Fasting for Brain Health: 6 Tips to Get Started

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One of the most popular buzzwords in healthy living today is fasting. There’s a lot of science behind the benefits of fasting. Most people relate fasting to weight loss, but fasting is a powerful therapy for the brain as well. Intermittent fasting is amazing for maintaining brain health. In addition to slowing the aging process, metabolic switching increases neuroplasticity in the brain. This helps optimize brain function and increase the brain’s resistance to injury and disease. Intermittent fasting also triggers a process called autophagy, which works to ward off Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.

Could Fasting be considered “Food for the brain?”

Fasting can also clear brain fog and sharpen the mind. Many people who fast report clearer thinking and improved moods, which can benefit your brain-gut connection and increase your overall happiness.

Building vs. Cleansing

When we eat, the body is in a building phase. In the building phase, it builds tissues and cells. When we are not eating, the body is in a cleansing stage where it cleans tissues and cells removing toxins. Both are necessary for proper functioning. The problem is with the standard American diet that’s heavy in carbs which trigger constant hunger and snacking. Our bodies don’t get to experience the necessary cleaning phase.

Autophagy is the magical process that happens during this cleaning phase. Also called the “self-eating” phase, autophagy discards old, dead cells and encourages the growth of new brain cells. It improves cognitive function and neuroplasticity. Scientists believe autophagy protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis.

Fasting Reduces Inflammation

Fasting also reduces inflammation. Researchers were able to find that a compound produced by the body (B-hydroxybutyrate) when fasting inhibits an inflammatory response (NLRP3.) Long-term chronic inflammation is increasingly common because our pollutant-rich, chemically-doused environment tricks the immune system into always sensing a bodily invader.  Mounting evidence links chronic inflammation to Alzheimer’s, cancer, gout, arthritis, asthma, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, depression, and diabetes. Fasting may act as a reset for the body, calling off the emergency inflammatory response.

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Find a way to fast that works for you.

There are three main types of fasts: calorie restriction, nutrient restriction, and seasonal eating. Fasting “windows” are periods where a person doesn’t eat for an extended period of time. To use this type of fast effectively make sure to consume adequate calories in times when you are consuming food. Intermittent fasting is most popular, where long-term use of short-term fasts are done daily. For example, you may have heard of the 16/8 fast which means fasting (usually overnight) for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour “window” during the day. Everyone’s body reacts differently to fasting so it takes time to not only get used to fasting but to understand how it’s affecting your body.

I recommend being patient and letting the body slowly adjust rather than pushing it into a specific window of fasting. Eating almost constantly has become the norm for many people, so there will be an adjustment period both physically and psychologically.

Here are some tips to get started:

Eat a high fat, low carb diet.

Anyone who’s eaten a diet full of carbohydrates knows you’re triggered to eat nearly every 2 hours. Switching to a diet higher in fat will keep you satiated longer. It will also stabilize your blood sugar and give your brain a steady clean energy to avoid crashes

Drink plenty of water.

Staying hydrated will help you avoid dehydration, maintain your energy levels and lessen side effects like headaches, cramps, and irritability.

Ease into it.

Take a look at your current eating window. If you’re eating for 12 hours, shorten the window by 2 hours. Be strict but stay at the window for a week or so as your body adjusts. Then continue to shorten the window. You’ll know what works right for you if you are feeling well physically and your brain is sharp and able to focus for extended periods of time.

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Prepare for the adjustment period.

When you begin fasting you may feel tired, irritable, or “out of it.” This is part of the adaptation phase and will pass once your body is adjusted

Don’t be too rigid.

Ultimately, fasting will just become part of your life. I fast daily, and no longer have to think about it. Over the first few months, don’t become too rigid. Listen to your body. It may want you to eat more earlier and less later or vice versa. Fasting has huge benefits, but you don’t need to follow a trend or any certain study. Let your body guide you.

Be present with the emotions fasting brings up.

Eating and the urge to eat are often tied to emotions and that pattern usually hasn’t been broken since childhood. When actively not eating you will feel a lot of emotions that you’ve been distracted from or avoiding. Be present and feel the emotions. Notice them and let them pass.

Fasting may provide psychological and physical benefits when done in a healthy way. If you plan to make fasting a part of your routine, talk with a healthcare provider about any risks.

Dr. Nicole LePera

Dr. Nicole LePera was trained in clinical psychology at Cornell University and The New School for Social Research and also studied at the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis. Dr. Nicole created the SelfHealers Circle to allow people to go on their on journey and create who they want to become. Dr. Nicole lives in Los Angeles, California and loves anywhere that involves the stillness (and quiet) of nature.

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