Intermittent Fast Your Way Through the Holidays


By: Maggie Ney, ND

Intermittent fasting can be an effective tool to avoid weight gain and maintain metabolic balance during the holiday season. What I hear a lot this time of year is either, “I have no interest in indulging in holiday treats” OR “I will place no restrictions on what I eat this month but will detox in January”. Intermittent fasting (IF) presents a middle ground where you can have the freedom to indulge but an eating structure to maintain your weight during the holiday season.  

There has been so much excitement recently about intermittent fasting (IF). Research studies suggest that intermittent fasting helps optimize insulin levels, promote weight loss, facilitate cellular repair and even control gene expression to promote longevity and disease protection. Many people who practice IF report feeling more energetic and wake with a feeling of alertness and excitement to start the day.

What are the benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

Studies have shown that intermittent fasting:

  • Reduces insulin levels which helps facilitate fat burning and balances blood sugar levels.
  • Reduce insulin resistance and lowers blood sugar levels.
  • Raises Adiponectin – a key hormone that tells our body to burn fat.
  • Induces cellular repair which allows cells to more efficiently remove waste from cells.
  • Increases growth hormone hormone levels which further facilitates fat burning and muscle gain.
  • Reduce oxidative stress which is a major contributor to the aging process.
  • Reduce inflammation. Inflammation is now recognized as the cause of chronic diseases such as heart disease and dementia.
  • Controls gene expression for increasing longevity by turning on some genes while turning off the expression of other genes. For example, Intermittent Fasting turns on SIRT1 gene and turns off mTOR gene. These longevity genes regulate cell growth, proliferation, motility, survival, and protein synthesis.
  • Triggers autophagy – the process by which cells cleanse, detoxify and remove waste   material from cells.
  • Prevents cancer in animal studies. One paper shows that IF can reduce side effects caused by chemotherapy.
  • Increases new neuron formation in the brain which supports brain health. This new neuron formation coupled with Intermittent fasting’s anti-inflammatory effects provides even more potential defense against dementia.

How is intermittent fasting scheduled during the day and week?

There is not a one size fits all protocol for intermittent fasting. Each person responds differently to how many hours they fast and how often they practice IF during the week. It does take some experimenting in the beginning to see if intermittent fasting is right for you and which protocol allows your body to thrive.

The most common schedules are:

  • The 12-16 hour Fast  This schedule involves restricting your eating period to a 12-16-hour period. For example, your fasting period may be from 8PM to somewhere between 8AM-12PM. If you are new to IF, a 12-hour fast is a great place to start. This is an excellent one to try during the holiday season and the schedule I recommend for women. This schedule can help you feel light, focused, and energized throughout the holiday season.
  • The 5:2 Protocol – involves only eating 500-600 calories on 2 nonconsecutive days of the week, for example every Monday and Wednesday.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat – fasting for 24-hours once or twice a week. For example, not eating from dinner one day until dinner the following day.

The benefits of intermittent fasting are increased when you consume mostly nutrient dense, whole foods, during your time of eating. But if you do add in some christmas cookies, fried latkes or champagne, practicing intermittent fasting can help prevent weight gain and keep you feeling sharp, energetic and balanced.

Maggie Ney, ND is director of the Women’s Clinic at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine and specializes in healthy aging and hormones for women.