Everyday, we’re learning more about the benefits of fasting, and the list continues to grow. Although not a new trend (people have been alternating periods of eating as a cultural and healing practice for centuries), lately the emphasis on benefits has expanded to include weight management, immune support, brain health and inflammation reduction.
Researchers report that intermittent fasting may improve heart health, thinking and memory, and physical performance. Fasting can also support the trillions of bacteria in your gut, which in turn promotes immune health. After all, about 70% of your immune system is in your gut.
Many of my clients tell me how amazing they feel when they fast, once they’ve got over the initial hurdle of adapting to this eating lifestyle. But there’s still one concern I often hear from those who are still on the fence about it: “I want all the benefits of fasting, but I’m worried it will hijack my mental health.”
How To Avoid Messing With Your Mental Health While Intermittent Fasting
Right up front:
- If you have experienced any kind of eating disorder, I do not recommend intermittent fasting.
- If you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, I advise speaking with a health care practitioner before you
undergo a fasting plan.
It’s important to recognise that while intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool, it’s not necessarily the best (or only choice) for everyone.
If you do want to give it a try, but are worried about it being too stressful, I recommend starting with a 12-hour fast. Make this easy on yourself. Wrap up dinner by 7 p.m., close down the kitchen for the evening, and then push breakfast forward the next morning. You will still get all the benefits of intermittent fasting – just at a pace that’s right for you and your body.
Can you go until 9 a.m. without breakfast? Cool! You’ve created a 14-hour fasting window, and the great thing is you’ll be sleeping for eight or nine of those hours.
Then, as your body feels more comfortable with fasting, you can experiment with different types of fasting, to see what works best for you. Just be sure to be mindful of the approach and periodically check in with yourself, to ensure it’s not taking a negative toll on your mind or mental health.
But also, there can be mental health benefits to intermittent fasting.
If you’re questioning the mental health impacts of intermittent fasting, research shows that intermittent fasting can be a powerful mood booster.
Fasting also triggers an important process called autophagy. Autophagy is like “spring cleaning” for your body: getting rid of old, damaged cells and making room for new, healthy ones so we can keep functioning at peak levels.
It’s especially important in the brain since autophagy helps to helps clear out damaged proteins and promote brain health.
In his book Life Lessons From a Brain Surgeon, Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., talks about how, and more importantly why, he’s made intermittent fasting a part of his daily routine. “Intermittent hunger clears the mind, awakens the senses, and improves brain functioning,” he says. “Going without food for even a day increases your brain’s natural growth factors, which supports the survival and growth of neurons.”
Immune support, inflammation reduction, plus a brain and mood boost? You can see why fasting can be such a powerful tool in your wellbeing arsenal. Just be sure to choose the type of fast that works best for you and your body.