Stressed. This is the word I believe I can generally use to describe most of us, right? The adjectives calm, balanced, rested, healthy rarely come to the surface when I ask clients to describe how they are currently feeling. I think we can all agree we often find ourselves in this continual state of stress, exhaustion and as a result physical and mental inflammation.
Now, with the above in mind, when asked what I think of current diet, exercise or lifestyle trends I am, first of all, always about personalization. Your body is unique and that needs to be considered. Just because something worked for an intelligent looking author or Instagram influencer or even a test group in a controlled study does not necessarily mean it will work for you. Seriously, please pause and consider. Secondly, I use a basic tool to navigate and determine what is or potentially can be healthful long-term. I thought I’d share this tool with you today!
Your New Tool
The tool is a question. Simply ask, “What does this trend or fad do to the body and the mind? Does it create authentic calm (genuine stable consistent calm) or does it fan the flames of an already stressed (exhausted, foggy, depleted, inflamed, irritated, survival mode) body and mind?” With this foundational prerequisite, it doesn’t take much to determine if a trend or approach will be healthy for us long term.
Let’s try it out! The most common diets I’ve been asked about of late include intermittent fasting and the keto diet. I’ll save the keto diet for another share, but let’s briefly and lightly apply the tool to the idea of intermittent fasting together.
Quick run through of how our body works… we, like a car, need fuel, whether we are completing athletic feats or computer work. Everything we do requires fuel, otherwise known as food. When we stop eating, our body is forced to scrounge for nutrients elsewhere and if experienced often will push the body into a state of emergency. Now, this is the part where many diets jump in and try to manipulate how the body responds by playing with type, reduction or addition of food, often claiming it will cause the body to gobble up or burn excess body fat when depleted or manipulated with their certain approach. I will admit certain diets may benefit some individuals, for certain periods of time, but I often look past the favorable claims of extreme diets and testimonials of a few select body types to ask a couple of questions. First, will the claimed “results” last long-term? Second, what are the costs? In other words, what are they ignoring or not telling you? Ultimately, will this approach cultivate a long-term state of authentic calm in the body and mind or will it at any point add stress, fuel inflammation or create a state of depletion and exhaustion?
Tool in Action with Intermittent Fasting
Okay, so let’s look at intermittent fasting. It can be done in a few different ways, but generally means reducing food intake for ether a full day a few times a week or part of the day every day.
As reviewed above, our bodies need food for fuel. Your body is very primal and dramatic and will do everything within its power to stay alive, protecting vital organs above all else, so it monitors function with the utmost attention. If the body does not have proper, steady and timely nourishment, it sets off an alarm.
The first response to this alarm will switch your nervous system over to its state of emergency, otherwise known as your sympathetic nervous system. This is not a state you want your body to reside in on the daily. It will continually be pushing out emergency hormones and activating Hail Mary pathways to keep you alive, because it is meant to be reserved for truly extreme moments of life and death. You may know it as your “fight or flight” state. Yet, something as simple as activating the starvation mode in your body from a decrease or lack of fuel can initiate and even keep you in this alarm state. Secondly, this continual communication of lack will cause the body to prepare for winter, meaning it will start to hold on to everything (yes, this means body fat) that enters because it no longer trusts its supply source (aka you, the eater).
What’s wrong with continually activating the sympathetic nervous system, other than the mentioned above? Well, when in your alarm emergency state, you also do not fully digest, rest or detox. Your body is in survival mode. It doesn’t believe it has time to adequately digest your food and properly extract nutrients for your cellular and organ function. From your body’s perspective, you’re about to die, so it’s focusing on keeping your brain and heart alive, and not much else. Like I said, your body is dramatic.
Now, follow this trail with me. What happens when you are not fully resting, digesting or detoxing? I could speak on this for days, but let’s focus in on one organ, your liver. Your liver is vital for many operations but one of them is detoxification. It has multiple pathways dedicated to this task. If these pathways get backed up or congested (already very very common in our day and age) as a result of the body prioritizing other processes that promote survival, then many of its other functions, like hormone conjugation and deactivation, get put on pause. To continue down this path, we find that this can lead to a host of issues like active hormones being dumped into nearby tissue (for example, breast tissue in women) instead of being deactivated and shuttled out of the body. This can eventually lead to diseases like breast cancer. Obviously, I just took this to the very end quickly, but at the same time these extremes results are becoming more and more common younger and younger and we need to understand the consequences of remaining in the emergency state.
To sum up my quick use of the tool, we are left asking… based on the above does intermittent fasting cultivate a stressful state in the body or mind? I would have to say that it’s pretty clear (yes, even upon much deeper examination than we have time for today) that it promotes activation of our sympathetic nervous system. With this perspective, I find it highly unlikely that the trend of intermittent fasting will cultivate authentic calm and benefit your body and mind in the long-term.
I want to cultivate authentic calm in my body and mind and in your body and mind. If an approach to food or life or movement does not lead to this, then I am not a fan. It’s as simple as that!
I share because I know it can be tough to determine what is best for you! Let me be clear. YOU will always know what’s best for YOU. We’ve been intelligently created to know what we need to function, heal and live. Tune into your internal navigation by pursing and cultivating authentic calm with your food, lifestyle and movement. Your ability to hear your own functional needs will become louder and louder. Until then, feel free to use my tool! Just remember, there are always many sides to every story and always “research” to back up each side, so at the end of the day it all becomes noise if you don’t have a good system for seeing through the BS. Happy navigating my friends!