Being a James Beard award-winning registered dietician, culinary nutrition expert, cookbook author, and writer for multiple health food magazines, Carolyn Williams knows her stuff. Her 15-minute talk on Intermittent Fasting for Plantie’s Wellness Summit did not disappoint. Contrary to popular belief, Carolyn explained how intermittent fasting a very flexible diet is actually and not nearly as restrictive as many of us, quite wrongly, believe. This was excellent news for a foodies like us! She explains how, in order to reap the full benefits of this diet plan, you need to personalize it – use a system that works for you.
Intermittent fasting is nothing new. We’re sure that we all know at least a couple of people who have been on the 5:2 diet. Carolyn digs a bit deeper, explaining the alternative options for intermittent fasting such as the 16:8 diet. Of particular note was Carolyn’s reference to how the diet plan fits into her life. For those new to IF, it is always reassuring to hear a teacher practicing what she preaches!
One of the biggest problems with this industry is that information quickly becomes outdated. Research discredits past theories, and with more research, the advice changes. Carolyn is continuously looking for new research and debunking old theories, even when it discredits her own education and what she was taught in the past. This makes her advice much more credible. You know that it will not be biased but will be up to date and honest.
The questions during the Q&A session were fascinating. They were relevant, helpful, and did not repeat any areas of the talk. Carolyn confidently and consistently led her answers by drawing on personal research which she had recently done. Then, after explaining things scientifically, she would further illustrate the point with real-life examples of how she interprets it. Read on to discover the questions & answers delivered during the session, as well as some answers to questions submitted when time had run out.
Questions & Answers
Q: What are the most ideal hours to eat? Morning and lunch? Lunch and dinner? What specific hours are best?
A: What is most key is just getting that fasting break in, whether that may be twelve hours for someone or whether that’s sixteen hours, or whether that’s eighteen hours, whatever that is. Finding what timeframe that works best for you is really what’s key. For me, I have found that having my eating window from 11AM to 6PM or 11AM to 7PM works really well, just as my lifestyle and having kids allows me to still have family dinner with them. Interestingly, though, I was just doing some research yesterday on meal timing, and one of the things that research does back up is that you can kind of front load your day, so load more of your nutrients and your calories in the first part of the day, or at least not right before dinner as we tend to make dinner our heaviest meal.
That’s really not what we want to do. So ideally the thing to focus on is getting that fasting window in. What I mean by front loading is when I do break my fast, let’s say at 11AM, if I can really focus on getting the majority of my calories for the day in, maybe from 11AM to 3PM, so having a really large lunch and then maybe a snack and then my dinner or another snack or whatever I have, is fairly lighter compared to that first meal and snack that I have during the day. But again, focus on getting just that fasting break in.That’s what’s most key and what’s going to work for you.
Q: I’ve tried to do this myself, but I get really fatigued and foggy in my mind so I can’t fast for that long. Is there a way to ease into this to get past that ill feeling while trying desperately?
A: I’ll tell you some things that I have learned personally on my own having done it. First: 16:8 approach. I’m not sure what [method the person who asked the question] may be using, but I found that it’s the easiest one and start by just going twelve hours. You will still get benefits by going twelve hours. Now the longer you go, the greater the benefit, particularly when it comes to weight loss if that’s your goal, because really, it’s kind of around that ten, elevent, twelve hour mark where your body switches over into actually the fat burning mode. So really you can go to thirteen hours, to fourteen, to fifteen, to sixteen. That’s ideal, but going 12 is good. Start there, take some baby steps, then go to 13 hours, then go to 14.
Also, the other trick that I have learned personally for me, and I tell people about this and it made a difference, or seems to make a difference for them is: get your calories in the first half of your eating window, do that for your carbs. I typically try to make my dinners more heavy in vegetables and protein, but the nights where I do have carbs, or maybe I have that pasta, or maybe I have a bowl of ice cream with my kids or something, those are the next mornings where I struggle, and I think it totally goes back to messing with my glucose, which in turn makes my fasting window a little bit harder.
I know I ate ice cream last night with my kids and as a result this morning was a major struggle just because my blood sugar is fluctuating a little bit more than usual. So try to get your carbs in the first half of your fasting window and then avoid any of those added sugars, definitely, at your last meal or before bed.
Also, one other thing I would say is try the Bulletproof coffee. Try some of that. I know it sounds gross if you’ve never had it, but from the mornings where I can just tell, I may be struggling a little with hunger. A lot of times it’s not even true hunger, it’s more maybe just kind of lower blood sugar and almost more mindset, you know, you’re just watching the clock, so when you can eat, try putting a little bit of fat in your coffee. That satiety can get you through several hours, I promise.
You know there’s an actual recipe for bulletproof coffee, there’s a whole company, but what I do is I just put a cup of coffee in my blender, I add a little bit of butter, I don’t do the full amount. I do about half a teaspoon of butter. I do about a teaspoon of MCT oil. But just adding any kind of fat (and I do a splash of unsweetened almond milk) and putting it in the blender for a second and is what’s latte, so that can give you a lot of satiety and help you not feel sick.
Q: Is the idea of eating three full meals a day a myth or a dated concept?
A: So this is a great one too. And again, this ties right into the research that I was actually doing for a new article I’m working on yesterday. You know, when I went to school twenty years ago, for my undergrad degree we were trained to think: “okay, we need to eat three meals a day and snacks are a good thing regularly because we need to eat regularly to keep our metabolism going”. That was my mindset. That’s how I’ve been counseling people for years.
So what really got me interested in intermittent fasting was that I was asked to write an article about four years ago for Cooking Mind, and they said, “We want an article on how many meals you should eat a day; what’s better: two meals a day? Or six small snack meals, or meals and snacks?” And I thought “this will be a breeze”, but I kind of was thinking “this is kind of a boring article”. Well, they were kind of on to the intermittent research that was starting to come out at that time, and back then there wasn’t as nearly as much as we have now. But I thought “this is kind of a boring article”, but I did my due diligence, dug into the research.
And that’s when it kind of just hit me, I was like, “Oh my gosh, ‘this is not how I was trained’. What this research is suggesting is that it’s good to go long periods of time without eating for about twelve hours or so, and we don’t need to just keep feeding our body to keep metabolism up, to keep energy going”.
And that’s kind of what led me to my interest in intermittent fasting interest. Three meals a day, there is nothing wrong with that. I don’t think we need to eat three meals and a snack throughout the day as well, but three meals is fine. When I’m fasting, I usually end up with two meals and maybe a snack, just because it kind of aligns with my lifestyle. I have a large lunch, I usually have a snack late afternoon and then I’ll have a lighter dinner. Three meals is fine, though.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I also don’t want people to feel like there is something wrong if they don’t eat three meals. Two meals a day is fine, you know, so it’s kind of whatever works, but I think what we definitely know is that we don’t need this large, twelve hour eating window, fourteen hour eating window. People used to kind of get jaded for skipping breakfast or something. You don’t have to have three meals a day to be healthy. So the key is you just want to get those calories and key nutrients in when you do eat.
Q: Are there any risks of doing intermittent fasting?
A: Yes. There are not as many [risks] as what you would think. But, I will say if you have a chronic condition, particularly if you have diabetes, and you are taking any kind of medication that regulates your blood glucose or your insulin levels, or you’re taking any kind of medication, maybe you don’t have diabetes, but that impacts your blood glucose or insulin regulation, you want to check with your doctor first. You never want to do it if you’re pregnant. If you’re breastfeeding. If you’re not in good health, then intermittent fasting may not be where you want to go right now.
I wouldn’t recommend it for children. We just don’t have enough research on it right now [for children]. And I think the real risk for Children is not necessarily going without eating for too long, but probably that their eating window is not getting all the nutrients and calories that they need for growth, so you never want to hinder that. But for the most part, what’s surprising is that people think it’s really kind of risky to do intermittent fasting but for most people, there are benefits to it, you just need to be a little bit careful if you have underlying conditions and consult with your healthcare provider.
Q: Is the one meal per day method (OMAD) any less or more healthy than the 16:8 method?
A: You know, again, this goes back to kind of whatever works your lifestyle as well as approach. I know Dr. Jason Fung, who I mentioned in my presentation; He has got lots of different approaches, depending on if your weight loss has stalled, or maybe you’re not trying to lose weight. There are other benefits, too. One meal a day is an approach that he uses. You know, honestly, I could probably be fine with one meal a day. I just like food and I like how the 16:8 works for my lifestyle.
I never feel deprived because I have this huge eight hour window to eat and I’m able to eat lunch and you know… So I get to have two meals a day, three meals if I want. So I get this great lunch, I get to eat dinner with my kids, I don’t feel deprived because I get that eating window. As long as you’re making healthy choices, whether that’s one meal or you know, several meals or two meals or whatever that is in your eating window, and you’re getting adequate calories and adequate nutrients, I don’t think it necessarily makes a huge difference.
Q: How can we adapt our bodies to exercise when fasting? Every time I try to work out early in the morning before eating breakfast I always get dizzy and nauseous.
A: Okay, this is a great question because this is [an inquiry] that held me off from trying intermittent fasting for a while because I am definitely, I mentioned I’m a morning person, and I am definitely an exercise morning person. If I wait till the afternoon, [working out] is just not going to happen. And because I have little kids that means my exercise usually has to happen at like 5AM or 6AM, and I just thought there’s no way I’m gonna be able to do my workouts at 5AM or 6AM and so I just thought “there’s no reason to try intermittent fasting because I cannot give up my workouts in the early morning because there’s no other time to do it or I won’t do them”, and that really had been an excuse for a while, and then I really tried it.
What I found is that if I have eaten a healthy dinner the night before, I have avoided a lot of carbs, I focus my carbs mainly, I have gotten vegetables as my main form of carbs, you know, high fiber vegetables, and I’ve avoided any added sugars, then usually I’m fine the next morning to work out; I don’t have that nauseous feeling. Now, [an instance] when I might [feel nauseous] is like when I said “like last night I ate ice cream”… That’s when I wake up with a kind of pit in my stomach, which usually means your blood sugar might be slightly low or maybe feel kind of nauseous.
That’s when I feel light headed or kind of nauseous when I’m working out, but if you eat a healthy dinner the night before and you’re getting adequate calories the day before and you’re hydrated, you should be fine. Also, electrolyte water can make a huge difference, like the smart waters, I know there is an actual brand called smartwater, and that’s one of them, but there are other ones, too. You could even drink Gatorade Zero or Vitamin Water Zero that has a little taste to it but is full of electrolytes.
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