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Could Intermittent Fasting Help You?

The thought of fasting may invoke feelings of dread or moans and complaints, but the principle could deliver some potent health benefits. Intermittent fasting may be the key to helping you prevent and treat diabetes and lose weight.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting means choosing when to eat and when to abstain from food. It is deliberate and controlled. Cycling between eating and fasting helps to regulate the hormones that control glucose metabolism and fat storage. Intermittent fasting allows the body to draw energy from fat cells, which leads to weight loss.

Intermittent fasting is still somewhat controversial but can provide significant health benefits when used appropriately. It is not for every person or everybody.

How Does It Work?

To understand how periodic fasting works, you must appreciate the basics of digestion – energy consumption, storage, and some of the key hormones associated with regulating these processes. 

Food is broken down into smaller pieces in the digestive system so the nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream, then distributed throughout the body. Carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, cauliflower, and carrots) are sugar molecules that are chemically combined into long chains. Proteins (for example, meats and nuts) are made up of amino acids, and fats are composed of individual fatty acids. All are essential to the body. Since carbohydrates are made of sugar molecules, they are broken down into smaller pieces of sugar, called glucose. Glucose provides the energy that all cells need to function correctly.

This glucose (or energy) must either be used or stored. Insulin is the hormone that tells the energy where to go. It is the driver that controls whether glucose is pulled into the cells for immediate use or whether it will be stored in long or short-term storage locations. Glucose is initially stored short-term as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells. This storage location has limited space but is easy to access, and glycogen can quickly be converted back to its usable form of glucose.

When short-term storage is full, there is long-term storage with virtually unlimited space, but it takes a little more work to retrieve. This energy is stored in the fat cells. When there is an abundance of glucose in the bloodstream, and glycogen storage is full, glucose is pushed into fat cells. When fat cells are stuffed to capacity, the body can make more fat cells to store the energy. It’s a fantastic survival technique, but not necessary in our current society.

Compare it to heading to the airport to catch a flight. You can either be dropped off at the doors and head into the terminal immediately or have to go park. If you have to park a vehicle, you can go to short-term or long-term parking. The long-term lot has more space but is a little harder to reach. It takes more time and effort to catch the shuttle and get back to the front doors of the airport terminal to get to your desired location ultimately.

 When the body needs more energy, the short-term storage of glycogen will be used first. Glycogen stores can supply approximately 24 to 36 hours of energy. If the demand for glucose continues without new glucose coming in (as in the fasting state), the body will switch over to pulling from long-term energy storage in the fat cells. This is how intermittent fasting helps with weight loss. It forces the body into breaking down fat to use as energy. This is a more complex pathway, so the body only does it when it is required.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance occurs when there are constantly elevated levels of glucose in the bloodstream. The body responds by secreting more insulin, but the cells don’t listen very well to what insulin (the driver) says. This often occurs when large amounts of carbohydrates are consumed (particularly simple carbohydrates), and there is a lack of physical activity. Muscle cells require a lot of energy, especially with exercise, so if there is less activity, there is a diminished need. Insulin resistance means there is more insulin in the system; hence there is a higher capacity to store incoming glucose. Since glycogen storage is limited, it often goes to long-term locations and is stored…as fat.

How do I do Intermittent Fasting?

SHORTER FASTS are often done most days of the week. This means limiting meals to an 8-hour window during a 24-hour time frame, for example, eating between 11:00 and 7:00 pm. The eating period could also be limited to 4 or 6-hours, depending on what works for you. It takes two to four weeks to adapt to this new way of eating, but most people report increased energy, focus, productivity, and they feel “leaner” after a month.   

LONGER FASTS are done less frequently, generally two to three times per week, and involve just once a day eating. For example, eating dinner on one day and skipping all meals and snacks until dinner the next day. An alternate regimen includes regularly eating five days a week and mostly fasting two days per week. On the two fasting days, 500 calories per day may be consumed, either as one meal or spread throughout the day. A low-carb diet on the “normal” days will make fasting days easier to maintain. It is important not to binge during non-fasting times. Fasting more than 36-hour should be supervised by a medical professional.

Normal activities (including exercise) should continue, even on fasting days. If you participate in long/endurance-type workouts, however, you may benefit from eating before exercise. Fluids are still essential to maintain during fasting, but they are typically limited to water, coffee, or tea (without sugar or artificial sweeteners) to get the benefits of decreased insulin. If whole food categories are removed from your nutrition plan, remember to get the necessary vitamins and minerals from another source. The body tends to absorb these nutrients best from natural food sources, but a multivitamin or supplement may be required.


Weight control, appetite, and glucose metabolism are complex processes that involve multiple hormones and body systems. Insulin, however, is a significant player. Intermittent fasting may be the answer to helping you lose weight and improve overall health, especially if you exhibit signs of insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or a condition called metabolic syndrome. Talk to your provider if you have questions.


The Obesity Code by Jason Fung

Intermittent Fasting: Transformational Technique by Cynthia Thurlow

Reversing Type 2 diabetes starts with ignoring the guidelines by Sarah Hallberg

Achieving a Healthy Weight is Not a Race!

During my senior year in high school, I joined the newly organized rowing team. I rowed in an 8-man shell, and since we faced backward, we had a coxswain to direct us.

The coxswain was the leader of our shell (a long narrow rowing boat), who would yell “stroke” to keep us pulling the oars in sync and help steer us to stay on the course. Some days the water would be smooth, and other mornings it was a challenge to cut through the choppy water and battle the wind. It was a magical experience when we were all in rhythm with each other, and the elements were cooperative.

We attended a Regatta in Canada with tight weight regulations, and to my huge disappointment, at the weigh-in station, I was too heavy and wasn’t allowed to row with my 4-man team. I was embarrassed and felt like a failure.

This failure knocked my self-esteem, my motivation, and interfered with my social interactions for a while. To some people, this exaggerated response to one incident may seem ridiculous. To others, you’re probably saying, “I get it.”

The truth is, about 4 out of 5 of us will need to be thoughtful about what the scale says at some point in our lives. Weight may have been a concern when you went through puberty, or maybe you were lucky and didn’t have to think about it much until you were older. Regardless, the majority of us will have to adapt to lifestyle habits: how much and how often we eat and adjust our physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. Even if you don’t significantly change your diet or exercise habits, your body may be changing, which means YOU have to adapt to the new you.

Traditionally, the foundation for weight loss is based on the calories in/calories out model. If you want to lose weight, you have to eat less and move more. Fundamentally correct, but there is a lot more to it than that. Like rowing in a competitive race, many factors play a role in weight control and overall health. Anyone who has studied nutrition and weight control, or has personally tried to lose weight knows that it is complicated!

When rowing, we depended on our coxswain to keep our team working and our shell on the right course when rowing. For weight control, insulin works a little like a coxswain. This hormone tells our body that glucose, used as energy for individual cells, is available and helps the glucose into the cells that need it. Glucose is supplied to every cell in the body for thinking, working, exercise, healing, etc. The other function of insulin is to store glucose for future energy needs. In other words, insulin is a storage hormone, which causes the body to store fat.

Insulin resistance occurs when insulin levels are consistently high, and the cells “don’t listen” to insulin very well. Sugar remains in the bloodstream; thus, releasing more insulin and storing more fat.  This becomes a vicious cycle that requires a different approach to weight loss, one that decreases insulin in the bloodstream, hence hormonally influencing the body to burn fat rather than store it. Intermittent fasting is one very effective way of doing this. 

Intermittent fasting may be a new concept to you. Seeing results will take time. Pay attention not only to what you are eating but also when you are eating to help the complex systems that regulate your weight to work more effectively, efficiently, and in harmony.

To have a satisfactory race when rowing, we had to listen to the coxswain, be in tune with each other, and adapt to the elements. We made adjustments as conditions changed. Our coxswain helped us work together and course-correct when we weren’t going in the right direction. Weight control is a lot like this. It is a multifactorial system that requires coordination and cooperation with nutrition, physical activity, and hormones. So ask yourself – as your body or conditions change, are you making the appropriate adjustments to maintain a healthy weight? Eating foods that are close to their natural state, in the proper amount, and at the right time will help the hormones that regulate weight work in harmony with your body. Intermittent fasting may be the course-correction you need to be healthy at a normal weight. Talk to your provider to see if this is something that may benefit you. 

If you want to learn more about these principles, here are a few resources.

The Obesity Code by Jason Fung

Intermittent Fasting: Transformational Technique by Cynthia Thurlow

Reversing Type 2 diabetes starts with ignoring the guidelines by Sarah Hallberg

Haley Pledger, PA
Women’s Care
Matthew Walton, DO
Austin Bills, DO
Family Medicine
Aaron Fausett, PA
Family Medicine
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