mistake I see is skipping breakfast. Everybody seems to think that that’s what intermittent fasting means, and it’s not. I think it’s actually one of the worst ways to do it. We actually have really good studies on this where you take people who, let’s say, they’re both doing a 14 hour fast, but some of them are what we call early eaters and the other group is late eaters. The early eaters are eating an early breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then they’re fasting in the evening and overnight. The late eaters are fasting in the morning, they’re skipping breakfast, and then they’re having a later lunch and a later dinner and there’s actually way more benefits to the people who eat early. So in the morning, your metabolism is up, it’s running, your digestion is like, Let’s go. It’s the best time to be eating. It’s really when your body is primed to take in food, and that food is going to fuel your energy for the day. It makes no sense to me to do it the other way because then people’s biggest meals are in the evening when everything slowed down, digestion slowed down, metabolism slowed down, activity levels slowed down, and all that food is just going to sit around in the gut or go into storage because it’s not fueling anything. So it’s way better to be an early eater and have your fasting window in the evening. So I just tell people to adopt an eating curfew. It’s like, Oh, I don’t eat after seven. Or like you said, maybe you adjust yours based on the summer or what you’re doing with your kids, like you said. So when everybody else is having breakfast, but eating within two hours of waking up is typically what I recommend for people. When you delay it longer than that, we see rises in cortisol and adrenaline, which are potent stress hormones and that can make us feel very alert. It can make us feel very energized and that’s where it gets tricky for people because they start skipping breakfast and they’re like, man, I feel great. They have a cup of coffee on an empty stomach and they’ve got all this cortisol and caffeine and they’re like, I feel amazing. But then later…
You get an afternoon crash.
Holy crash. Yeah. The downsides are that blood sugar swings tend to be wilder. Bigger swings up and bigger swing crashes down, which is not great for hormones and not great for energy, not great for your health at all. We see that people crave more high calorie junk food when they delay eating. People who delay eating a really long time actually tend to overcompensate for the calories that they skipped. They end up eating more than they would have if they’d just eaten a hearty breakfast. I don’t find that type of fasting has really most of the benefits that people are signing up for.
And you don’t feel good. Like you said, you might feel okay for a little bit in the morning, but at some point it comes back to bite you and your hunger is not as easily controlled. The days that I was saying where I almost have to make sure I’ve eaten enough is because I start eating by eight in the morning and I got literally done by two. I have to force myself to eat something before my eating windows open or ended, and it doesn’t have to be something big. But I try to get some other protein and vegetables in towards the end of the day just to round off the day. But I’m not hungry anymore at that point and you just feel good and you feel good going to bed without a whole bunch of food in your stomach and then you wake up ready to go and you get to eat early, fuel and feel full of energy and then the day naturally has its wind down.
Yeah. And the science clears this out. So we know that people who delay eating in the morning, their hunger hormones start out low, and then they go higher and higher and higher as the day goes on and I don’t know about you, but if it’s late at night, the things that I’m reaching for are…
It’s not vegetables.
Snack I’m having at 10 o’clock at night, we’re more likely to be reaching for ice cream cake, cookies, an extra glass of wine, or something like that and then the other thing that you said is that actually going to bed with an empty stomach, so stopping your eating three hours before going to bed, at least two, but ideally three hours before going to bed is really good for your sleep. You want to be in a fasted state when you sleep. It helps with deep sleep. It helps you get better quality sleep, and it helps just your actual gut gets a break. So your body can go into that repair detoxify when you’re in a fasted state while you’re sleeping. If it’s trying to break down a bunch of food and it’s working at half capacity because your digestive system is like, I was supposed to go to bed, too. I don’t want to be breaking down all this food. So it tends to just sit there and then when they wake up in the morning, they’re like, oh, they’re a little nauseous. Might feel like I’m not hungry. Well, of course you’re not hungry your stomach is still there. I would argue that they might not even be fasting.
That’s a good point. Yeah. Did you really have that break or was it your body just slowed down a bit slower? Yeah. You went through the night. Any other mistakes that people make as they’re learning to fast or creating a fasting lifestyle?
I think the other big one is just doing too much, too fast. So jumping into a 16 8. After most Americans, it’s an average of 15 hours eating window. It’s only a nine hour fast. So if we’re going and flipping that around, that’s going to be really hard on your body and it’s probably not going to feel great. So I always recommend that when you’re ready to trim it down your eating window and extend your fast, you trim it by one to two hours and that’s the biggest chop that you make and then make it in the evening. So you’re ending your eating earlier.
Makes sense and then you have a resource that you’re willing to share with the listeners today. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how they can get it?
Absolutely. I have a free, Intermittent Fasting workshop. So it really goes through the benefits of Intermittent Fasting. A lot of what we talked about here I highlight three big mistakes that I see people make, skipping breakfast and doing too much, too fast are one of them and I’ll save the others for those who want to join the workshop and then I give you my three part formula, putting together the perfect, most ideal, intermittent fasting approach that will work for you and how to know who it’s right for, who it’s not right for and that’s available on my website, therealfoodnutritionist.com.
Perfect and I’ll put the link directly to the page that they can find that at in the show notes. Make sure you head over to the show notes and then you can get that resource from Deana. Thank you for that. That will be really helpful for people that are wanting to get started or look more into fasting. It’ll help you put your own little roadmap together. Perfect. Well, thank you so much for joining today and sharing all of this amazing information. I think the world of fasting can be very confusing, and I think this really outlined and gave some clear steps for deciding if it’s something that you want to look into or how to get started with it and so this will be extremely valuable. And with PCOS, the insulin root cause is so prevalent and so such an important topic for this particular group of listeners as well as this podcast. Thank you so much for being a guest on the show today.
All right everyone, until next time. Bye for now.
Did you know that studies of PCOS epigenetics have shown that our environment can either worsen or completely reverse our PCOS symptoms? I believe that although PCOS makes us sensitive to our environment, it also makes us powerful. When we learn what our body needs and commit to providing those needs, not only do we gain back our health, but we grow in power just by showing up for ourselves. This is why I’ve created a guide for you to get started. My PCOS fertility meal guide can be found in the show notes below. I want to show you how to create an environment that promotes healing while still being able to live a life that you enjoy. This guide is completely free, so go get your copy now so that you can step into the vision that you have for your life and for your health.
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