What is intermittent fasting?
What is intermittent fasting?
In my last article I explored the many reasons why, in my opinion, calorie-counting as a diet plan leads not to weight loss, but to misery, guilt and anxiety. I suggested instead trying what is often referred to as ‘intuitive eating’. This basically means eating when we are hungry and stopping when we are full - something most of us have lost touch with.
This week, I’m going to look at something I do believe in for long term weight loss – intermittent fasting. This is a very successful weight loss regime which is also linked to reduced blood pressure, lowered cholesterol and balanced blood sugar levels. And before you all think this goes against my anti-calorie-counting stance – this type of diet is not about calorie-counting. It is about relearning hunger, finding out what makes you full and satisfied, and hopefully enjoying food!
INTERMITTENT FASTING: WHERE TO START?
Intermittent fasting is an eating regime where you regularly limit or stop eating. There are a few different variations, the most popular are the 5:2 diet and the 16:8 plan.
The 5:2 regime involves eating normally for 5 days of the week, then severely restricting food intake for the other 2 days. Most often, it is suggested that the two days should be based on around 600-800 calories. The most important thing when limiting food so strictly is to learn how to fill and satisfy yourself effectively. Also, the calorie reduction must only be carried on the two restricted days, and these two days should never be done consecutively.
The 16:8 regime has been gaining a lot of publicity, because it is so very easy to follow. The idea behind this regime is to only eat during 8 hours of the day. The other 16 hours you can consume no food – only drinks. For many this is easy because they simply have their final meal of the day at 6-7pm as normal with their family, then do not eat again until 10-11am the next day.
IS INTERMITTENT FASTING EFFECTIVE?
If you're asking 'is intermittent fasting worth it?', it's worth noting that there are several proven benefits of this regime. These include:
• Weight loss and fat burning – Intermittent fasting regimes have been shown to reduce insulin levels in the blood and increase the burning of belly fat for energy, helping to balance the blood sugars and boost the metabolism.
• Reducing the risk of diabetes – Studies have shown that the blood sugar balancing benefits of a fasting diet can help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
• Supporting heart health – People following an intermittent fasting regime have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower blood triglyceride levels, all of which adds up to a healthier heart.
• Brain benefits – Some initial research suggests that these fasting diets may also look after the health of the brain and could even help to prevent the development of memory loss.
WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS OF FASTING?
If you want to follow one of these regimes, it is important to be aware of the potential pitfalls. Understanding why intermittent fasting doesn't work for some people will help you to ensure success in your own efforts. The key mistakes to avoid include:
• Poor planning – Don’t just wake up and decide that today is a fasting day. These days need to be planned in, and when they are – stick to it. People fail on these plans when they change their mind halfway through the day. Being mentally prepared is at least half the battle. Thinking ahead will also allow you to ensure you have got the right foods available, and have your filling and tasty meals planned.
• Choosing the right plan – There are several different ways to do intermittent fasting, choose the way that best fits your lifestyle.
• Drink – Ensuring that you are properly hydrated can help to keep hunger pangs at bay. It will also help you to realise whether you are actually hungry, or just thirsty!
• Don’t eat too little – It is important that fasting is done to the schedule prescribed by your plan: The key to intermittent fasting is eating normally in-between. It will not ‘give things a boost’ if you restrict food during your eating hours - it will actually be the downfall of the whole regime! So, enjoy your food when you are eating.
Written by Jenny Logan DNMed (Jenny is a nutritional therapist who has worked with clients in health food stores and private clinics for over 20 years).