First – what are the benefits of intermittent fasting? Is it all about weight loss?
“If you need to lose weight quickly, intermittent fasting (IF) is worth a try. In fact, studies show short-term fasting can lead to several changes in the body that make fat burning easier. This includes reduced insulin, increased growth hormone, enhanced epinephrine signalling and a small boost in metabolism. The idea that fasting ‘slows your metabolism’ is a myth – your body responds to the stress of fasting by enhancing hormone function to facilitate weight loss and burn fat for energy. Fasting can also help reverse type 2 diabetes and impact cancer and dementia cases.” – Dr Michael Mosley, founder of The Fast 800
What are the different types of IF?
“The most popular versions include time-restricted intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet, though there are many other methods. Time-restricted fasting involves abstaining from food for a set number of hours – usually 12, 14 or 16 hours a day, and having the freedom to eat whatever you like the rest of the time. The 12:12 version of this (12 hours a day fasting, 12 hours eating) is the easiest fasting method and suitable for a wider range of people than more restrictive fasts. The 5:2 diet is more limiting; five days a week you are free to eat whatever you like and on two days a week, food intake is limited to 500 calories a day. Alternate day fasting is a more extreme version of intermittent fasting, where dieters abstain from food for a full day, following up with a day of unrestricted eating – so one day on, one day off. From a health perspective, however, the 12:12 is the safest way to practice IF, and if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t love breakfast, you’ve probably been intermittently fasting without even knowing it.” – Aliza Marogy, nutritionist and founder of Inessa
How to know which is right for you?
“While studies show some incredible results when you eat just 800 calories per day, this type of fasting isn’t for everyone. If you are suffering with hunger pangs, switch to a 5:2 plan, which is also a good option if you like to eat out. Have two days a week where you eat 800 calories and then eat normally the other five – eat in this way and you should lose around one to two pounds per week. However, if your downfall is night-time snacking, try time restricted eating.” – Dr Mosley
What should you eat when you break a fast?
“Aim to include some form of protein. Eating protein at the first meal of the day after a fast helps you to feel fuller for longer because after a protein filled meal, levels of a chemical called tyrosine – a building-block for dopamine – rise inside the brain. By increasing its own dopamine supply as the next meal approaches, the brain experiences a much weaker dopamine ‘hit’ from high-calorie food. To test whether protein at the first meal of the day could help people to feel fuller for longer, a US-based study in 2014 divided volunteers into three groups. One group ate a breakfast containing 35g of protein; the second group ate breakfast containing 13g protein; the third group, meanwhile, skipped breakfast altogether. Later that morning, the volunteers were tested for levels of dopamine, the chemical that drives our reward circuits. They were also asked to rate the intensity of their pre-lunch food cravings. The results were clear: of all groups, the high-protein breakfast group recorded the highest dopamine levels and lowest pre-lunch food cravings.” – Dr Mosley
What about tea and coffee – do these break a fast?
“It’s believed anything up to 50 calories won’t break a fast. Whether it’s a small snack or some milk in your tea, this can be helpful if it keeps your fast on track. Herbal and caffeinated teas and coffee are fine as long as they don’t contain sugar or creamer.” – Aliza
Can you exercise when you are fasting?
“Yes – just be sure to modify your activity level and timing of your workout. If you’re doing a 12-hour fast, there should be no problem with intense exercise, but those on a prolonged fast should be more cautious. If, for example, you’re following the 5:2 and want to exercise on the days you’re restricting calorie intake, try some gentle yoga or a brisk walk. The ideal time to work out is on your unrestricted days, so that your energy levels aren’t affected and you’re supporting your body nutritionally. During the fasting window, it’s best to avoid strength training – you need protein and carbs to repair muscle and encourage recovery, so stick to intense weight training when you’re able to eat to support your body nutritionally. Many believe that fasted cardio may help increase the rate of fat loss, however, studies have yielded conflicting results, and as cardiovascular exercise depends on carbohydrates for fuel, I’d advise against it.” – Aliza
What are your tips for dealing with hunger pangs?
“If you are ravenous when fasting, it could be because you’ve eaten something that’s very high in sugar or carbs, which leads to a crash. Aim to eat plenty of protein (at least 50g) throughout the day when fasting as well as lots of fibre to keep you full. Also steer clear of alcohol, which in itself is not only high in calories but can create disinhibition, making that packet of crisps all the more enticing. It can also help to brush your teeth after your last meal of the day, which will signal the end of eating and help you to keep away from snacks.” – Dr Mosley
Is there anyone who shouldn’t try fasting?
“Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. Those with a history of eating disorders should avoid it and be aware that the restrictive nature of this pattern of eating can also spiral into disordered eating in those with no prior history. Intermittent fasting is also contraindicated in pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who are underweight or under the age of 18, and patients with thyroid conditions. Women should also be wary of fasting, especially if you are of reproductive age. Fasting for long periods has been shown to impact a woman’s hormonal balance. Ideally, women should not be fasting for periods of more than 16 hours, and for those looking to maintain hormonal homeostasis and optimal reproductive health, the safest bet is to stick to a 12 hour fast.” – Aliza
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