“Intermittent fasting allows my body and mind time to reset.”
What is Intermittent Fasting?
The act of fasting between meals (not eating food for a dedicated amount of time), has been widely practice around the world for centuries for both health and spiritual reasons. In popular culture, it is widely seen as a practice for weight loss.
The intermittent approach to fasting recommends specific fasting and feeding timeframes depending on the effect you are looking for. The most popular method is the 16:8 approach. In 16:8, you fast for sixteen hours, and then consume regular daily calories in an eight hour feeding window.
Why Do People Fast?
The most popular reason that people fast is for religious purposes. Every faith practices fasting in one form or another. The most widely known is Ramadan where the faithful do not eat for 30 days between sunrise and sunset.
As noted above, intermittent fasting is a popular approach for weight loss. While results do take time, as with any regime, enthusiasts report a significant and sustainable change in body mass index (BMI). Research concurs with this assertion.
Other popular reasons individuals fast are (anecdotal accounts):
- mental clarity
- spiritual awareness
- improve liver fat
- decrease cholesterol
- lower blood pressure
- improve sleep pattern
Does Fasting Improve Mood?
What about fasting symptoms of depression? There is an increased body of research examining the impact of therapeutic fasting on mood. We found two studies clearly outlining the positive impact of fasting on mood outcomes:
1 – Fond (2012), reports in, “Fasting in mood disorders: neurobiology and effectiveness. A review of the literature,” that fasting shows significant effects on mood seen in changes to neurotransmitter pathways, neurotrophic factor, and improved sleep. It is believed that this effect is largely seen in fasts between two and seven days with subjects reporting an increase in their sense of tranquilly and alertness.
2 – Shahar (2013), reports in, “Efficacy of Fasting and Calorie Restriction (FCR) on mood and depression among ageing men,” that fasting and calorie restricting diets, also knowns as FCR, has a positive impact on the perception of mood. In a study of 32 middle age men, subjects all showed a decrease in mood disturbance, tension and anger.
Is Fasting Right For Me?
This is a difficult question to answer without knowing your needs. At Finding My Psych, we strongly suggest that you reach out to your healthcare provider to determine if any fasting approach is best for you and your individual situation. This is particularly important if you struggle with an eating disorder.
We also suggest that you clearly identify the primary goal you are attempting to accomplish by embarking on a fasting adventure. If improved mood or weight loss is your goal, test your goal for unrealistic expectations.
For instance, if you want to get off your anti-depressants, we strongly advise against fasting. This is not only unrealistic, it’s dangerous. If you want to drop 40 pounds by end of summer, we also suggest that this is not the approach for you. Fasting goes much deeper than your medication regime or the number on your scale in the morning.
How Do I Get Started?
After you have reached out to your healthcare provider and gotten a clearance to proceed, we recommend you download, “Zero“. Found on both the Apple App Store and Google Play, Zero will help you create and track a fasting schedule that meets your needs. With the paid version, you also get several coaching features to help you stay on track.
**We are not sponsored by the creators of Zero. We use the app ourselves and know how well it works.
16:8 Intermittent Fasting Challenge
Last month, two members of the Finding My Psych team completed a stretch of structured fasting. Using the 16:8 approach (sixteen hours of not eating, followed by eight hours of an eating window) we committed to seven full days and recorded the results.
Here is what we observed:
- Each of us lost about 1.5 kg. One week after the fasting period ended, the weight did not jump back on. In fact, it continued to drop slightly with no effort.
- We were both hungry during the last two hours of each fasting window. This did not improve throughout the week. However, hunger pangs during the eating window were non-existent once we had that initial meal to break the fast. As a result, it was easy to forget to eat in the middle of the feeding window.
- By day three, sleep massively improved, not the number of hours. Instead, both of us experienced improved sleep quality; it felt deep and rejuvenating.
- For one of us, mood improve throughout the week. The general sense of calm from fasting is very noticeable, even a few days after ending our 16:8 experiment.
This leads to us asking the question, “Is intermittent fasting an approach we would recommend to improve mood?”
The short answer is, “Maybe!”
Treating mood requires the oversight of a mental health professional. While simple adjustments to lifestyle can be helpful, it is important that you have someone to talk to about your approach. Also, using fasting alone to manage mood, is at very least short sighted; depression is complicated.
Weakness In Our Approach
The following weaknesses should be considered about our seven day experiment with intermittent fasting to evaluate the effects on mood.
- This was not a controlled study. In short, it is wide open to confounding variables.
- The challenge only occured over a seven day period. We suggest doing a series of 16:8 fasting periods over the course of a month would provide better data.
- There were no objective measures used to report changes in mood and sleep.