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How Intermittent Fasting Helps 'Declutter' Your Brain

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(Photo: Shutterstock)

Fasting has long been a controversial approach to weight loss, but what about fasting for your mind rather than your waistline?

New research from a Canadian study shows that intermittent fasting slows down your brain, which might sound counterproductive, but actually aids brain health by allowing it to rest and refresh (declutter). When you think about how hard the brain works in our over-stimulated environments today, making intentional lifestyle changes—like intermittent fasting— could be a dietary answer that allows our minds to take a much needed pause.

Intermitten fasting allows you to take that pause by restricting or cutting out food for a particular amount of time—whether several hours or a couple days a week— then you eat during the other speficied time. According to the study, restraining from food then gives your brain a breather by essentially slowing down the communication between neurons to sustain energy. This could even protect your brain from diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, while also giving you time to stop and reflect about what you’re putting into your body.

"I find that intermittent fasting makes many people more aware of the sensation of true physical hunger," says integrative physician Frank Lipman, M.D., author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again on Womens Health. "Dieters realize that what they've often perceived as hunger is really more habit or thirst."

While this approach to fasting has been documented for thousands of years, it’s still relevant today, and is linked to celebrities like Hugh Jackman and Benedict Cumberbatch. Even Jimmy Kimmel told Men’s Journal that he eats whatever he wants for five days, and then drastically cuts his calories the other two.

“People call it the 5:2 diet, but I've been doing it since before it had a name,” Kimmel said.

On Monday and Thursday, he eats fewer than 500 calories a day. Then the rest of the week he eats whatever he wants.

Another intermittent fasting method is called time-restricted feeding where you consume all of your day’s calories in 6-to-8 hours, leaving the other 16-18 hour windows to fast. Neurologist Mark Mattson does this, only eating in the afternoon after skipping breakfast and going on a mid-day run.

“Once you get used to it, it’s not a big deal,” Dr. Mattson told the New York Times, “I’m not hungry at all in the morning, and this is other people’s experience as well. It’s just a matter of getting adapted to it.”

When you know you can eat whatever you want the next day, Mattson said, then psychologically it’s easier to stick to a fast like this in the moment.

While there’s still research to be done, this is an interesting approach and one worth continuing to monitor and research when it comes to brain health. Perhaps this is a way to give our minds and bodies a much-needed rest without drastic food deprivation. As always though, never jump into any restricted diet plan without consulting your doctor.

Related:

5 Ways Stress Affects Your Body
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
What Time Should You Eat Each Meal for Optimal Weight Loss