Intermittent Fasting and Focus


Intermittent Fasting: The Briefest of Overviews
A friend got me interested in trying out intermittent fasting. She’s one of those ‘immersion journalism’ types who prefers to immerse herself in whatever she’s researching. She wasn’t satisfied just reading about fasting — she wanted to try it herself. And since I’m also an ‘immersion journalism’ type, I decided to play along.

If you’ve never heard of intermittent fasting, it involves periods of fasting alternating with windows during which one eats. It’s not so much a diet as a manipulation of meal frequency. For me, intermittent fasting looks like this: I go to bed, wake up in a fasted state, and skip breakfast. I try to delay eating until 10 or 11am.

Skipping Breakfast
I know, I know: how can you possibly justify skipping breakfast, the most important meal of the day?

Recent studies have questioned the idea that skipping breakfast will wreak havoc on your metabolism, arguing that skipping breakfast has no effect on weight gain or weight loss. Of course, I love breakfast, so I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to function in the morning without putting calories in my body.

It turns out fasting has had profound effects on my early morning productivity and concentration. And not in a bad way.

Concentration and the Fasted State
I’m not sure how to measure concentration and mental focus except anecdotally, but for the past week — the time I’ve been following the aforementioned eating schedule — I’ve found my concentration and focus approaching laser beam levels while fasting. It confounds. In theory, I should be a mess. My brain should be a blurry fugue.

So why am I getting things done faster, more effectively, and how am I able to concentrate more with less calories in my body?

The Science
It turns out intermittent fasting is good for your brain in a number of ways. First, it facilitates something called autophagy, a process by which neural cells break down waste materials and repair themselves. That means healthier, more efficient neurons, and a reduction in biochemical waste in the brain.

Short-term fasting also increases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein that helps facilitate the growth of new neurons while helping existing neurons survive. Alzheimer’s patients have been shown to have low levels of BDNF. The protein also helps aid memory and overall brain health.

Final Words on Intermittent Fasting and Focus
Signs point to short term, intermittent fasting aiding in brain health. Will those benefits outweigh the discomfort the first-time faster feels being in a fasted state for hours? It depends on the person. After a week of intermittent fasting, I’ve found the focus I feel in the morning is worth a grumbling stomach that’s gradually acclimating to the fasted state.