Motivation Monday: Intermittent Fasting

I have this feeling many people are thinking the way I used to think when I started to read up on fitness and nutrition;

fasting is unhealthy and will break down muscle tissue after just a couple of hours.

This thinking is just factually wrong. Though, it might not be for everyone, there are several health benefits to intermittent fasting, and I’m about to tell you some.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is when you eat your daily intake within a certain amounts of hours. The time you give yourself to eat is called your ‘eating window’. As humans we naturally have fasting periods. We don’t eat when we sleep, meaning one’s fasting period will be the hours we sleep, and the hours before and after sleep we stop or start eating. Most people who don’t use IF mostly stick to something similar to a 12:12 fast, meaning they fast (sleep and don’t eat) for 12 hours and consume their daily intake withing the 12 remaining hours of the day. This way of eating might leave 2-4 hours between each meal.

IF means you decrease the amount of hours in your eating window and increase your fasting time. The most common one is 16:8 where you don’t eat for 16 hours (6-10 of these you sleep) and eat your daily intake during the remaining 8 hours. Many use this eating pattern as a way to lose weight since eating your daily intake within 8 hours can make it seem like more, than spreading it across 12 hours. But it also has several health benefits for those just looking to get healthier, or it might just work better for your lifestyle in general – the best way of eating is the one you can stick to for it to become a daily routine, while enjoyable.

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How I use intermittent fasting and why?

I first started IF during my last year of school before the navy, at the age of 18. I’d never been big on breakfast and would always feel nauseous after eating ‘too early’. Since I didn’t feel hungry in the morning naturally I had no issues waiting until around 12-13 in the day to start eating. After a while I could feel my concentration get stronger in the mornings before eating and I stopped snacking as much as I used to because I could eat bigger meals during the day and therefore not feel hungry, especially during the evenings.

During my time in the navy I mostly did shift work so it would be natural to wait to eat until later in the day when my shifts spanned from 11 pm to 8 am.

Today I follow the 16:8 IF, having my first meal at 12-13 and stop eating at 20-21. Usually I will drink black coffee and water during the fast as I’m not at the level of needing supplements during my fast (BCAA and others) at the moment.

What does the science say?

  • IF might fight against chronic disease: Many studies suggest IF can trigger an increased production of growth hormones and neurogenesis in the brain it might help fight against chronic illnesses and aging.
  • Increased concentration: The increased neurogenesis in the brain might also boost your concentration levels.
  • It might keep you fuller, longer: A lot of people think smaller, more frequent meals will keep you fuller through the day. Some never studies has shown that 3 meals a day vs. 6 meals a day can lead to a greater feeling of fullness. One of the reasons for this is because of the higher levels of protein each meal would have if you eat 3 times a day vs. 6 times a day, and protein makes one feel fuller, longer.
  • Possible weight loss: When you are giving your body constant nutrition it can use that nutrition as fuel through the day. If you’re going many hours of the day fasting there is a potential your body will need to use your fat stores as energy until you have your feeding window. With the chance of increased feeling of fullness a calorie deficit might be easier to stick to, which will then result in a weight loss. IF is not a diet and will not result in weight loss unless you are in a calorie deficit.
  • It might turn on fat-burning genes: Some studies show that IF potentially can increase the activity of genes that increase fat oxidation; burning of fat. This can put you in a greater deficit despite not increasing your food intake or increasing your energy usage.
  • Might aid against emotional eating: Since you can feel fuller, longer IF might help aid against emotional eating or boredom snacking.

There is a lot of good reasons to try out IF, but you also have to make sure you reach your daily calorie intake that you need. Some might misuse it as a way to under eat, which will have very negative effects on the body during the long-run.

The most important thing to take into consideration is if it’s something you could do in the long term and would still enjoy. Some people like to have several meals, or just a few but with several hours between them – and if that works for you, then you should continue to do so!

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Veganism: Why You Need to Supplement

*Keep in mind that I have no qualifications in nutrition or any similar subjects, this is just knowledge I’ve gained from 5 years of veganism*

This is a subject I see a lot of vegans don’t want to speak about: Supplementing.

A lot of vegans are experts in advocating for veganism as the healthiest diet one can have, while simultaneously ignoring the part about supplementation, or even worse; talking against it.

Let me get one thing right, veganism is a wonderful way to eat and live – you get the opportunity to eat delicious, nutritious and filling food while doing the least harm as one can. But you need to make sure you’re not harming yourself in the process.

Many vegan products does not naturally contain high levels of some vital nutrients; plant milk, cereals and other products like this has been fortified with these vital vitamins – and if you’re the kind of vegan I was during some of my veganism you won’t be eating enough of those fortified products.

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Nutrients to keep an eye on & why:

  • Vitamin B12: If there is one vitamin I want you to keep a strict eye on it’s B12. B12 is made by bacteria that live inside animals. To get a vegan version of B12 one ‘farms’ the bacteria and gather the vitamin from that. A lack of vitamin B12 can cause severe tiredness, pins and needles in limbs, increased symptoms of mental illness, muscle weakness and deterioration of cognitive functions. Vitamin B12 is a ‘common’ vitamin to be lacking in no matter if you’re plant based or not – absorption is complex and decreases with age. 
  • Vitamin D: Contributes to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphate, which then keeps the mineralization of bone, muscle contraction, nerve conduction and cellular functions normal. Both WHO and NCBI acknowledges that vitamin D deficiency is a global problem and people especially living in northern countries should supplement in the months containing the letter ‘R’ because the sun is not enough a those times of the year.
  • Calcium: Plays a vital role for strong bones and recovery after exercise. If your vitamin D levels are low it will be harder to absorb calcium. Although calcium is found in a lot of green and leafy vegetables a vegan diet is not always synonymous with a diet heavy in  green, leafy vegetables.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid: Important for cell membranes and receptors, hormone production, cardiovascular, brain, joint, eye and skin health. Fats like walnuts, chia & flax seeds re good sources but might not convert it as well into DHA and EPA.
  • Iron: Improves growth and development of the body, in addition to making hemoglobin and myoglobin. Loads of vegan foods contains iron but they often contain anti-nutrients which hinders absorption.
  • Zinc: Important for immune system, cell growth, healing and breaking down carbs. Loads of plants contain zinc but there are some concerns around phytates which often is bound to plants. Phytic acids can bind minerals before absorption which makes it harder to absorb zinc and iron despite consuming adequate amounts in theory.
  • Iodine: Helps in the production of thyroid hormones, which keeps cells and metabolism healthy. It’s most easily found in dairy and iodine salt.
  • Selenium: Contributes to a healthy immune system and cells – it is found in some plants but the amounts depend on the selenium in the soil.

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Vegan sources:

  • Vitamin B12: Nutritional yeast (make sure it’s the fortified kind), fortified plant milk, yoghurt, cereal, cheese and other processed (and fortified) plant products and marmite.
  • Vitamin D: Fortified plant milk, yoghurt, cereal, cheese and other processed (and fortified) plant products, mushrooms (smaller amounts). Sunlight is also a source but it’s often not enough for your daily need – in addition to it not being enough too much (which is not much at all) exposure can and will damage your skin. Don’t be dumb, use sunscreen and get into the shade when the sun is at it’s highest.
  • Calcium: Fortified plant milk, yoghurt, cereal, cheese and other processed (and fortified) plant products, leafy greens, almonds, figs and chia seeds. But do remember that your calcium intake depends on your vitamin D intake!
  • Omega-3 fatty acid: Fortified plant milk, yoghurt, cereal, cheese and other processed (and fortified) plant products, chia-, flax-, and hemp seeds, leafy greens. You can find DHA and EPA in algal oil and alge.
  • Iron: Fortified plant milk, yoghurt, cereal, cheese and other processed (and fortified) plant products, beans, legumes, spinach and other leafy greens and linseed.
  • Zinc: Fortified plant milk, yoghurt, cereal, cheese and other processed (and fortified) plant products, pumpkin- and sunflower seeds, spinach, cacao, beans, legumes, cashews and avocado.
  • Iodine:  Iodised salt, whole grains and seaweed.
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, mushrooms, oats, whole grains and sunflower seeds.

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How to know if you are consuming enough:

I’ve done four things to make sure I get enough of these nutrients:

  1. I went to the doctor and got my blood tested – I was experiencing extreme tiredness, symptoms of depression and pins and needles: Turns out I was low in vitamin D and I was so low in vitamin B12 that I needed shots in my butt cheek – you do not want that, trust me.
  2. I track my food a couple of times a week or month in cronometer.com – here I am able to see my levels for all of these nutrients and if I’m getting adequate levels. I don’t need to do this every day because I generally eat most of the same foods during the week.
  3. I check in with myself to see how I’m feeling – have I been more tired or feeling ill than usual the last couple of weeks without a good explanation?
  4. I supplement! There is no way without it! Fortified foods are also supplementing! But I know that I do not eat enough fortified foods as I’m not too much into mock meats and plant yogurts/milks (but I do drink my milk with coffee – coffee contains anti-nutrients which hinders absorption of iron and other nutrients). So I take a multivitamin every day to make sure I’m getting what I need.

Most vegans and even non-vegans should supplement many of these nutrients because of what we eat in 2018! You want to thrive, not just be generally ok!

I hope this will make it easier for all of you, despite what type of diet – and I hope this openness will make it easier for new vegans to not fall into the ‘new vegan mistakes’ as I once did. Remember that veganism is such an amazing diet, but it still needs to be done properly and safely as any other diet.

Have you ever experienced nutrient deficiency? Do you supplement? How are you managing your diet and making sure you get enough of what you need?

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