If there is one type of diet I’ve been asked about more than any other in the past few months, it would hands down be relating to intermittent fasting. Lots of people have asked me what it is, and if it’s worth doing… Here’s the long and the short of it…
First of all, what is intermittent fasting?
Fasting can be defined as choosing to abstain or reduce some or all food, drink, or both, for a set period of time. Fasts may go for as little as 12 hours, to day long fasts, or even 3 week fasts. (Please, don’t do that.) The most commonly discussed fasting diet is the 5:2 diet, where caloric intake is reduced to 500-600 calories for two days in the week. However other modes of this are becoming more common, with many people trying the 16:8, which means fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8 hour window. For example, many individuals choose to skip breakfast, and then eat between 12-8pm, or have a late breakfast at 10am, and eat dinner by 6pm.
The pros and cons…
Benefits of fasting may include improved brain function and weight loss, which I feel is where much of the interest from the general public is coming from. A number of studies have been published in recent years, showing the benefits of fasting for a number of diseases. This includes autoimmune conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis), type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis. It is thought this occurs through creating a change to how compounds and proteins interact with each other, which inhibits inflammatory pathways, reduces inflammatory biomarkers, such as CRP, homocysteine and cholesterol ratios. Improved blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and reduced fat mass have also been seen, though as always, more research is required.
Whilst many individuals want to try out fasting for the weight loss benefits it can provide, when comparing the 5:2 diet to a standard healthy, lower kilojoule diet, the evidence doesn’t show that it is significantly better in the long term. Other problems to take into account are increased stress levels, disrupted sleep, headaches, dehydration and heartburn.
Fasting diets are more about timing of meals, rather than which specific foods to be eating. However, the benefits of fasting do not mean that your healthy day to day food choices can go out the window; eating well consistently is integral. If fasting then results in over eating on other days, or making poor food choices, benefits are lost, and it can end up feeling more like a binge/ restrict cycle.
Who will this diet suit?
Fasting can suit many individuals, though it is important to take a case by case approach, and be willing to be flexible with the eating regime to help it suit you and your health goals most effectively. If you have one of the health conditions above and want to trial fasting, it is a good idea to inform your health care team first, in case any other changes are needed (such as timing of medication, blood tests etc).
Example of 5:2
Most individuals follow this style of intermittent fasting in one of two ways; either by eating three small meals per day, or two larger meals. For most people, eating ‘whatever you like’ for five days a week and then restricting your calorie intake for two days a week is unsustainable.
Example of 16:8
Most people follow this style of intermittent fasting either by skipping breakfast, having a late breakfast, or skipping dinner. This isn’t about cutting back on calories, but fitting your usual intake into a smaller window of time in the day.
So, if you skip breakfast, your day should look like…
Morning: Black coffee or tea, or water
Midday: Quinoa and lentil salad with plenty of leafy greens
Afternoon snack : Fruit + raw nuts
Dinner : Grilled fish with sautéed veggies and sweet potato
Supper (pre 8pm); Yoghurt with fruit
And if you have a late breakfast…
Morning: Black coffee, tea, or water
10am : Omelette with spinach and tomato and sourdough toast
Midday : Fresh fruit with nuts and seeds
2pm : Sashimi with edamame and miso soup
5.30pm: Chickpea salad with leafy veggies and grilled chicken
And if you skip dinner, your day should look like…
8am: Poached eggs, smoked salmon, avocado, mixed veggies and sweet potato or quinoa
Mid morning: Fresh fruit and raw nuts
Midday: Sauteed veggies with brown rice, chicken and a drizzle olive oil
2pm: Yoghurt and fruit.
If you are concerned about your health and want to make some dietary changes, book an appointment with your GP who will be able to advise a correct treatment plan.
Which type of intermittent fasting is right for you? Science has revealed the answer. Plus, Halle Berry does keto and intermittent fasting – so, should you?