There’s no question intermittent fasting works to help you lose weight, but is it safe for diabetes?
The low fat diet craze of the 90s left us fat, sick, and tired, with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. All of those refined carbs we crammed into our diets to try to satiate our hunger brought on the inflammation and hormone imbalance that leads to the whole vicious cycle behind overweight and chronic disease. Almost 10 percent of the US population has now been diagnosed with diabetes, with 95 percent of cases being Type 2.
Of those with Type 2 diabetes, 90 percent are overweight or obese, and as the numbers on the scale go down, blood sugar normalizes. Even a 5 percent body weight loss is enough to have a significant impact on your blood sugar control, but what’s the best way to get there? We’ve all heard about intermittent fasting as a way to reset metabolism and jumpstart weight loss, but is it safe and effective for blood sugar issues? I say a resounding yes – when it’s done properly.
What’s Really Going On with Type 2 Diabetes
If you ask anyone what diabetes is, they’re certain to tell you it’s a blood sugar sickness – but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes before your blood sugar ever goes out of whack. It starts with inflammation, and turns into hormone imbalance, weight gain, and eventually diabetes.
Your body fat isn’t just hanging out with nothing to do but make you feel bad about how you look. It’s actually a metabolically active tissue, interacting with your hormones, your brain, your detoxification organs, and your digestive system. Inflammation in your body begins in your fat cells, and as you increase in body fat, your levels of inflammation also increase. This eventually leads to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and even cancer.
The association between inflammation, diabetes, and obesity has been well studied for over a century, yet is rarely discussed. Here’s how it works:
- You eat an inflammatory diet, high in refined carbs and sugars, and highly processed vegetable oils. Sugar floods your body.
- Your insulin levels rise rapidly in response to the blood sugar spike.
- Even though this insulin causes your blood sugar to drop quickly, your insulin levels stay high.
- Eventually your cells no longer respond to these high levels of insulin and blood sugar goes out of control. This is insulin resistance.
- High levels of circulating sugar are quite toxic to organs like your brain, heart, and liver, so as a protective mechanism, the sugar is shuttled off to be stored as fat.
- Your fat cells swell to dilute the toxins within, and they also increase in number to accommodate all the incoming toxins. The result is a toxic weight gain.
- Because your fat mass has increased, your inflammation levels also increase, because these metabolically active fat cells are giving off small proteins called cytokines that are inflammatory by nature.
- Now that your fat mass has increased, your brain has started to secrete more leptin. Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain you’re no longer hungry, and revs up metabolism. But, just like insulin, when leptin levels are high long enough, you develop leptin resistance, which means your brain no longer hears the signal that you’re full and your metabolism becomes sluggish.
The end result: inflammation, weight gain, insulin resistance, blood sugar imbalance, leptin resistance, sluggish metabolism, and Type 2 diabetes. Can intermittent fasting safely break this vicious cycle? If done properly, the answer is an emphatic yes.
Making Intermittent Fasting Work for You
Intermittent fasting, in general, is good for your body; it rejuvenates your digestive system and gives it a much needed rest, increases your cellular repair, decreases inflammation, and can reverse both insulin and leptin resistance, which brings blood sugar back under control and revs up metabolism. All of these health-promoting effects address the underlying causes of Type 2 diabetes.
When your blood sugar levels aren’t stable, as is the case with diabetes, you need to gradually introduce intermittent fasting. Work gently with your body, monitor your blood sugars more frequently – especially during the fasting period, and be sure to work with your health care provider – which is crucial if you are on medications or insulin.
Before you start, here are the basics you need to have in place:
- Stay on your low glycemic diet that encourages burning fat for fuel, rather than carbohydrates. All of my diabetic clients follow either my Radical Metabolism plan or my Fat Flush plan. If this is a new concept to you, then transition your diet and get into a new, healthy routine before you start intermittent fasting.
- Stay hydrated with clean, filtered water. This is not only important for your overall health, but for the accuracy of your blood sugar measurements. The blood sample from a dehydrated person is more concentrated, so blood sugars can look falsely elevated.
- Keep exercise light but consistent when starting out with IF. Fasting is a change for your body, and a body with a chronic disease is already stressed. Vigorous exercise during any type of fast is stressful for your body, specifically your adrenals, and can set you back in your healing and weight loss.
- Listen to your body, and follow your health care provider’s advice. Start keeping close track of your blood sugars at regular times during the day for at least 2 weeks before starting intermittent fasting. You’ll get to know the rhythms of your body and when your sugars naturally increase and decrease, and this will help you troubleshoot any issues with IF. The most common concern that comes up is hypoglycemia, not only because you are going without food longer than you are used to, but also because your blood sugar is coming under better control and your need for medications may be decreasing. This is why it’s important to keep a log of symptoms and blood sugar and stay in close contact with your primary care provider.
- Consider supplements like chromium, L-carnitine and Oregon grape root to encourage more stable blood sugar, support healthy metabolism, and help give your energy a boost.
Here’s how I recommend getting started with IF when you have Type 2 diabetes:
- Start with 2 non-consecutive days of the week, and aim for an overnight fast of 12 to 14 hours.
- Target as much of your eating to the morning hours as possible. People who eat earlier in the morning with IF experience more weight loss than people who eat later in the day. For instance, choose your eating window to start around 7 am and end between 5 and 7 pm.
- Do NOT calorie restrict when you are starting out. There is a highly publicized study where 3 diabetic men calorie restricted for 2 days in a row and experienced significant blood sugar improvements, BUT… this is only one study, and it only involved 3 people, all of whom were male. This is called the 5-2 plan and I do not recommend it.
- Once your body is more accustomed to intermittent fasting and blood sugars are more controlled, add another day in the week, or increase to alternate day IF, where every-other-day your eating is in that restricted window.
- Fasting insulin and leptin levels can be measured by a simple blood test, and should be done no closer together than 6 weeks, if this is something you would like to measure. Chances are your blood sugar readings, your scale – and your clothes – will tell you all you need to know about how well IF is working for you.
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