Intermittent Fasting – Is it Right for Me?

Have you ever tried intermittent fasting or thought it might be a good idea for you? You are not alone!

You may have heard of someone who has tried it, or you have in the past. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t. The important thing to know is whether it is right for YOU.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

First, a quick refresher. Although there are many forms, the most common type of Intermittent fasting is based on eating only within a certain window of time each day, e.g. 8 hours each day, e.g. 10am-6pm, but not outside that window (vs. fasting every day, or every other day).

The science behind this is that your liver stores energy from meals for 12-16 hours, like a tank. It is usually empty at breakfast, then refills gradually each meal and is hopefully full before bed.

For intermittent fasting, the goal is to empty your ‘tank’ (glycogen stores), based on research that this stimulates growth hormone and burns fat. If you only eat for 8 hours and fast for 16, you would ideally accomplish this goal. You would also assume you are eating less calories overall.

Brunch is later in the morning after natural fasting overnight, when you get to eat breakfast and lunch at the same time! This is a common example of the liver tank being empty, since the first meal will re-fill it but then you need more for the day.

What about your health?

The main takeaway is that while it has been shown to have many benefits, it is not right for everyone. When done correctly it can be healthy, since it based on the science behind liver storage. It can also be a natural way to limit calories at night, which can affect metabolism. However, be careful of restricting calories and ‘dieting’, which can have negative effects on your health.

For the positives, it can be particularly helpful in regulating eating patterns, especially at night. One study in mice from 2012 found that when compared to a group that ate at any time and at night, those with normal feeding times had reduced risk of obesity, insulin disruptions, and inflammation. In humans it can also be a good non-pharmacological option for improved health. It can also lower blood pressure and risk for diabetes by increasing fat burning, and can have short-term benefits on glucose metabolism and lipid profile, although results are mixed and more human studies are needed (see article for review).

For the negatives, if you are a frequent dieter and trying to restrict calories, studies show this can cause weight gain and increased risks to health (especially in teens and girls). While weight gain leads to many health risks, simply restricting calories, which is essentially another way of ‘dieting’, can impair muscle quality (see Cava et. al, 2017 and Collins et. al, 2018 for review) and weaken the immune system.

The foods you eat are not all equal in calories, so even with the Weight Watchers method of staying within certain points, you could miss many nutrients you may need to actually burn fat and build muscle. Your metabolism could also get stuck in ‘starvation’ mode, disrupting insulin and other hormones and the gut microbiome.

(Avoid completely if you are under 18, pregnant, or have an eating disorder or blood sugar condition.)

Decide What is Right for You

Timing meals is an important factor in preventing fat storage. Many of us already do not eat three regular, balanced meals, so our bodies could be lacking in nutrients (although meals may not be lacking in calories!). So it is important to eat healthy foods at regular intervals as a first step, and always reach out to a nutritionist or professional before making changes to your diet.


If you are trying to decide if this is a good option for you, keep in mind there are healthier ways of intermittent fasting, and ways that look more like a diet. Remember your health and weight are more dependent on nutrients than calories, so ask yourself these 3 questions first:

  1. Do I eat 3 balanced meals per day?
  2. Do I eat my meals at regular times each day (e.g. no more than 4-5 hours between meals)?
  3. Do I eat meals after 9pm?

If you answered YES to all these questions, and you still want to try intermittent fasting, that may make sense for you depending on your current eating habits.

If you answered NO to any of these questions, it may not be the best solution for you. 


Want to learn more about what is and is not good for your health? Join the WellLife Fall Sustainable Solution starting September 20th! Spots are limited and going fast, sign up today! Early bird specials available.

Katy Harris, MSPH, CSCS is a master of Public Health, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, ultimate Frisbee athlete, and owner of the WellLife Health and Fitness Studio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

References:






Core & Cardio Workouts to Boost the Immune system

Since the pandemic began, many of us are now reframing how we approach our health. You might still be suffering the mental and physical effects, or have a new understanding of the importance of a strong immune system. But what does that mean, and what can we do to help our immune system function better?

To help boost the immune system, moderate workouts are best. Too much or too little exercise can have negative effects, making us more susceptible to harmful organisms, chemicals, and preventable disease.

What is the Immune System?

The ‘immune system’ refers to the network of organs, hormones, and cells that help react to the environment and produces chemicals to circulate around the body. We are born with an innate immune system in the lining of the cornea, respiratory tract, and gut with special cells called ‘phagocytes’ that surrounds and kills foreign material.

We then have the ability to develop the ‘adaptive’ immune system, cells made in the body in response to the environment, known collectively as white blood cells due to their light pink color under a microscope and smaller size (about 1% of blood cells) when compared to red blood cells (99%). One type of white blood cell referred to as ‘leukocytes’, originate and mature in the bone marrow (eosinophils, neutrophils, and basophils), whereas the ‘lymphocytes’ also originate in the bone marrow but mature in the spleen, lymph nodes, and thymus (B and T lymphocytes).

Immune cells are like the body’s army, building up their forces in response to invaders, then mobilizing and attacking by producing antibodies to kill them. The white blood cells, including T cells have memory, keeping an exact record of particles they encounter.

What is Inflammation?

‘Inflammation’ refers to the body’s natural response of sending this army of cells to fight off invaders such as bacteria or viruses, or repair an injury. ‘Acute’ inflammation occurs in response to an injury and can cause pain, redness, swelling, and bruising.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body continues to send immune cells even though there is no continued danger. Effectively it ‘learns’ this response if it continues over time. The effect can be localized as with rheumatoid arthritis, or can affect organs and tissues throughout the body, as in type 2 diabetes and prolonged stress.

Exercise and the Immune System

The research shows exercise can have both harmful and beneficial effects, and that moderation is where health benefits occur. For example, in studies done with runners, exercise shows a ‘J’ curve with respiratory tract infections, with too little exercise and too much exercise having a negative effect, but moderate* giving you a boost (see this article for review).

One foundational study done in 1983 with South African runners in a 56-km ultramarathon showed a 33.3% increase vs 15.3% in the incidence of respiratory infection in the 2-week period following the race. Subsequent studies have shown a similar result, due to increased levels of stress hormones, epinephrine*, and cortisol. However, exercise must be longer than 40 minutes and moderate-high intensity to see raises in cortisol levels in salivary glands.

In contrast, other studies have shown that activity as simple as brisk walking reduced the number of sick days by half over a 12- to 15-week period compared with inactivity, without change in resting immune function (see article* for review). The authors further concluded that there was in effect a ‘summation’ of the acute positive changes from individual exercise bouts that resulted in improved immunity.

Another study from 2008 with 12 moderately trained subjects showed a significant difference of 5% vs. 83% in cortisol levels when comparing the 40% exercise and 80% intensity groups. Further examination controlling for plasma volume and other factors actually showed a decrease in cortisol levels at the lower intensities.

Repeated, Moderate intensity exercise is anti-inflammatory

The beneficial effects of moderate exercise are now well-known, and the protective effect of exercise on the immune system has since been confirmed by subsequent studies (for review). While acute exercise can cause temporary cellular disturbances and raises in cortisol, the body will adapt after repeated bouts, enhancing its ability to respond to pathogens and cortisol in the future. For example, repeated moderate intensity exercise (e.g. 40-60%) improves the immune system response, the efficiency of the oxidative process (i.e. cells burning calories for energy), and increases the efficiency of energy generation*. This in turn allows the body to defend itself against pathogens as well as prevent other chronic diseases related to inflammation such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, as well as cancer and dementia.

An easy way to think of it is that exercise creates a laboratory for cortisol, so your body can be exposed to a little bit at a time, then have a chance to react. There are many examples of this, including lifting weights to build muscle, practicing music or athletic skills, and studying to improve mental function.

Similarly, the body reacts to cortisol slowly over time, enhancing immunity and responding more quickly when confronted with other foreign invaders, from stress, overexertion, or the environment.

Check out a few moderate intensity workouts to boost your Immune system.

WORKOUT #1

Core:
Plank on Elbows x 60’’ (seconds)
Modified Side Plank x 30’’ each side
Single Leg Bridge, Hold Knee x 10-20 each side
Body Weight Squat x 10-20
Plank to Push-up x 5 each side
• X 1-2 sets
Cardio:
• Walk or jog @ 40% of effort
• Continue for 10-15 minutes

WORKOUT #2

Core:
Body Weight Squat x 10-20
Plank on Hands x 60’’
Single Leg Bridge x 10 each side
Side Plank x 30’’ each side
Leg Raises x 10-20 each side
• X 2-3 sets
Cardio:
• Walk or jog @ 50% of effort
• Continue for 10-15 minutes

WORKOUT #3

Core:
Overhead Squats x 10-20
Push-up x 10-20
Bridge March x 10 each side
Side Plank, Arm Extended x 30’’ each side
Full Sit-ups x 20
• X 2-3 sets
Cardio:
• Walk or jog @ 60% of effort x 2 minutes
• Walk or jog @ 40% of effort x 1 minute
• Continue for 10-15 minutes

WORKOUT #4

Core:
Squat jumps x 10-20 reps
Push-up position Jumping Jacks x 30’’ (or 30 reps)
Full sit-ups x 20
Double Leg Lifts x 10 each side
Side plank, Leg Lifted x 30’’ each side
• X 3-4 sets
Cardio:
• Walk or jog @ 60% of effort
• Continue for 10-15 minutes

WORKOUT #5

Core:
Squat Thrust x 10-20
Overhead Squats x 10-20
Push-up, Arm Opener x 10 each side
V-ups x 10-20
Seated Twists x 20-30 each side
• X 4-5 sets

Cardio:
• Walk or jog @ 60% of effort x 3 minutes
• Walk or jog @ 40% of effort x 2 minutes
• Continue for 15-20 minutes

Katy Harris, MSPH, CSCS
Katy Harris, MSPH, CSCS is a master of Public Health, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, health and fitness studio owner, and ultimate Frisbee athlete who runs WellLife Consulting, LLC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

References:
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Elmer, Jamie. “Understanding Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, & Takeway.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 19 Dec. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/inflammation.
• “Evidence That the Effect of Physical Exercise on NK Cell Activity Is Mediated by Epinephrine.” American Physiological Society, The American Physiological Society, 1 June 1991, https://journals.physiology.org/doi/epdf/10.1152/jappl.1991.70.6.2530.
Hill, E. E., et al. “Exercise and Circulating Cortisol Levels: The Intensity Threshold Effect – Journal of Endocrinological Investigation.” SpringerLink, Springer International Publishing, 22 Mar. 2014, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03345606
“How Your Gut Affects Your Immune System: A Symbiotic Relationship.” GilbertLab, GilbertLab, 8 June 2021.
“Immune System Explained.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health, State Government of Victoria, Australia, 17 Dec. 2017, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/immune-system.
“The Immune System.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/the-immune-system#:~:text=What%20is%20the%20immune%20system,and%20proteins%20that%20work%20together.
Jacks, Dean E, et al. “Effect of Exercise at Three Exercise Intensities on Salivary Cortisol.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2022, 16(2), 286-289, National Strength & Conditioning Association, https://www.gfe-ev.de/onnews/2011/d2011_04_t0
Kappel, M., et al. “Evidence That The Effect of Physical Exercise on NK Cell Activity Is Mediated by Epinephrine.” Journal of Applied Physiology, 1 June 1991, https://journals.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/jappl.1991.70.6.2530.
Knight, Joseph A. “Physical Inactivity: Associated Diseases and Disorders.” Annals of Clinical & Laboratory Science, The Association of Clinical Scientists, Inc., 2012, http://www.annclinlabsci.org/content/42/3/320.full.pdf+html.
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