One of the biggest trends in nutrition right now is intermittent fasting – Thrive Expert and Nutritionist Lizzy Cole looks at the details and looks at whether it can help promote sustainable health and weight loss.
One of the biggest trends in nutrition right now is intermittent fasting – it has caught our attention due to claims it can be effective for weight loss as well as improve overall health and wellbeing. If you’re just as intrigued as the rest of us, read on as our nutrition expert Lizzy Cole explains what it involves and whether this way of eating is right for you.
What is it?
Intermittent fasting involves shifting when (but not necessarily what) we normally eat; it’s essentially a pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and periods of eating. This differentiates it from a ‘diet’ in the traditional sense. What’s great is that it complements human evolution; we have evolved to function without food for extended periods when food wasn’t available.
Intermittent fasting, has shown to initiate important cellular repair processes and reduce markers of inflammation
How can I do it?
There are different ways to approach intermittent fasting. All follow the same pattern of splitting days and weeks into eating and fasting periods. The most popular method is 16/8, which involves restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours (e.g. 9-5pm) and fasting for the other 16. It’s entirely your choice when this 8-hour window is, making it sustainable and easy to stick to.
Almost just as popular, 5:2 involves drastically restricting calories on two non-consecutive days of the week (‘fast’ days), but eating a normal quantity of food the other five days. However, the disadvantage of this method is you’re likely to feel hungry on fast days. To fight the hunger pangs on 5:2, make sure you’re eating plenty of fibre (think wholegrains, fruit and veggies) and lean protein (fish, eggs and chicken are great examples), both of which help keep us feeling fuller for longer.
It may take some time for your body to adapt to this different way of eating, so try easing into intermittent fasting. Many people consider 16/8 the simplest method; you might want to try this first and, if you find it easy and feel good during the fast, then maybe try moving on to 5:2. However, you don’t necessarily need to follow a structured intermittent fasting plan to gain at least some of the benefits. You could simply fast whenever it’s convenient or you’re not hungry. Experiment with different approaches and find something that you enjoy and fits your schedule.
Intermittent fasting is essentially a pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and periods of eating.
What is it used for?
Whichever method you use, intermittent fasting can be a very effective weight loss tool; there are even indications that it results in less muscle loss than the classical approach to dieting. However, it’s important to remember the main reason for its success is that intermittent fasting helps reduce total calorie intake. Therefore, if you binge during your eating periods, you may not lose weight.
Alongside the potential weight-loss benefits, fasting can also help improve overall health. For example, it initiates important cellular repair processes including autophagy, where old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells are removed, and reduces markers of inflammation. This can help slow aging and the development of some chronic diseases. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) increases when fasting, while insulin and blood sugar decrease. Together, these changes may increase your metabolic rate, help reduce your waist circumference, and protect against type 2 diabetes.
When to avoid it
Intermittent fasting is not suitable for everyone; for example, those who are underweight or have a history of eating disorders. There is also some evidence that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men. Moreover, anecdotal reports suggest it can cause menstrual periods to suspend until normal eating patterns are restored. Therefore, women should be careful with intermittent fasting, especially If you have issues with fertility or are trying to conceive. Intermittent fasting is advised against if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and, if you have a medical condition, you should consult with your doctor before adopting this eating pattern.
Intermittent fasting has the potential to improve your health. However, eating minimally processed, whole foods, exercising and getting adequate sleep are still the most important factors to focus on. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition and, whilst intermittent fasting is great for some people, it’s not for others. The only way to find out which group you belong to is to try it out!