The Myth: Intermittent fasting should be used to give our digestive systems a break.
The Bust: Our bodies do not require/prefer intermittent fasting to function normally or optimally.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a diet that restricts eating to a certain number of hours within a day. While people may use IF for various purposes, this post will focus on its use as a method of digestive ‘rest and reset’.
Our bodies are intuitive. They know when we require nourishment or sleep or movement. When our bodies are hungry, they have many means of making it known. Maybe we get a little “hangry” and take our frustrations out on our pals, or maybe we’re sitting in silence during a class and our stomach decides to gurgle loudly for all to hear.
As we digest our food & drinks, our bodies absorb all those wonderful nutrients and send them where they need to be. Part of digestion includes the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC). This is activated in a fasting state, so, in between meals or during sleep. The MMC cycle occurs every 1.5 to 2 hours and is paused by the ingestion of food. Those stomach ‘grumbles’ we experience are our MMC at work. The MMC is important because it prevents a build-up of undigested particles in the intestine that may have otherwise led to an overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines or different digestive issues like diarrhea or constipation.
While a couple hours in between eating may activate our MMC, it is completely okay to eat sooner than that if you want to or need to. Getting adequate sleep is the most effective way to activate our MMC.
Our bodies experience a natural fasting state during sleep. If we sleep for about 8 hours and factor in the time we stop eating before bed and before breakfast in the morning, we are in a fasted state for around 10-14 hours---- plenty of time for our digestive system to rest. Intermittent fasting can be used if medically indicated; however, it is not necessary to use it to give our digestive system a break. Our bodies know what they are doing if we respect their wants and needs.
Stress also influences our MMC. If you are having digestive issues, it may be stress related. Taking the time to find the root of that stress and working to minimize it may have a positive effect on your digestion and may improve your sleep!
Research does not show that intermittent fasting has a significant effect or positive effect on overall health and well-being. What research does say is that individuals who are getting enough nutrition (adequacy, frequency, balance, variety), enough sleep, and are taking active steps to decrease their stress levels have the best chance of improved health outcomes.