Mood Swings, Depression, Stress… How Can Fasting Help Busy Healthcare Workers.

Breaking my fast at 16.5hrs. Im pretty sure thats avocado on my lips :)

The first time it happened I was 8hrs in to my 12hr shift in the emergency room. It was a typical chaotic night… everything from toe pains, to overdoses, to cardiac arrests. It was a night that no one was getting a break. I finally sat down to do some charting when I realized what time it was. I hadn’t ate anything since the night before. I thought, “how in the world did I just go 20hrs without eating anything!” What was even more astonishing was I never had hunger pains, was full of energy and no brain fogginess… my head was clear and focused. “Wow, this really works!”

About three weeks before this happened I decided that something needed to change in my health. Even though I was healthy on paper, as far as lab work and weight, I didn’t feel good. My energy was low, stress was really getting to me, constantly having mood swings from being “hangry” and my sleep and focus was suffering.

So, being the health nut that I am I decided to do some research. I tested out the “hows” and the “whys” of different diets and food choices. Its amazing to me that the foods that are labeled “healthy” are anything but. I fell into the trap of “fat is bad” and “grains are good.” Which never really made sense to me but I followed them anyway because how can they be wrong.

“SO WHAT DID YOU DO?”

I cut out all the processed foods, all the grains and ate all the healthy fats!!

You can call it keto, paleo, low carb, no carb, gluten free…. I call it, “I feel f**king fantastic.” The fact that Im putting whole nutritious food and healthy fats in my body is making my cells very happy and functioning like they are suppose to! Who would have thought that cutting out the crap we are not designed to eat would help!

What this did was take me off the “sugar burner” roller coaster ride and allowed my body to use my own stored fat as fuel. Which gave me a steady state of energy all day long. I was focused and able to cope better with whatever chaos was happening at the moment. This is vital when trying to keep up in a busy emergency room… patients and coworkers count on you everyday!

I was completely “fat adapted.” I had built the machinery to be able to unlock my fat storage, use it for energy and train my body to be Metabolically Flexible. It’s kind of like those hybrid cars that can switch between two fuel sources when needed; electric and gas. In this case sugar and fat.

When you train your body to use both fuel sources you carry more mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells) in your muscles. This allows them to produce energy more efficiently. Having too few mitochondria, or having dysfunctional mitochondria, limits the amount of energy a person can produce. This makes switching between both fuel sources difficult. Which in turn makes utilizing any stored body fat between meals almost impossible. This is why metabolically inflexible people tend to snack often and have a hard time fasting.

The benefits of Fasting.

  • Autophagy– “self eating.” Essentially this is the bodies mechanism of cleaning out damage cells and toxins so it can help you regenerate newer, healthier cells. This is great for longevity purposes and acute illnesses. It has also been shown to be helpful for autoimmune diseases and in some cases cancer.
  • Weight loss– Increases fat burning by forcing your body to use up fat stores as fuel. When you deprive your body of glucose your body has no other choice than to use fat for fuel. This will help with insulin resistance. Hello Diabetics, especially type II!!
  • Reduces inflammation– When you have chronic or a low-grade inflammation you typically have problems with cytokines. Cytokines encourage your immune system’s inflammatory response and the constant presence of cytokines further that inflammatory cycle. When you fast the natural levels of pro -inflammatory cytokines can help reduce inflammation. Keeping your inflammation down is also great for anybody with autoimmune diseases.

I can go on and on about the benefits of fasting but how is this helping our stressful lives as healthcare workers?!

  1. Improves our cognitive function and clarity. This is vital for anybody working with peoples lives in their hands. The mental fatigue alone from this type of work is very high! Fasting encourages your brain to produce and use high levels of BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This is essential for having strong mental clarity and works to prevent extreme lows in your mood. By fasting we are protecting our brain cells against damaged due to oxidative stress and by increasing insulin sensitivity.
  2. Combats Depression. Did you know that a doctor commits suicide in the U.S. everyday and in the female population, nurses are 23% more likely to commit suicide then women in general. “National survey data suggests that among emergency medical technicians, including firefighters and paramedics, rates of suicide are significantly higher than among the general public.” In my 12 years of nursing I have had three colleagues lose their lives to suicide. So how does fasting help depression? For starters, studies show that cycles of fasting can improve feelings of anger, confusion and tension in your overall mood. Since fasting encourages your body to produce higher levels of Ghrelin, the hunger hormone regulated by food intake, has been shown to increase the amount of dopamine present in your brain. Plus everything listed in reason #1 above.
  3. Helps fight infection– we are constantly around germs! Plus with our high stress jobs we can easily get run down and tired. Fasting encourages your neutrophils phagocytic cells to go after the bacteria that causes infection rather than the refined sugars and starches in your diet. This reduces the number of infectious bacteria in your system. By adopting a low carb, high healthy fat diet, getting your body fat adapted plus fasting will encourage your body to maintain healthy glucose levels. Bacteria love sugar!
  4. We Rarely Get Breaks! -I usually only intermittent fast on the days that I work. This is because personally I don’t need to loose any body fat so on my off days I tend to eat more to keep my total weekly calories high. This not only helps me get through my shift with more energy but also decreases food stress. I don’t need to worry about what I’m eating all day long or if I’m eating the right foods, the wrong foods or whatever the case may be. By not snacking and feeling hungry all the time I don’t feel the need to munch on the endless amount of crap food that always seems to show up when we are busy; cookies, cakes, pizza, chips ect…Does this sound like your work?

While there are many fasting protocols; 16/8, 5:2, 24 hrs fast, alternate day fast, warrior diet fast and many others (you can google these for more info). I tend to go off my bodies signals. I fast on the days I work, which isn’t the same days every week. I eat when I start feeling sluggish or tired, eat bigger meals when Im off and make sure no matter when Im eating that ALL MY meals include high quality protein, healthy fats and veggies!

Even though sometimes we don’t even have time to pee, lol …. Don’t Forget To Drink !!! We need the hydration and extra minerals! Here is a perfect article on what to drink when fasting. https://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-definitive-guide-to-what-breaks-a-fast/


If you do fasting protocols, how has this helped you? If not, will you give it a shot? Let me know how you do or what questions you have in the comments below.

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References:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2128695-hungry-stomach-hormone-promotes-growth-of-new-brain-cells/

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.nutr.25.050304.092526?rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&journalCode=nutr

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306987706000892

https://figshare.com/articles/by-resource-doi/10.1080/10903127.2018.1514090

https://nurse.org/articles/suicide-rates-high-for-female-nurses/

https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20180508/doctors-suicide-rate-highest-of-any-profession#1.

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