Fasting – you may have heard that it is a good thing to do. You may have heard that it is the key to longevity. And you have probably heard that it is very good for weight loss.
What you may not know is exactly what fasting is. Do you have to stop eating for days at a time or can you simply skip breakfast to reap the benefits?
If you are new to the world of fasting, here is everything you need to know to get started.
While fasting has traditionally referred to relatively long periods without food, days or even weeks with minimal amounts of eat and drink, newer approaches focus on two versions – low calorie days (between 500-600 calories) alternated with regular eating and long periods of overnight fasting or 12-18 hours without food.
A small but growing amount of research has shown that there are many benefits associated with both dramatically reducing calorie intake, or extending the number of hours between eating occasions including a range of metabolic benefits, reduced cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels as well as weight loss over time.
In a world in which we rarely go for an hour or two without putting something in our mouths, it appears there is a lot to be said for not putting very much in it at all.
Seemingly simple, the reality is that fasting requires commitment and it can take some time to get used to. The first step is to work out which style of fasting will suit you best.
Anecdotally, males who are already not used to eating much throughout the day tend to do better alternating low calorie days in which food intake is limited. Low calorie days using this approach are just 500-600 calories which equates to one-two small meals of a couple of hard boiled eggs, a coffee and a small serving of fish and vegetables at night.
Whilst very effective, the low calorie days can be tough, especially for busy, active people who may find it is just too hard to stick to eating this little.
The other popular approach to fasting requires an extended number of hours without food, ideally a minimum of 14-16. For those who tend to eat their final meal of the day later in the evening, this method easily fits into life and simply means you do not eat until lunchtime the next day.
Limiting our eating to within an eight hour period naturally controls calorie intake supporting weight loss and resetting a number of hormones that help to get us back in touch with our natural hunger, minus a strict diet or food restriction. All you need to do is limit the hours in which you eat your two to three meals each day.
Once you have identified which style of fasting will fit into your lifestyle, the next step to begin your fasting when you can concentrate on it 100 per cent.
When you are partying regularly, eating out a lot or about to embark on an overseas trip is not the best time to begin your fasting regime. Ideally, you need to focus on your new regime for at least a couple of weeks to create the consistency that will give you positive outcomes, whether in relation to weight loss or general health.
A period of time where you’re not socialising a lot and can fully commit to your new program is likely to give you the best results and will motivate you to keep going.
Finally, for fasting to work you need to do it properly.
It will not work if you cheat, especially on low calorie days nor if you only do it occasionally.
While there are some health benefits associated with occasional fasting, if your ultimate goal is weight loss or to reverse health conditions such as high blood glucose levels or reduce cholesterol, you will need to commit to your fasting program 80-90 per cent of the time to reap results over a two to three month period.
Susie Burrell is a dietitian and nutritionist. Continue the conversation on Twitter @SusieBDiet.