Cynthia Thurlow is a Nurse Practitioner and an Intermittent Fasting and nutrition expert. She is also a two-time TEDx speaker and a recently published author of the book Intermittent Fasting Transformation. During our Instagram live, we spoke about the benefits of intermittent fasting, its effect on hormonal and blood sugar balance, and tips on how to start your intermittent fasting journey.
This eating plan is a very recent topic that not many people know about and just now are learning about. A lot of people wonder if they should or can do intermittent fasting, they think it’s not for them and that it depends on age, gender, what kind of physical activity you do, etc.
Cynthia says it's a strategy for most people but there are also some caveats.
- If you are someone who is pregnant or currently breastfeeding.
- If you have an eating disorder background. There are always exceptions to this and it is a minority but, if you have a history of an eating disorder unless you are working with a therapist that recommends you to do it, you shouldn’t be following this diet plan.
- If you are a child or a teenager and you are still growing you don't want to restrict the number of macros you are eating.
- If you are a woman, depending on where you are with your menstrual cycle there is a time to fast and a time not to fast (in her book she dives deeper into this topic).
For everyone else, you can safely fast but it’s very important that you get your sleep dialed in and that you are managing your stress properly.
Do you have to be ketogenic or low carb to do Intermittent Fasting?
If you are trying to lose weight or body composition or if you have a problem with carbohydrates, then you may need to reduce the number of carbohydrates you consume. That doesn't mean eliminating carbs entirely, but you can get them from eating not starchy vegetables or low glycine berries. Cynthia says that if you keep eating cakes, cookies pies, and ice cream and then wonder why you can’t lose weight it’s because it is very likely that the discretionary use of carbs is contributing to that issue.
What about people who are trying to build muscle or are trying to gain weight such as cross-fitters or athletes. How can they do Intermittent Fasting? Is it good for them?
Cynthia doesn't recommend doing intermittent fasting if you are an athlete at peak training. Your body needs so much more fuel to be able to get through these long workouts, but, it really depends on the individual. For the average person that trains two or three days a week that goes to the gym, does pilates, etc… you can do intermittent fasting and absolutely maintain and build muscle mass. She suggests it is very important that you consume enough animal-based protein.
It’s not always a popular opinion but, if you want to try to keep your carbohydrate levels at a minimum or moderate you can’t just eat tons of plant-based carbohydrates like lentils or beans. They are not bad, but when you are trying to maintain muscle protein synthesis, animal-based protein is key. It is also very important to get high-quality sleep. In many ways, sleep is one of those restorative processes the body needs.
So, in order to build muscle, you have to eat enough protein and put stress on growing muscle mass so you can lift heavy things and remember to get good quality sleep.
When you do intermittent fasting what are the different windows there are and what effects do they have on your body?
Intermittent fasting is as easy as eating less often. In the States, the average American eats anywhere from six to ten times a day which is a lot. Each time you are eating food, your body responds by making your blood sugar raise. Certain types of food have a large impact on your blood sugar. Fat has the most negligible effect than protein, then carbs. This is why carb restriction can sometimes be a beneficial strategy for most. In response to your blood sugar increasing, your body will release a hormone called insulin which will help move and shudder the sugar back into the cells and normalized in the serum. Cynthia likes to remind people that if you are eating less frequently, your body becomes more metabolically flexible to use carbohydrates as fuel stores. This is very important because we don’t want to be eating tons of avocados or nuts. We want to burn the fat in our body to then, use it as an energy fuel.
Most popular benefits of Intermittent Fasting:
- Brain clarity
- Changes in body composition and weight loss
- Autophagy: is the body's way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells
- Improves blood sugar levels
- Reduces the risk of neurodegenerative disorders
- Improves gut microbiota
How does Intermittent Fasting affect blood sugar in the long run?
There are many things that impact blood sugar, such as stress, low quality of sleep, and the foods we choose to eat, which is why Cynthia is protein-focused. She states that protein is the most satiating macronutrient. It's important to space out times between meals. The concept of snacks and mini-meals should go out the window. When you are not eating too frequently your body can stabilise blood sugar. All of these variables (low quality of sleep, stress and the foods we put in our mouths) play a role in impacting our blood sugar levels.
It also plays a role in our sex hormones. We are starting to see a lot of people become more insulin resistant. Their cells don’t respond to the desire to move the glucose into cells as opposed to leaving it floating around in the body. She says that as we are making this transition, it’s not at all uncommon to see sex hormones ( higher estrogen, lower testosterone) go down, one of the reasons for this happening is because of insulin resistance. So there are a lot of different factors that go into it.
To provide a comprehensive perspective, when we are eating frequently and we are eating the wrong types of foods (highly-processed, hyper-palatable foods) it can impact our cortisol and when our cortisol is high, it means we are not going to be able to tap into the fat storage.
Regarding the Ketogenic diet, we know all the positive effects it has on the body and especially with female hormones. We wanted to know if it was the same with intermittent fasting, what are the results regarding issues with PCOS, IBS, or gestational diabetes?
Cynthia works predominantly with women. She has seen a lot of women with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) who have had significant improvements in their insulin resistance, which means their testosterone levels decreased. Women can have significant insulin resistance related to PCOS. If you address this and focus on eating protein, eating less frequently, doing more exercise, and managing your stress, you really see an improvement.
As for the ketogenic diet. She feels that it’s very unique and that a lot of women do it wrong. It’s easy to overeat things like nuts and cheese, she thinks that a lot of women overdo the fat. When you are doing keto and you want to do it right you don’t need to add more fats to what you are eating. Aiming for a lower-carbohydrate diet is incredibly important.
Can someone do Intermittent fasting always? Or Is there a specific amount of time that you should be fasting?
Both. You can always be fasting but there are also caveats. So, men and postmenopausal women have it a bit easier, they don’t have as many hormonal imbalances. Women at their peak in fertility, under the age of 35, (whether or not you are choosing to have a baby), have a body that is very sensitive to nutrients, and the communication between the brain and the ovaries should intrinsically be very strong.
Cynthia would like to remind everyone that there are times to fast in your menstrual cycle and times not to. The same applies to perimenopausal women, this is when sleep quality, anti-inflammatory nutrition, stress management, and doing the right type of exercise become very important. Most of these groups can fast, obviously, women at peak with their fertility shouldn't be fasting every day because their body is primed for procreation. Whereas, women in menopause can absolutely integrate this into their lifestyle.
What are the biggest tips you would give to somebody that wants to start with Intermittent Fasting
Start with the basics:
- Stop snacking, rip off the bandaid, and get comfortable with the concept of going four to five hours between a meal also.
- Look different at your macros, you have to hit your protein macros, (30g to 40g of protein at a meal)
- Focus on eating non-starchy vegetables and then adding healthy fats
Once you can get from breakfast to the next meal without the need for a snack, you know you have a great combination. When using this strategy you will have much more success.
How and where can we find Cynthia Thurlow:
- Her website: CynthiaThurlow.com
- Podcast: Everyday Wellness
- Social media: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook group
- Book: Intermittent Fasting Transformation
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