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Could mealtimes be inhibiting your health goals?

Let me preface this discussion by making it abundantly clear that I believe in intuitive eating above all else. Specifically, what works for one isn’t necessarily appropriate for another. I implore all my clients and those in my vicinity to focus on what feels good for them and supports their bodies to thrive.

There are some general considerations around mealtimes, meal choices and opportunities to rest and digest that we can all learn and benefit from.

We have all read, heard or become aware of the practice and metabolic effects of fasting. Interment Fasting (IF) can be described as the voluntary abstinence from or reduction of some or all food for some time. Typically, a short-term fast could range from 12-16hrs whilst a long-term fast for up to three weeks IF has been practiced for many years amongst some religions and cultures. More recently, it has gained popularity and attention in the west because of its health benefits, and I would attest to it for a good reason. Research has shown that caloric restriction (CR) can prevent several chronic degenerative and inflammatory diseases (1). Specific health benefits have suggested that IF can aid weight loss and fat burning, positively affect mood, mental well-being, and brain cognition, improve heart health, reduce the risk of cancer and other metabolic health concerns, and aid digestion.  

For all intent purposes, I’m here to specifically highlight the benefits of IF on digestion. Intermittent Fasting in more broad detail is something I’ll save for another time. The approach I like to take with IF is to focus on allowing our bodies the time required to digest, rest and restore optimally. Applying an overnight fast of approximately 12 to 16 hours, depending on an individual needs, can ensure our body has the most excellent chance to support its innate intelligence.  

Digestion requires a lot of energy and depletes the body’s digestive enzymes to a certain extent to break down the food. Eating much food or eating frequently will inevitably place more burden on your gut. On the contrary, being in a fasted state encourages anti-inflammatory cytokines and cellular autophagy that instigate healing. Fasting also increases the activity of the migrating motor complex (MMC), which is a mechanism that controls stomach contractions (2). It clears out the GI tract and helps to eliminate undigested food particles. The MMC is regulated by hormones such as Ghrelin, serotonin, cortisol, and somatostatin. Ensuring longer breaks in between meals means you’ll digest and assimilate your food much improved, and any small intestine bacterial overgrowth or SIBO will be less likely.

Intermittent fasting is easily integrated into our overnight sleep cycle. By leaving mealtimes to a few hours after rising in the morning and ensuring our last meal is a few hours before bedtime, we will make the transition to IF more seamless. One should adjust accordingly in line with their health picture.

In addition to our overnight fast, we must consider our eating windows between meals. For years health claims have been made about snacking regularly and having smaller meals; this eating pattern has come under much scrutiny. Allowing adequate time between meals permits our bodies the optimal chance to rest and digest. If we continually eat, we put immense pressure and a significant workload on our digestive system. A practical strategy is to achieve a minimum of five to six hours between meals (3). It should be noted that this recommendation is not suitable for everyone depending on health conditions and well-being.

In a healthy adult, to successfully achieve five or six hours between meals, they must eat a balanced meal. To comfortably sustain fasting between meals, you would need to eat suitably to gain the required energy, stabilise blood sugar control and attain satiety. Ensuring the necessary amount of protein, fats & carbohydrates would be the optimal way to ensure you can achieve this gap between meals.  What this looks like for each of us should be explicitly tailored to our bodies and lifestyles. If we don’t get this balance right, we will be more likely to experience blood sugar spikes/crashes, feel hungry and possibly low on energy. Even in a short period, poor nutrition can contribute to low mood, impaired focus and brain cognition; we all know what it’s like to feel hangry. If we are going to include intermittent fasting overnight or longer fasting windows between meals, we need to consider our meal choices. Don’t hinder your desired health and nutrition goals by failing to consider mealtimes, meal choices and opportunities to rest and digest.

Book a free discovery call with Katie Marie for more information or support; contact us here.

References; 

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31137899
  2. PMID: 22450306
  3. PMID: 28701389

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