How Intermittent Fasting Affects Your Focus Levels
Anyone suffering from low focus levels understands the pain and anguish that goes alongside that inability to concentrate. Many have turned to intermittent fasting as a means to improve their focus and regain control of their day.
Intermittent fasting can positively affect your focus levels, though medical professionals and scientists aren’t entirely certain how this is possible. But when a person’s body begins to enter a state of ketosis and burn fat, they may experience heightened awareness and comprehension. The result is an increased sensation of focus.
This article will explore intermittent fasting to discover more about how it works, in addition to examining its potential advantages and disadvantages. We’ll also examine other factors that may influence focus levels, and discuss just how effective intermittent fasting is at helping you become focused.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting involves limiting how much food you eat. You could choose to fast daily, consuming all of your day’s calories over a six to eight hour period. Or, you could select a single day of the week and decide to only drink water and coffee on the day.
No matter how you decide to go about it, intermittent fasting simply means deciding to not eat for several hours, and repeating that behavior on a daily or weekly basis. While the concept of denying yourself breakfast, lunch, and dinner might seem strange, there are some reported benefits associated with intermittent fasting.
One of the most commonly reported benefits of fasting is weight loss, but it’s not the only potential gain. There may be some evidence to support the idea that intermittent fasting temporarily improves focus levels, allowing for better concentration and productivity. However, more evidence is needed to completely support the current testimony surrounding this idea.
That’s because dieticians, nutritionists, and medical professionals of all fields continue to struggle to define exactly what happens to our bodies when we fast. Though we understand many of the interactions, there are still some that elude our grasp.
Hopefully, time will shed more light on the inner workings of intermittent fasting and its multitudinous effects on the body.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
It can be easier to trust that something is valid if you can understand how it works. Unfortunately, there’s still no clear consensus on how intermittent fasting directly affects focus levels. Still, there are a couple of sleuth-like maneuvers you can use to discover the truth.
To gain a better understanding of how intermittent fasting affects the body, you might:
- Take a closer look at its known and confirmed effects, including improved weight loss.
- Examine what happens to the body after several hours of fasting, up to levels of starvation.
Combining both of these approaches ensures you get a comprehensive view of the biological and psychological effects of intermittent fasting. However, the average adult doesn’t have time to conduct hours of medical research.
That’s why we hit the books and did a little studying and snooping on your behalf.
While fasting’s ability to enhance focus isn’t entirely understood, there are a few notable effects that most individuals experience when fasting. These range from reduced inflammation and blood pressure to increased metabolism and HGH levels.
Some of the most considerable confirmed effects include:
- Decreased LDL cholesterol
- Decreased insulin resistance
- Improved ability to lose weight
- Extended longevity
Fasting may also help prevent certain types of cancer. Some fasts only last for a few hours, while others may last for up to three days. Several religions incorporate fasting into traditions or celebrations, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
There may be some evidence that our bodies are more naturally inclined to intermittent fasting than daily consumption. After all, our ancient ancestors survived and often flourished on far less food than the average American household consumes.
While they certainly weren’t starving (at least, not all of the time), they also weren’t shoving handfuls of potato chips into their mouths or snacking on chocolate-covered candy bars. Deciding to convert to a simplistic, hunter-gatherer-esque type of diet often pairs well with intermittent fasting.
However, it’s important to ensure that you’re consuming an adequate amount of calories, vitamins, and minerals each day. While fasting can prove beneficial, it can also be dangerous if taken too far.
Fasting and Starvation
There’s a significant difference between fasting and starving yourself. Despite the many benefits of fasting, it can become unhealthy or potentially life-threatening if you’re not consuming plenty of fresh, health-conscious foods between fasts. If you allow your body to begin to starve, you may become too weak to complete even the simplest tasks.
In these cases, hospitalization is crucial. Fortunately, there are several signs and symptoms of starvation that can familiarize yourself with. These include:
- Extreme muscle loss
- Apathy or disinterest
- Decreased immunity
Individuals who decide to fast for longer than 72 hours put themselves at risk of experiencing some of these symptoms of starvation. Over longer periods, a person could be left looking very skeletal and acting in a zombie-like fashion.
Consuming fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals are essential to continual human survival. Without these components, our bodies would be unable to replenish themselves and heal. While brief periods without eating can be helpful, long stints are almost always harmful.
By understanding the stages of starvation and the importance of continued eating, you can avoid many of the pitfalls associated with excessive fasting.
Programs like ProLon®, developed by Dr. Valter Longo, provide the benefits of fasting, without the prolonged feelings of hunger that is so often experienced with other long-term fasting programs. . The ProLon® Fasting Mimicking Diet provides the benefits of fasting while providing delicious food throughout your 5-day program. This food helps to reduce hunger and protect the loss of lean body mass.
For more information on the years of study Dr. Valter Longo dedicated to the development of this program you can read his book The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Affect Your Focus Levels?
When mice were subjected to intermittent fasting techniques over an extended period, they developed better cognitive ability. In general, those who have actively tried fasting have reported a latent sensation of heightened focus and increased productivity. But neither of these findings explain how fasting affects focus levels.
That’s because there isn’t a lot of scientific data concerning fasting and improved cognitive function. There are some studies, but the results are tragically limited. Most of the current evidence is anecdotal at best, making it difficult to ascertain the exact mechanisms behind fasting and improved cognition.
Still, there is something to be said about the connection between fasting and our primal beginnings. It’s possible that fasting affects our bodies the way it does as a means to help keep us alert, aware, and prepared for potential threats. In this way, fasting can induce a deeply biological “fight or flight” reflex that involves several different processes.
These processes can be summarized by their typical order of occurrence. For example, most people who successfully practice intermittent fasting experience:
- During glycogenolysis, the liver secretes glucose to help keep the brain active and alert. This released glucose also provides immediate and temporary bursts of energy.
- Lowered Heart Rate. During fasting, the body struggles to expend the least amount of energy possible. The result is a lowered heart rate and, consequently, lowered blood pressure.
- This is the process by which the body begins to burn stored fat for energy. It’s often lauded as the ideal stage for weight loss, especially when paired with moderate exercise.
By taking a closer look at these processes, you can begin to draw a few conclusions about how intermittent fasting affects mental acuity and clarity. Glycogenolysis, a naturally-occurring part of the stress reflex, helps sharpen our minds by utilizing the glucose in our livers.
Our bodies attempt to maintain homeostasis, counteracting some of the more hyperactive effects of the fight-or-flight response. This allows us to remain calm and fully utilize our improved mental clarity. Ketosis ensures that our bodies continue to function effectively, even when our stomachs are empty.
But to take full advantage of the benefits of fasting, you must also be fully aware of its potential drawbacks. Fasting isn’t appropriate for everyone, so always check with your doctor or healthcare provider before adopting even a light intermittent fasting routine.
Some health conditions may preclude you from finding success with intermittent fasting. The most notable of these conditions might be diabetes, though individuals with serious health problems should reconsider fasting, especially if they suffer from heart disease.
Also, perfectly healthy people can experience negative side effects after fasting. These unpleasant symptoms range from individual to individual, but they most commonly include:
- Gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and constipation
- Recurring headaches
- Exhaustion or fatigue
- Foul-smelling breath
- Difficulty falling asleep
Individuals are more likely to experience these symptoms if they imbibe alcohol, use tobacco products, or consume large quantities of junk food. Poor sleep can also contribute to a general feeling of malaise or unease.
Anyone hoping to manage their blood sugar should probably avoid fasting, or at least consider shorter, monitored bursts of fasting. As always, consulting with a medical professional can help ensure that you don’t suffer any dangerous side effects as a consequence of intermittent fasting.
Getting the Most Out of Fasting
Now that you’re familiar with intermittent fasting don’ts, it’s time to get to know some fasting do’s. For example, it’s a fantastic idea to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water while going through a fast. But drinks like beer, milk, or juice aren’t exactly fast-friendly.
Getting the most out of fasting means sticking to a few key rules. If you can obey these core principles, you can achieve your desired results without sacrificing your comfort or your health. Anyone determined to try fasting should:
- Always start with short fasting periods before attempting half-day or full-day fasts.
- Ease into a new fasting routine. Try restricting your caloric intake to half once a week and see how you feel.
- Avoid binging on junk foods or carbohydrate-heavy foods after a fast.
- Enjoy a wholesome and healthy diet when they’re not fasting.
- Avoid the temptation to over-exercise in an attempt to lose weight more quickly.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, every day.
- Become familiar with the signs of starvation to avoid exhaustion and possible hospitalization.
Though this particular set of rules doesn’t come with a handy acronym, it is a neat set of seven. And by following the above guidelines, you can make the most out of your fasting regimen. Still, it’s crucial to note that a little irritability is normal when fasting.
There’s not much you can do to ease this slight crankiness besides meditate, or spend some time enjoying a hobby. Fasting is an excellent opportunity to practice a little mindfulness and meditation, allowing you to focus internally and let go of weighty worries and concerns.
Additionally, practicing meditation while fasting may allow you to ruminate on potential factors that may be draining your energy and distracting your mind. Identifying and working against these influential elements is vital to increasing your concentration.
What Additional Factors Influence Focus Levels?
If you’re determined to improve your overall focus levels, it may be helpful to consider additional factors that could be influencing your ability to concentrate. Gauging these external aspects might be able to guide you in the right direction in terms of regulating your energy and focus.
Some of the most common influential factors to consider include:
- Stress Levels
- Wholesome Diet
- Drug Usage
- Activity Level
- Mental Health
It may be helpful for you to grab a pen and a piece of paper right now. If you do, draw five columns. For each column, enter one of the factors listed above. Now, think about how you would rate yourself for each category. You can jot a few notes or feelings into each column.
How did you fare? If you were able to recognize significant levels of stress, an unhealthy diet, frequent or illicit drug usage, low activity level, or signs of compromised mental health, you may need to address some major issues before enjoying increased focus.
To help you understand how each of these factors influences focus levels, let’s take a moment to take an in-depth look at each one.
Roughly 3 out of every 4 Americans are stressed out. This number increases slightly when you account for workplace stress. Overall, the result is a massive amount of people with pent-up feelings of frustration, anxiety, or depression.
Naturally, coworkers interact with one another and end up infecting one another with certain dispositions. You may go to work in a fantastic mood, only to encounter a coworker who feels like taking their bad day out on everyone around them.
Stress is infectious, and it’s not hard to imagine why many people experience it. And while certain types of stressors can give you an initial burst of energy, they can be exhausting. If you’re emotionally drained due to stress, you may not focus effectively.
If you recognize that you’ve been experiencing feelings of intense or extreme stress, it’s crucial to communicate your feelings with a trusted friend or loved one. You can also choose to contact one of the many helpful hotlines.
It can be easy to forget just how much diet influences our emotions, abilities, and overall well being. After eating nothing but junk food, it’s common to feel sluggish or bloated. But after wolfing down a salad, you’re likely to feel full of energy. In many ways, you are what you eat.
That’s because every piece of food we consume is broken down in our stomachs until it’s only the barest components. This churned-up matter is then passed down to the intestinal system, which absorbs all necessary nutrients from the mash as it travels down the digestive tract.
When the food we eat is lacking these vital vitamins and minerals, our bodies can begin to suffer the consequences. Micro-deficiencies and malnutrition are side effects of poor diets. When your body isn’t getting what it needs, cognitive functioning can suffer.
Consuming a diet that is low in processed foods and refined sugars could help you experience greater focus levels. Wholesome, nutritious diets have also been linked with greater weight loss, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation.
Drug usage can also inhibit a person’s ability to concentrate. Particularly addictive substances such as nicotine or alcohol can impair an individual’s ability to cope with stress healthily. This leads to substance abuse and dependence and the resulting stress of having and maintaining a chemical addiction.
This issue only worsens if the drugs in question happen to be illicit. In those circumstances, the stress levels and potential consequences are often much higher, resulting in far less focus and concentration on matters that are not drug-related.
Even seemingly innocuous drugs like caffeine can be abused and become addictive over time. It’s important to monitor the substances that you imbibe and ensure that you maintain moderation at all times. It’s also crucial to avoid illicit substances altogether.
Heavy drug usage can cause long-term damage to a person’s physical and mental state. Not only can drugs make it challenging for someone to focus on something, but it can also make it difficult for them to form coherent sentences or stand for more than a few seconds at a time.
Drug usage is dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible.
Your current and past activity levels may also influence your ability to focus. After all, if you’re accustomed to living a reasonably sedentary life, you may be less inclined to focus for long periods. Those who actively engage in exercise several times a week tend to exhibit greater levels of focus than those who do not.
Much of this has to do with endurance. Individuals who strengthen themselves consistently build endurance, allowing them to perform more challenging workouts as they progress. This translates well into other aspects of life as well.
Those who feel fit and healthy are more likely to endure tiresome conversations or tedious business projects. If you’re used to instant gratification or communication, focusing on slower-paced projects can feel nearly impossible.
However, starting and keeping to a workout routine can help you build mental and physical endurance. And when you’re exercising, you’re naturally decreasing your stress levels, allowing you to enjoy a sudden burst of focus and clarity.
When your mental health is suffering, everything can seem off-kilter and slightly wrong. It can be a challenge to get out of bed, let alone focus on anything besides crawling back beneath the covers.
Poor mental health can cause seemingly productive people to suddenly become hopelessly depressed, lethargic individuals with no apparent willpower or focus. Not only is it a heart-wrenching experience to go through, but it’s also something that affects family members, friends, coworkers, and other loved ones.
Proper self-care and consistent mental health check-ups can help you avoid suffering from long-lasting mental health conditions or crises. When you feel positive and centered, you can relax and allow your mind to naturally focus on practical, helpful ideas.
Can Intermittent Fasting Improve Focus?
Intermittent fasting may be able to improve focus. However, the effects are purely temporary. Experiencing a boost in concentration and energy during a fast is fairly common, but so are unpleasant side effects like headaches and nausea.
The bottom line is that fasting may be able to improve focus, but it only does so for a short period. Besides, the potential side effects of fasting may outweigh the purely focus-oriented benefits.
However, individuals looking to lose weight, lower their blood pressure, and experience reduced inflammation may find that intermittent fasting is worthwhile.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below you will find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions concerning intermittent fasting. If you don’t find your question or concern here, don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed medical professional for more information.
How Long Should I Do Intermittent Fasting?
The length of time you should spend practicing intermittent fasting depends on your preferences and current health status. Still, no matter how old you are or how fit you are, it’s crucial to begin a fasting routine with short, almost negligible fasts.
This method can be particularly helpful for those accustomed to eating many small meals throughout the day. By choosing to spend three or four hours away from food, you can begin to acclimate your body to longer periods of fasting. A fantastic starting goal to maintain is 12 hours.
However, you could also choose to restrict your caloric intake for the day rather than completely denying yourself anything to eat. Chowing down on a small snack can help you from feeling lightheaded or nauseous while fasting. Just be sure to pick wholesome foods that are low in calories and high in protein.
It’s also essential to note that fasting is not right for everyone. If you’re attempting a fast and you begin to feel sick or weak, you may be malnourished and require immediate assistance. Always listen to your body and your doctor when attempting a new fasting regimen.
What Can I Eat During Intermittent Fasting?
If you’re able to safely cut out all solid foods during your fast, then you should. A traditional fast excludes all solid foods and most processed beverages. Water is encouraged, and coffee is often accepted as a dietary aid that doesn’t add many calories.
However, you’ll need to drink your coffee black. That’s because sugar and cream aren’t allowed during a fast. If your tummy is rumbling, the fast is in full effect. And if you do begin to feel queasy or a little dizzy, you can always gently break your fast by nibbling on some blueberries, raw carrots, or a piece of whole-grain toast.
While eating these foods is breaking the fast, it’s also far better than feeling awful while you count down the hours until you can order a pizza and some beer.
Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?
Intermittent fasting can be exceptionally healthy when practiced correctly. It can encourage your body to enter a state of ketosis and burn long-lasting body fat. It can also provide you with a brief cognitive boost that helps you focus.
However, extreme fasting can be dangerous. Also, those with blood sugar disorders or diabetes may want to avoid fasting altogether. Consulting with your doctor can help you make the right choice for you and your body.
Should I Intermittently Fast Every Day?
Some individuals may enjoy intermittently fasting every day, but it may be too much for others. The best way to decide if you should intermittently fast every day is to slowly work your way up to daily fasting.
You could also choose to consume your daily caloric intake within a certain span of hours every day. Doing this can help you from raiding the kitchen late at night. Depending on your chosen span, you may also be able to achieve easy daily fasting this way.
Intermittent fasting comes in many unique forms but can be described as refusing to consume any food for twelve hours or more, in a timely pattern. Some may choose to practice intermittent fasting daily, while others may choose a single day of the week to fast.
Those who choose to fast intermittently may experience improved fat-burning ability, especially when they pair their fasting with proper diet and regular exercise. Intermittent fasting may also help some achieve greater mental clarity, aiding in concentration.
However, fasting does have some notable drawbacks and may not be right for everyone. Before adopting any new type of dietary habit, it’s important to speak with your physician or health care provider. Doing so can help you prevent any unwanted injury or illness.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
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