Intermittent Fasting: All You Need to Know
Intermittent Fasting has emerged as a health ‘phenomenon’ in recent years and is undoubtedly one of the most popular diet regimes in the world. But what does it actually involve? And, more importantly, can it help you to achieve the results to match the hype? Here’s our useful guide to Intermittent Fasting: What is Intermittent Fasting Intermittent fasting involves alternating between long periods of 'fasting' (not eating) and concentrating your meals into a short period of hours. It focuses on ‘when’ you eat, rather than ‘what’ you eat or even ‘how much’, as traditional diets typically do. In fact, intermittent fasting is not actually a diet plan at all, but simply a discipline of scheduling when you eat and when you do not. It is more of a lifestyle than a strict list of foods to eat or not eat. There are 3 main popular methods of intermittent fasting which each structure the eating and fasting periods in slightly different ways:
Eat-Stop-Eat: This method involves a full day (24 hour) fast once, or sometimes twice, per week. Typically this would be from dinnertime one evening until the same time the next evening.
The 16/8 Method: This method involves 16 hours of fasting and an 8 hour window in which to eat all your food for the day. For example, skipping breakfast and having your first meal after 12pm and your last meal of the day before 8pm then fasting for 16 hours.
The 5:2 Method: This method involves significantly reducing your food intake to around 500 calories each day for two days out of seven, then eating normally for the rest of the week.
How Does it Work? Fasting for extended periods helps us to lose weight because when you don’t eat, your body eventually runs out of the energy it stores in the form of calories from food. In this case, in order to get the energy your body needs to continue to function effectively, it therefore has to begin to breakdown stored fat for energy instead. Experts also believe that intermittent fasting is good for the digestive system as it allows our bodies a break from constantly having to process food. Not only does this break benefit our GI tract, but it helps to manage appetite and even get better sleep! Some research has also found that fasting intermittently has anti-inflammatory benefits and also helps to regulate heart-rate and blood-pressure. It is thought that the stress of fasting on the body triggers an immune response that encourages cell repair and results in these positive metabolic changes How Effective is It? Several research studies have found that intermittent fasting is an effective tool for losing weight and many suggest that it outperforms traditional diets in this regard. Research at the Manchester Breast Centre, UK, for example, has demonstrated that intermittent fasting is more effective than traditional diets at weight-loss, decreasing body fat and building insulin resistance. One systematic review of 40 studies concluded that those who were following an intermittent fasting program lost an average of 7-11 pounds over the space of 10 weeks. Although, it should be noted that the study participants varied significantly in both their body-type before they began and also the methods of intermittent fasting they chose. Nevertheless, this evidence adds significant weight to claims that intermittent fasting can be a highly effective method of weight-loss. Intermittent fasting is not seen as dangerous by experts, with most concluding it is a perfectly safe lifestyle choice, provided the fasting is interspersed with periods of eating and a routine is well adhered to. However, it must be understood that fasting one day does not justify eating excessively or unhealthily the next. Intermittent fasting can not be successful for weight-loss when fasting days are used to eat unhealthy foods to excess and, in fact, to do so regularly is extremely detrimental to long-term health and weight-loss. Ultimately, intermittent fasting is a proven tool for weight-loss and may provide a range of other health benefits. If it is used as part of a healthy lifestyle, alongside regular exercise and if it is not solely used to try to lessen the damage of unhealthy binge eating then intermittent fasting can be a useful lifestyle choice to consider.