Check any list of recent diet fads and intermittent fasting is hitting the list. If you’ve ever slept in, not had time for breakfast you are intermittent fasting. Forgot your lunch one day? Intermittent fasting. Didn’t go grocery shopping? Intermittent fasting. In a nutshell Intermittent Fasting involves a stretch of time during your day when you are not eating but for it to be effective you need to include a calorie restriction, calories in has to be less than calories out for this eating plan to be effective. Intermittent Fasting (IF) has lots of other benefits but if you are using it for weight loss the only way it will be effective is if it has a calorie restriction. The biggest point of failure with IF is folk still eat a MASSIVE amount of calories or not enough of the right kind of food during their eating window but more of this later.
So basically IF is periods of eating and periods of fasting. These are usually referred to as eating windows. The most common fasting window is 16/8. 16 hours fasting and an 8 hour eating window. Fasting has been part of human evolution for hundreds of years either out of necessity – I don’t think fridges have been found in an archaeological dig yet…. and of course for religious reasons, many faith based communities have effectively used fasting as an act of prayer and worship since biblical times.
If you can stick to the rules of IF it can be a really effective weight loss strategy. Some of the health benefits include:
- Pancreas reset. Many studies have shown that IF can restore pancreatic function which is exciting news for diabetics or pre-diabetics. What these studies are showing is that the pancreas can regenerate itself during the fasting window; the pancreas has specialised cells called beta cells that produce insulin, insulin as we know, breaks down blood sugars. So when we fast it’s almost like a pancreatic reboot – I think that is really exciting!
- Insulin sensitivity. Because of the pancreatic reset, the body becomes more sensitive to insulin, lower levels of insulin makes stored fat (visceral fat in particular) more easily accessible and therefore a more accessible energy source.
- Human Growth Hormone production increases massively. HGH is produced in the pituitary gland and increases glucose levels which is supressed during eating. HGH can increase 5 fold, this is great news as this particular hormone is also responsible for helping muscles recover quickly.
- During a fasting window something called autophagy occurs. Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning itself- auto means self and phagy means eat. So self eating! Who knew?! So during autophagy the body clears out old cells and regenerates newer healthier cells. This also impacts the aging process by slowing it down, which has to be a good thing right?
- Reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a normal process but increased levels of inflammation can cause long term health issues. The modern day diet is full of inflammatory foods such as high carb and highly processed foods; fasting can help reduce inflammation and therefore fight these long term health issues.
- Lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. IF has been shown to reduce blood pressure and lower LDL cholesterol therefore reducing your risk of heart disease – but the BEST way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to lose weight and give up smoking.
- Studies are also showing many other health benefits like improved memory function, mood, and wellbeing and of course, weight loss!
There are several different ways of doing intermittent fasting – all of which involve splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods. These are the most popular methods:
- The 16/8 method: Also called the Lean gains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12-8 p.m. During the eating window, you can fit in 2, 3 or more meals. This method of fasting can actually be as simple as not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast. For example, if you finish your last meal at 9 pm and then don’t eat until 1pm the next day, then you are technically fasting for 16 hours between meals. It is generally recommended that women only fast 14-15 hours, because they seem to do better with slightly shorter fasts. For people who get hungry in the morning and like to eat breakfast, then this can be hard to get used to at first. However, many breakfast skippers actually instinctively eat this way. You can drink water, coffee and other non-caloric beverages during the fast, and this can help reduce hunger levels. BUT if you add milk or sugar into your drink your fast will be broken as your body will need start waking from your fast and breaking down the macro nutrients you’ve just eaten. It is very important to eat mostly healthy foods during your eating window. This won’t work if you eat lots of junk food or excessive amounts of calories. The 16/8 method is probably the most natural and common way too fast.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day. This is for the more experienced IF’er’s and not something I would recommend you try for your first venture into IF.
- The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.
- Alternate-Day fasting (fast every other day): Alternate-Day fasting means fasting every other day. There are several different versions of this. Some of them allow about 500 calories during the fasting days. Many of the lab studies showing health benefits of intermittent fasting used some version of this. A full fast every other day seems rather extreme, so I do not recommend this for beginners. With this method, you will be going to bed very hungry several times per week, which is not very pleasant and probably unsustainable in the long-term.
There are other forms of extreme fasting which I don’t consider particularly healthy such as the Warrior diet but basically they are all fasting programmes with a smaller eating window!
Health Concerns with IF. If you are considering IF I would recommend you talk to your GP first and discuss your personal health risks. People who should definitely not try IF are the young, the elderly, pregnant, underweight, trying to conceive, diabetic (unless approved by GP) and on blood pressure meds. The biggest issue I see with IF is that people do not stick to a healthy, nutritious eating regime. They still consume way too many calories and the wrong type of foods. Basically my message is the same as keto. Any food is IF as long as it fits your macro’s and is bringing nutritious value to your life.
The most common side effect of IF?? Hunger. And that is why it has around a 40% drop out rate. Should you try it? As with anything, give it a go! I have clients who are doing really well with this method and some who haven’t done so well. There is no one size fits all. My suggestion is fasting is not something everyone needs to do; if you are keen then try it for a day or two. Use my nutrition plan during your eating window and change the eating times to suit your lifestyle. See how you feel. See if you respond well to eating this way. Let me know if you want to give it a go. And remember……….. the best nutrition plan is the one you can stick to long term with the most health benefits for YOU.
As with all shifts to wellness, sleep, exercise regularly, eat less, turn off your devices regularly, do more of what you enjoy. Talk to me for more information if you think IF is for you.