With celebs like Jennifer Aniston, Hugh Jackman and Beyonce extolling it’s benefits, Intermittent Fasting looks like it’s here to stay. Nutritional Therapist Heather Leeson explains what it is and whether we should all be trying it on Virgin Media, or read on….
What is intermittent fasting (IF)?
Rather than a diet, intermittent fasting is a way of eating where you restrict calories or food entirely for a time period. There are lots of different ways of doing this. We don’t recommend the more extreme forms including the warrior diet (eat a small amount of raw fruit or veg during the day and 1 large evening meal) or the Eat: Stop diet (fast or stay below e.g. 500 calories every other day). Even the once popular 5:2 diet, where you eat a healthy diet for 5 days a week and eat less than 500 calories for the other two days can be hard to stick to.
An easier way
The most popular way to follow IF is time restricted feeding, where you simply extend your overnight fast to between 12 and 16 hours e.g. if you have your dinner at 6pm, you don’t eat anything until 10am the next morning. Even fasting for 12 or 14 hours overnight will give you many of the benefits associated with IF. You are fuelling yourself when you need energy and stopping eating to allow your body to rest and recover at night, working with your circadian rhythm.
What are the benefits?
- IF is a good way to support weight loss due to lower overall calorie intake and improved insulin sensitivity. Research does not necessarily show it is more effective than other diets. However, it is much easier to follow longer term
- Easy to follow and simple – no counting calories or points, no meal replacements…..
- Adaptable and flexible. If you end up eating later e.g. 8pm, you just extend your fast in the morning. If you are not trying to lose lots of weight, you can just follow it 5 days per week
- Cuts out unhealthy evening snacking habits and shown to help control appetite
And many other benefits beyond weight loss
- Lowers blood glucose and insulin levels, very helpful for the almost 1 million Irish people currently at risk of developing diabetes
- Good for heart health – reduces total and bad cholesterol and blood pressure
- Good for the brain – thought to reduce inflammation in the brain, increase neuroplasticity (ability for the brain to make and retain connections) and better brain health long term. Many people report better concentration and focus when they switch to IF
- Good for the gut, especially for patients with IBS and SIBO
- Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s and cancer, as IF induces autophagy, the body’s cellular repair system, clearing out damaged cells and a topic recently awarded the Nobel prize for medicine
- May help to reduce effects of ageing due to a reduction in inflammation and oxidative stress, although limited human studies to date
Are there any downsides?
Despite this long list of benefits showed by current research, it is worth pointing out the lack of research on the long-term effects of IF on humans. And IF is not suitable for some people, including:
- Pregnant or breast-feeding women
- People who are performing heavy physical labour who are likely to need more regular fuelling
- People with low BMI (under 18.5)
- Anyone with a history of an eating disorder
- Individuals under a lot of stress, as going for longer periods of time can increase levels of stress hormone cortisol.
We also don’t recommend the more extreme forms of IF requiring long fasting periods of several days.
An important caveat
Of course, you can’t expect to reap the benefits of IF if you eat lots of junk food during your ‘feeding window’. You still need to eat healthily, with plenty of vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, good quality protein and wholegrains, to get the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
So, should you do it?
IF is safe for many of us to try it out with very little downside. If you are going to try it
- Check with GP or Nutritionist first if you have a pre-existing medical condition, as IF may not be the best option for you
- Start with 12 hour fast and extend gradually over a couple of weeks. If you feel dizzy, irritable (or more irritable than usual!) or unable to concentrate or if you find your sleep is interrupted, you may want to reduce your fasting window back to 12 hours or less.
Your Intermittent Fasting Meal Plan
|Porridge with natural yoghurt / coconut yoghurt, berries and 2 tbsps seeds|
|Carrot and lentil soup, 1 slice wholegrain bread or a wholemeal scone , 1 apple|
|Salmon, bok choy, sugar snap pea and broccoli stir fry with cashew nuts and wholegrain rice|
If you want help putting together an IF plan that works for your health and lifestyle, get in touch with us to book an appointment on 01 4020777.