How Intermittent Fasting Can Make You More Productive
Since I began attempting to lose weight back in 2015, I have always been looking for ways to get healthier. I lost my desired amount of weight but got addicted to the process of getting healthier and continued searching for ways to do so. I gained the experience of seeing what healthy habits could lead to and was not complacent staying where I was.
In spring 2019, I stumbled upon an interesting eating habit that had a ton of health benefits: intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is the practice of eating within a certain period of time and being strict with those time windows. A popular practice is 16:8, which equates to 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating.
Fasting is not as difficult as it sounds. There’s a good chance you inadvertently practice here and there, especially on busy days.
The eating habits of the average modern human are actually not normal compared to our natural predecessors. The United States government began promoting the importance of breakfast and lunch in the 1920s and 30s, but those meals are not our only shot at sustained energy throughout the day.
Our eating habits are more cultural than biological.
When European settlers moved to North America, they set the three-meals-a-day standard, which went against the “uncivilized” practice of the Native Americas: eating when their bodies were showing signs of hunger.
As time went on and the Industrial Revolution happened, meals were blocked around the 9–5 work schedule: breakfast before work, lunch in the middle of the day, and dinner soon after the workday ended.
Intermittent fasting’s care package of health benefits
The overarching benefit of intermittent fasting is that it makes our body’s processes more efficient. One is through insulin.
The only way for sugar to enter out bloodstream is through insulin. When we don’t eat, our fat cells release their stored sugar to be used as energy. This allows us to burn fat. On top of that, the releasing of excess blood sugar from our fat cells can help prevent or even reverse diabetes.
Here is an expansive paragraph from a study done by the New England Journal of Medicine on intermittent fasting and its benefits.
Studies in animals and humans have shown that many of the health benefits of intermittent fasting are not simply the result of reduced free-radical production or weight loss.2–5 Instead, intermittent fasting elicits evolutionarily conserved, adaptive cellular responses that are integrated between and within organs in a manner that improves glucose regulation, increases stress resistance, and suppresses inflammation. During fasting, cells activate pathways that enhance intrinsic defenses against oxidative and metabolic stress and those that remove or repair damaged molecules (Figure 1).5 During the feeding period, cells engage in tissue-specific processes of growth and plasticity. However, most people consume three meals a day plus snacks, so intermittent fasting does not occur.2,6
Intermittent fasting has a large impact on decreasing the impacts or completely eliminating symptoms of diseases and disorders across the board, including cancer, heart disease, asthma, and auto-immune diseases.
The practice has gotten popular thanks to its undoubtable impacts on weight loss (which I can personally attest to) and has gained even more popularity because of the long-term benefits outlined above.
Intermittent fasting has a daily benefit as well, though.
Long- and short-term cognition benefits
The New England Journal of Medicine details the practice’s improvements in “verbal memory, executive function, and global cognition” as well as working memory.
When your body switches from glucose to ketones, which happens in a fasting state, cognition is at its best. This becomes easily noticeable once in a fasting state.
For me, skipping breakfast was the easiest way to complete a fast — which seems pretty common. While I certainly struggled with tiredness from a lack of coffee, my focus was noticeably narrowed-in. Despite the lack of caffeine, my energy was pretty consistent until I ate my first meal sometime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The benefits of intermittent fasting became even more noticeable when I recently cut back to 12-hour fasts.
While a 12-hour fast is still beneficial, longer fasts produce better results. Many of the cognition-related benefits come in at the 16-hour mark.
A 12-hour fast means adding breakfast back in for me, which gets my digestive process going and requires eating food more throughout the day to keep energy levels high.
This makes my day job easier, where I am performing more physical labor, but it makes writing-related work more difficult. From a fasted state, your body isn’t working hard, allowing you to focus on whatever work is necessary.
Also, from a motivational standpoint, telling yourself, “I can’t eat until I get this done!” is very helpful in checking-off daily tasks.
Intermittent fasting can have a great impact on preventing or reversing symptoms of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. It also helps improve brain cognition and overall performance.
While the long-term benefits are what makes the practice so popular, its short-term gains are very useful as well.
Whether you feel a need to help your future self in lowering the risk of almost any serious disease there is or just want to lose some weight, intermittent fasting is your best pathway to success.
And while you’re at it, take advantage of the improved focus and get some work done.