PFTL News January 2020


2020 may be a challenging year on many fronts, personally, politically, environmentally, financially, etc. Let’s make the most of it by trying to understand the truth in every situation.  Remember there is only one “Truth”.


Modified from Fitness Handout, IDEA Fitness Journal Nov 2017

The following article was meant for sports and fitness performance enhancement; however, much of it also applies to many of life’s challenges.  I have modified the article to go beyond sports and fitness.

All of us instinctively use visualization (aka imagery) to help us perform better and plan our actions. Have you ever mentally practiced your own performance before physically executing it? Perhaps you’ve mentally rehearsed the exhilaration or relief you’ll feel once you’ve accomplished an act that you wanted to do. If you learn how to use the strategy of visualization, you can develop mental toughness for success in sport, fitness and many of life’s challenges.

Imagery is a form of simulation training that can be used to learn new skills, plan performance strategies, improve technique, recover from injury, and develop mental toughness for optimal success in sport, fitness and meeting some of life’s challenges.

How Does It Work? – How can simply thinking about running a race help us accomplish it? Our minds can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined. Just think about the last time you woke up from a nightmare terrified about something that, at the time, appeared as real as could be, but obviously was not. Although you never left your bed, someone assessing your heart rate, skin conductance and other physiological measurements might easily have believed you had just returned from a run.

For sport and fitness performance, imagery creates mental blueprints of a past or upcoming performance. When repeatedly rehearsed, these blueprints are more easily transferred to external actions, maximizing performance capabilities. When life presents a challenge, imagery can create positive outcomes which may help to deal with the challenge.

SKILL MASTERY – When you mentally rehearse a performance, using all of your senses to make the event as vivid and controlled as possible, your mind can’t distinguish between really doing it and not. Imagery codes movement patterns, making specific actions more familiar and automatic. Even before you physically attempt a skill, and long after your body is done physically performing for the day.  Research has shown that imagery works to accelerate reaction times, improve coordination and accuracy, and enhance overall performance.

PAIN MANAGEMENT – One way to deal with pain is by controlling your interpretation of pain. The defeatist mindset interprets pain to mean, This sucks; I am not tough enough, and now I’ll never achieve my goal. The optimist mindset, on the other hand, interprets pain to mean, My body is talking to me to let me know I either need to adjust some aspect of my activity or dig deep for that extra motivation to power through.

To find that last bit of motivation, you can distract yourself away from the pain by mentally practicing skill mastery—for example, mastering the next mile run, mastering positive thinking in the face of adversity.   Once you know the pain is there to test your willpower, you can tune out the pain by imagining a specific, successful aspect of your performance.

Use these strategies to enhance visualization:

BE MORE THAN WHAT YOU SEE – For your mind to believe your imagery is real and for your neurotransmitters and muscle fibers to fire off in the correct pattern, it is imperative that your imagery incorporate as many senses as possible. When you use imagery, pay attention to what you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel texturally and kinesthetically.

COMMIT TO EXCELLENCE, NOT PERFECTION – What happens if you see yourself failing during your visualization. Don’t worry! The key to peak performance lies not in avoiding thoughts of failure, but in immediately using your imagery to recover when you do mentally see a negative outcome.


Let’s look at some high blood pressure facts from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):

  • Three out of every four people over age 60 has high blood pressure
  • Many men and women don’t even know they have high blood pressure
  • High blood pressure can be controlled
  • Death rates from heart attacks and strokes in the United States have decreased by 40-60 percent over the last 30 years. That’s good news. And those who are physically active tend to live longer, healthier lives.

 But let’s explore how you can lower your blood pressure with some simple exercise.

In 2011, the ACSM recommended for healthy adults at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (working hard enough to break a sweat, but still able to carry on a conversation) five days per week. Or 20 minutes of more vigorous activity three days per week. Combinations of moderate and vigorous intensity activity can be performed to meet this recommendation.

According to the American Heart Association (AMA), with an average weight of either 150lbs or 200lbs, adults can expect to burn the following calories with the following exercises:

Walking at 3mph: 320 – 416 calories/hour

Running at 5.5mph: 660 – 962 calories/hour

Cycling at 12mph: 410 – 534 calories/hour

Swimming at 25yds/min: 275 – 358 calories/hour

Most of us find it difficult to add exercise to our already busy day . However, the physical activity required to lower blood pressure can be easily added to your day. Take every opportunity to walk, instead of ride (elevators and cars); don’t sit for long periods, use stairs when possible, take frequent breaks during the day that require walking (to the store, the restaurant, around the office).

PFTL News December 2019

SOME FACTS ABOUT LOWER BACK PAIN (LBP)  (from Chronic Back Pain, WebMD, Nov. 28, 2019)

  • Nearly everyone has low back pain at some time during their life – Up to 80% of U.S. adults get low back pain at some point. Men and women are equally affected. Low back pain is more common as we get older, with people often having their first episode between ages 30 and 50. But it also can be the result of a sedentary lifestyle — with too little (and occasionally too much) exercise. And low back pain is the fifth most common reason for doctor visits.
  • The most common source of LBP is in the muscles. Muscle spasms are the most common reason for low back pain. That’s why some treatments include muscle relaxers. You can strain a muscle with an unexpected pull or twist. Your chances of muscle spasms go up if you have weak stomach muscles, tight hamstrings, any back weakness, or a pelvis that tilts forward more than normal.
  • A firm mattress is best not the best for relieving back pain. Firmer may not always be better. People who sleep on a medium-firm mattress are more likely to report that their back pain got better while lying in bed or getting in or out of bed. So if you think you prefer a firm mattress, you might want to try medium-firm. This type may place less pressure on the shoulders and hips, allowing you to sleep in a more natural position on your side. Your mattress should be firm enough to keep your spine in the same position as good standing posture.


Many times, a part of holiday celebrations involve drinking alcohol. Everything is best in moderation, but do you really know what alcohol does to your body? The following is from WebMD and may be new information to some of you.

It is Quick – Thirty seconds after your first sip, alcohol races into your brain. It slows down the chemicals and pathways that your brain cells use to send messages. That alters your mood, slows your reflexes, and throws off your balance. You also can’t think straight, which you may not recall later, because you’ll struggle to store things in long-term memory.

Your Brain Shrinks –If you drink heavily for a long time, booze can affect how your brain looks and works. Its cells start to change and even get smaller. Too much alcohol can actually shrink your brain. And that’ll have big effects on your ability to think, learn, and remember things. It can also make it harder to keep a steady body temperature and control your movements. 

It Does NOT Help Your Sleep – Alcohol’s slow-down effect on your brain can make you drowsy, so you may doze off more easily. But you won’t sleep well. Your body processes alcohol throughout the night. Once the effects wear off, it leaves you tossing and turning. You don’t get that good REM sleep your body needs to feel restored. And you’re more likely to have nightmares and vivid dreams.

More Stomach Acid Is Produced – Booze irritates the lining of your stomach and makes your digestive juices flow. When enough acid and alcohol build up, you get nauseated and you may throw up. Years of heavy drinking can cause painful sores called ulcers in your stomach.

Your Kidneys Get a Workout – Your brain gives off a hormone that keeps your kidneys from making too much urine. But when alcohol swings into action, it tells your brain to hold off. That means you have to go more often, which can leave you dehydrated. When you drink heavily for years, that extra workload and the toxic effects of alcohol can wear your kidneys down.

Pancreas Damage and Diabetes – Normally, this organ makes insulin and other chemicals that help your intestines break down food. But alcohol jams that process up. The chemicals stay inside the pancreas. Along with toxins from alcohol, they cause inflammation in the organ, which can lead to serious damage. After years, that means you won’t be able to make the insulin you need, which can lead to diabetes.

What’s a Hangover? –That cotton-mouthed, bleary-eyed morning-after is no accident. Alcohol makes you dehydrated and makes blood vessels in your body and brain expand. That gives you your headache. Your stomach wants to get rid of the toxins and acid that booze churns up, which gives you nausea and vomiting. And because your liver was so busy processing alcohol, it didn’t release enough sugar into your blood, bringing on weakness and the shakes.

A Change in Body Temperature – Alcohol widens your blood vessels, making more blood flow to your skin. That makes you blush and feel warm and toasty. But not for long. The heat from that extra blood passes right out of your body, causing your temperature to drop. On the other hand, long-term, heavy drinking boosts your blood pressure. It makes your body release stress hormones that narrow blood vessels, so your heart has to pump harder to push blood through.

A Weaker Immune System – You might not link a cold with a night of drinking, but there might be a connection. Alcohol puts the brakes on your immune system. Your body can’t make the numbers of white blood cells it needs to fight germs. So for 24 hours after drinking, you’re more likely to get sick.

Thin Bones, Less Muscle – Heavy drinking can throw off your calcium levels. Along with the hormone changes that alcohol triggers, that can keep your body from building new bone. They get thinner and more fragile, a condition called osteoporosis. Booze also limits blood flow to your muscles and gets in the way of the proteins that build them up. Over time, you’ll have lower muscle mass and less strength


Although eating nutritious food is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle, for some people a preoccupation with so-called “clean eating” can become physically and socially damaging. In what appears to be the first extensive review of data on the psychosocial risk factors associated with orthorexia nervosa (an obsession with eating only healthy food), psychology researchers from York University in Canada say those who have a history of an eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive traits, poor body image and a drive for thinness are more likely to develop this unhealthy fixation on consuming clean foods.

The study authors stress that fixating on the quality of food can become unhealthy if it starts to affect mental health, leads to the elimination of food groups (and a possible spiral into nutrient deficiencies) or greatly alters how a person socializes with people when food is involved. Social media, where beautifully presented clean food is celebrated and anything less pure is vilified, is likely contributing to the rising numbers of people with orthorexia. Though eating disorders are most often associated with women, this research found about equal rates of an all-consuming obsession with healthy eating among both sexes.


PFTL News November 2019

(from WebMD Sept 2019)

You’ve probably heard
to watch the amount of salt you eat, especially if you’re concerned about your
blood pressure. That’s because it makes your body hold on to water, putting
extra stress on your heart and blood vessels. Salt — and worry, and anger —
aren’t the only things that can raise your blood pressure. Although temporary
“spikes” aren’t necessarily a problem, numbers that remain high over
time can cause serious damage.

Added SugarIt may be even more important
than salt in raising your blood pressure, especially in a processed form like
high-fructose corn syrup. People with more added sugars in their diet see a
significant rise in both their upper and lower numbers. Just one 24-ounce soft
drink causes an average 15-point bump in systolic pressure (the top number, or
the pressure during a heartbeat) and 9 in diastolic (the bottom number, or the
pressure between beats).

Loneliness  – This isn’t just about the number of friends you have — it’s about
feeling connected. And being stressed or depressed doesn’t fully explain the
effect. It also gets worse with time: Over 4 years, the upper blood pressure of
the loneliest people in a study went up more than 14 points. The researchers
think an ongoing fear of rejection and disappointment and feeling more alert
about your safety and security may change how your body works.

Sleep ApneaPeople with sleep apnea have
higher odds of getting high blood pressure and other heart problems. When your
breathing is repeatedly interrupted while you’re sleeping, your nervous system
releases chemicals that raise your blood pressure. Plus, you’re getting less
oxygen, which could damage blood vessel walls and make it harder for your body
to regulate your blood pressure down the road.

Not Enough PotassiumYour kidneys need a balance of
sodium and potassium to keep the right amount of fluid in your blood. So even
if you’re eating a low-salt diet, you could still have higher blood pressure if
you’re not also eating enough fruits, veggies, beans, low-fat dairy, or fish.
While you may think of bananas as the go-to source, broccoli, water chestnuts,
spinach, and other leafy greens are better to get potassium if you’re watching
your weight.

PainSudden, or acute, pain ramps up
your nervous system and raises your blood pressure. You can see this effect
when you put one hand in ice water, press on your cheek or fingernail, or get
an electric shock to your finger.

Herbal SupplementsDo you take ginkgo, ginseng,
guarana, ephedra, bitter orange, or St. John’s wort? These and others can raise
your blood pressure or change how medications work, including drugs to control
high blood pressure.

Thyroid ProblemsWhen this gland doesn’t make
enough thyroid hormone, your heart rate slows, and your arteries get less
stretchy. Low hormone levels also might raise your LDL “bad”
cholesterol, another thing that can stiffen arteries. Blood moves through hard
vessels faster, pushing on the walls and raising the pressure. Though not as
common, too much thyroid hormone can make your heart beat harder and faster,
which will also bump up your numbers.

You Have to PeeSystolic pressure went up an
average of about 4 points, and diastolic, 3 points, in a study of middle-aged
women who hadn’t gone to the bathroom for at least 3 hours. Men and women of
different ages saw similar effects. High blood pressure becomes more likely as
you age, so you need to get accurate readings. An empty bladder could be one
way to help do that.

NSAIDsAll nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can raise your numbers
— whether you’re healthy or you already have high blood pressure. Though the
average rise is only a few points, there’s a wide range, which means it could
affect some people much more than others.

Your Doctor’s OfficeYou might see a difference if you
compare readings during an appointment to the numbers you get at home. Named
for the traditional garb of medical professionals, the “white coat
effect” is the rise in blood pressure — up to 10 points higher for
systolic (the upper number) and 5 for diastolic (the lower number). DM note –
It is wise to question advice about taking meds based solely on the readings in
the doctor’s office.

DecongestantsIngredients like pseudoephedrine
and phenylephrine can narrow your blood vessels. That means the same amount of
blood has to squeeze through a smaller space, like a crowd pushing through a
hallway. These drugs can also make blood pressure medications less effective.
Your doctor or pharmacist can help you choose over-the-counter products for
sinus problems and colds that are safer if you have high blood pressure.

DehydrationWhen your body’s cells don’t have
enough water, your blood vessels tighten up. This happens because your brain
sends a signal to your pituitary gland to release a chemical that shrinks them.
And your kidneys make less pee, to hang on to the fluid you do have, which also
triggers tiny blood vessels in your heart and brain to squeeze more.

Hormonal Birth
Pills, injections, and other
birth control devices use hormones that narrow blood vessels, so it’s possible
your blood pressure will go up. It’s more likely to be a problem for women who
are older than 35, overweight, or smokers. You may want to keep an eye on your
blood pressure, checking every 6-12 months. A lower dose of estrogen may keep
your numbers closer to normal.

TalkingIt happens whether you’re young
or old and no matter where you are. The higher your resting blood pressure, the
higher the numbers go when you start speaking. And the effect lasts for a few
minutes. It seems the subject and emotional content of what you’re saying
matters more than the fact that you’re moving your mouth.

Antidepressants – Medicines that target brain chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin — including venlafaxine (Effexor), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) — can change not only your mood but also your blood pressure. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) might raise it if you’re also taking lithium or other drugs that affect serotonin.

Have a great Thanksgving holiday!

PFTL NEWS October 2019


For Allergy Relief – Researchers found that rooms with plants have less dust and mold than rooms without any foliage. Leaves and other parts of the plants act as natural filters to catch allergens and other airborne particles. Common low-light houseplants like Chinese evergreen or the peace lily can do the job. Violets and other plants with textured leaves might be even better trappers. Avoid plants with pollen or spores.

Spider Plants for Moisture – Furnaces and air conditioners can sap humidity indoors, especially in the winter. That can raise your chances for catching a cold or the flu, or make your skin itch. Houseplants add moisture to the air. One study found a collection of spider plants boosted the relative humidity in a bedroom from 20% to a more comfortable 30%. 

Air Purifiers – Carpets, paint, cleaners, printer toners and inks, and many other indoor objects give off pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They can build up in the air and irritate your eyes and skin, worsen your asthma, or make it hard for you to breathe. Houseplants can soak up VOCs. Some good air-scrubbers are English ivy, asparagus fern, and dragon tree. 

Herbs for Better Digestion – Mint may help tamp down bloating, gas, and other problems after you eat. Common varieties you can grow in containers include peppermint and spearmint (essential in mint juleps). Basil, another herb for cooking, also can help calm your stomach. Try steeping the leaves in hot water.

Relaxing Lavender – This fragrant purple plant has been an important herbal medicine for centuries. You can inhale lavender oil or massage it on your skin for aromatherapy. You can also boil the leaves for tea. Some studies suggest it may help calm you and help lower any anxiety. But more proof is needed.

Aloe for First Aid – Gel from this plant is a popular home remedy. It can treat sunburns and other minor burns. It can soothe your psoriasis and other skin conditions. Juice from the aloe plant can even help you poop if you’re constipated.

Restful Sleep – Plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. It’s how they turn sunlight into food, a process called photosynthesis. Some, like gerbera daisies, keep giving off oxygen even after the sun goes down. Put a few cheerful pots in your bedroom and the extra oxygen may help you sleep more soundly.

Stress Relief – Feeling the weight of daily pressures? Try and add a heart-leaf philodendron or a snake plant to your décor. It may help you relax. Several studies have measured people’s levels of blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormone cortisol while they handled a tough task or were under mental stress. Being around plants has a calming effect on people.

Sharper Focus – Plants may help raise your test scores, make it easier to concentrate on your tasks, and strengthen your memory. Students in classrooms with three potted plants performed better on math, spelling, reading, and science tests than kids in classrooms without any greens. Bring home a golden pothos or a bamboo palm and you just might clear that to-do list.

Faster Healing – Taking a bouquet of flowers or potted foliage to a loved one in the hospital can be more than just a thoughtful gesture. It may actually help them recover more quickly. Researchers found that people who had surgery got better faster if they had plants in their room or even a view of the nature from their window. They also tolerated pain better and needed fewer medications when surrounded by greenery. Try an orchid or a peace lily.


We now have referral cards from Roadrunner Sports, which is located in Eden’s Plaza, Wilmette; these are good for a 10% discount on footwear.  Roadrunner Sports is known for having the world’s most accurate 3D Foot Scanner which analyzes your feet for the perfect fit and shoe. They also have active wear, sports bra, accessories for nutrition, safety and injury prevention. Ask Julie Cohen for a Referral Card.


For many years, we have referred clients who seek nutritional and diet advice to Susan Stein. Susan is a highly qualified registered, licensed dietitian. She understands that everyone is different and no one meal plan will work for everyone. 

Susan has been a Registered Dietitian for over twenty years. She provides individualized nutrition counseling in accordance to the guidelines established by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

She works with clients who are dealing with a variety of health issues and with individuals who are seeking a healthier, more fit lifestyle. Ms. Stein is a member of the American Dietetic Association and is certified in both Adult and Childhood/Adolescent Weight Management. She is the coauthor of a children’s book titled Color Me Fit: Nutrition and Fitness for Kids.

Susan will arrange to see our clients on-site at the PFTL studio.  She is offering a package to include a 90-minute evaluation and goal setting session, followed by two 60 minute counselling sessions.  The usual fee is $305, but she is discounting the package by 10% to $275, for PFTL referrals.

Let Julie or Debora know if you would like to be referred to Susan Stein.


Every year the Rotary Club of Wilmette collects books for distribution to inner-city, charter schools in Chicago. The Book Drive runs from October 1 to November 16.  There is a collection box by the front entrance of the studio for gently used books that are suitable for K-12 students.

PFTL News September 2019

UNDERSTANDING CARBS (from WebMD August 2019)

What are Carbs -They’re one of three types of food that give your body energy. The other two are proteins and fats. Together, they provide the fuel your body uses to build and repair itself. Carbs break down into glucose (sugar) that you can use right away.

Your Body’s Fuel – Your body runs on glucose. Your brain, in particular, needs it to work the way it should. Carbohydrates are an almost instant source of it. Your body can break down and use fat for some of the same needs, but not all of them. Plus, fat that’s used for fuel makes compounds called ketones that can raise the level of acid in your blood, and that can be unhealthy.

Workout Prep- Because carbs are a source of energy, they can keep you going strong while you exercise. Experts recommend fueling up 1 to 3 hours beforehand with a combination of carbs and protein, like oatmeal, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, or nuts and raisins.

Full of Nutrients- The best-quality carbs — berries, vegetables, and whole grains — are packed with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants that are important for good health and well-being. Whole grains have fatty acids, magnesium, B vitamins, folate, and zinc. Fruit and starchy veggies have some of those, plus phytonutrients like flavonoids and carotenoids that help prevent disease. If you skip the carbs, you lose out on those nutrients, too.

Simple Carbs – Think of table sugar as simple carbs in pure form. They’re very small molecules, which makes them especially easy for your body to break down and use. That means they raise your glucose levels (blood sugar) really fast. Things that sweeten any number of candies, pastries, and desserts are loaded with these kinds of carbs.

Complex Carbs- String together a bunch of simple carbs, and you get these larger molecules. Your body has to break them down into simple carbohydrates and then into glucose before it can use them. This takes longer, which means your blood sugar goes up more slowly and they’re less likely to be changed into fat. These kinds of carbs include multigrain breads and pasta, beans, potatoes, and other vegetables.

Storage Tank – Before your body turns leftover glucose from carbs into fat, it stores what it can in your liver in the form of glycogen. This keeps your body going between meals. But your liver can only keep a day or so’s worth at a time. 

If You Have Too Many- If you overdo the carbs, your blood sugar levels can get too high. This causes your body to make more insulin, which tells your cells to save the extra glucose as fat. That can be unhealthy if you’re already carrying a few extra pounds. It can also lead to diabetes

If You Don’t Have Enough- If there aren’t enough carbs in your diet, you could get constipated from lack of fiber and nutrients. Your body is also forced to use protein or fat for energy. Proteins are the building blocks of the body. If you use them as fuel, you may not have enough left to make more cells and keep them healthy

The Right Amount – The number of carbs you need can depend on your gender, size, and how active you are — and that can change as you get older. But as a general rule, about half your daily calories should come from carbs in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and dairy products. Just make sure to go with healthy, complex carbs and don’t overdo the simple ones.

Low-Carb Diets – In theory, fewer carbs mean less sugar. And “ketogenic” diets have been shown to help some people lose weight and control their blood sugar in the short term. But these diets include lots of protein, and your body may need to use stored calcium to digest it. Plus, digesting lots of protein can be hard on your kidneys over time. You also tend to eat more saturated fat to replace the carbs, and that can be unhealthy in the long term, too.

Diabetes and Carbs- If you have this disease, you need to watch your carbs carefully because your body has trouble keeping your blood sugar at a safe level. If you have too many, your body may not be able to bring your blood sugar down quickly enough. But if your blood sugar gets too low, a glass of juice or another simple carb might be just the thing to kick it back up again. If you have diabetes, talk with your doctor about the best way to manage carbs.

Where to Get Healthy Carbs- Look for unrefined whole grains like quinoa, rye, and barley instead of highly processed white bread and pastries. Whole unprocessed fruits and vegetables are better than juices. And it’s a good idea to pass on the high-carb potato foods, especially french fries, in favor of beans, chickpeas, and other legumes.

WHEN NOT TO WEAR SUNGLASSES (Excerpted from Time Health August 2019)

Most people know that sunglasses can protect the eyes from damage which can lead to impaired vision or even blindness. There’s evidence that UV damage may raise a person’s risk for macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of age-related blindness. And sun exposure is also linked to eye cancer.

The most important thing is that the sunglasses block 99 to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Price doesn’t necessarily matter; even inexpensive sunglasses can get the job done—just look for a sticker or tag advertising UV protection. The size of the lenses also makes a difference. The bigger the better.

On the other hand, there are times of the day when shielding your eyes behind sunglasses may not be a good idea. Studies have shown that light-sensing photoreceptors in the eye help to set the body’s circadian clocks, which play a role in regulating sleep, appetite, and much else. Research has found that people who get “high levels” of bright light in the morning tend to sleep better than those who don’t. And wearing sunglasses early in the day may interfere with these processes.

It may be prudent to go without sunglasses until 9 or 10 a.m. Assuming a person isn’t staring straight at the sun, its rays aren’t strong enough in the morning to cause much damage, and exposing the eyes to natural light can help set the body’s “internal clocks”.


PFTL NEWS August 2019

COULD INTERMITTENT FASTING SOLVE YOUR WEIGHT-LOSS PLATEAU?  (Excerpted from, 01/08/18; written by Dan Reardon)

There’s been a lot of buzz around intermittent fasting (IF) recently — but what does it really entail? Think about it like this: When you get up in the morning, you eat breakfast. You’re breaking your fast from the previous night.

While you’re sleeping, technically, you’re fasting (unless you’re sleep eating). Conversely, while you’re awake, you’re eating. Intermittent fasting  (IF) can be simply defined as going without food for a longer period of time than sleep and consuming all of your calories within a specific window of time.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting – Reducing calories (like you do with IF) has been shown to increase the lifespan of cells in the body. In animal models, calorie restriction can actually enhance the longevity of the animals, and limiting food intake might also fight off disease.

From the perspective of body composition, one of the big selling points of IF is your body’s increase in responsiveness to insulin. The hormone insulin is released in response to food. It has the effect of causing the liver, muscle and fat cells to store glucose. In a fasting state, blood glucose levels drop, leading to a decrease in insulin production, which signals the body to start burning stored energy.

There are many potential benefits to intermittent fasting, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved mental state
  • Increased energy
  • Improved fat-burning
  • Increased growth hormone production
  • Lowered blood cholesterol
  • Reduction of inflammation
  • Improved cellular repair

Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You? – As of right now, there’s no official test to say whether you should or shouldn’t try intermittent fasting, but there are some general guidelines. You should consider the impact on your lifestyle.

If your IF protocol conflicts with family’s nutrition needs or your work schedule, it might be challenging to commit to an IF schedule. Or let’s say you’re a performance-based athlete: You should consider your nutritional needs, including recovery. Finally, if you’re a woman, intermittent fasting might not be right for you due to hormonal implications.

With any IF protocol, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting. Will you benefit from IF? Remember, just because your friend did it doesn’t mean it will work for you too.

Ultimately, the only sure way to find out if intermittent fasting is right for you is to try it for yourself.  There are a ton of variations on intermittent fasting, and choosing which one is right for you is often a matter of trial and error. To get you started, here are a few examples of IF protocols:

1. Breakfast Skipper (aka 16/8 Method)

  • Fast for 16 hours, and then eat during an eight-hour window.
  • This is a good protocol for those who are new to IF and would typically eat between the hours of 4 p.m. and midnight.

2. “Leangains”

  • Women fast for 14 hours, while men fast for 16 hours.
  • Similar to the Breakfast Skipper, but the slight decrease in fast length for women is to ensure you’re not messing up your hormones, as females can be more sensitive to signals of starvation.

3. Fast Diet (aka the 5:2 Diet)

  • Eat for five days and significantly cut calories for for two days.
  • This is a more advanced method of fasting in which you eat as you normally would for five days, and then reduce your calories significantly (600 calories for men and 500 calories for women) for two days.

4. Alternating

  • Eat one day, fast the next.
  • With this diet, on the fasting days you should eat a fifth of your recommended daily caloric intake, and then consume a normal amount of calories on feasting days. This is a slightly easier protocol to follow than Fast Diet.

5. Warrior

  • Fast for 20 hours a day and eat one large meal at night
  • This is a more challenging protocol to follow, as you’ll need to ensure you fit all of your important macro- and micronutrients into one meal a day.

There really are a limitless number of variations on the intermittent fasting protocol, so if you’re considering IF, start with one (say, breakfast skipper) and play around with what works with your schedule and hunger levels.

The Impact of Metabolism and Genetics –  As with any nutrition plan, success is largely based on if the diet is right for you. Two factors that play into this equation are your metabolism and genetics.

Suppose you have a fast metabolism and you’re trying to build muscle. Focusing on your calorie intake around exercise means you have lots of energy to work out, with additional energy and amino acids to recover. If you’re a true “hard gainer” or “skinny fat,” IF might help you achieve your goals — not to mention the potential hormonal benefits.

If you have a slow metabolism or you store energy easily, then eating all your calories in a short space of time might make fat loss hard for you because you will hang onto energy even in the fasting windows, so IF might not be a good protocol for you to follow.