By May Simpkin
The benefits of restricting calories on health and extending life span are well established.
Fasting has been used for thousands of years for spiritual and health benefits and has become popular in recent times due to the celebrity endorsement of intermittent fasting, aka the ‘5:2 diet’!
Although dietary advice has long focused on eating regular low-fat meals, intermittent fasting and the 5:2’s counterintuitive approach to weight loss has attracted thousands of women and men.
What Are The Benefits?
It can improve glucose tolerance
Insulin resistance is generally caused as a result of the body’s reduced ability to remove excess glucose from the blood either because insufficient insulin is released or the glucose receptors have become less sensitive.
Excess glucose will be converted to fat and stored in tissues not suitable for fat storage.
As the body uses fat as a fuel during intermittent fasting, fat stores will reduce allowing the cells to regain insulin function and glucose sensitivity.
Studies show that intermittent fasting can improve many health parameters especially in pre-diabetic and insulin resistant people, where a caloric restriction can avoid the need to use medication.
Further findings also suggest that short term intermittent fasting may be a safe and tolerable dietary intervention for those already diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and may improve body weight and fasting glucose levels.
It helps to establish a routine
Although it can be difficult to establish a new way of eating in conjunction with family or work commitments at the outset, once you’ve developed a plan that works, tweaking and adjusting to suit your lifestyle, it’ll soon simply become the way you eat, in terms of timings and good quality meal choices.
Understanding your body’s genuine hunger signals and not confusing them with cravings often associated with the consumption of too many processed foods will give you greater understanding of your body and improve your confidence to maintain healthy habits.
Having a regular routine, with strict eating times, can simplify your day to day life especially if you’re feeling good for it.
It improves your skin health Many skin conditions can be alleviated by eating a good quality diet, high in vegetables and fiber and avoiding processed foods.
To ensure adequate nutrients with intermittent fasting, you will need to avoid these pro-inflammatory foods that offer little nutritive value and in doing so, you will reduce inflammation, often associated with skin conditions such as acne and eczema.
Furthermore, if you suspect your skin condition is exacerbated by a specific food sensitivity or intolerance, eliminating this food during a fast will offer you the opportunity to re-introduce a food one at a time afterwards, to establish if it is the culprit.
It makes you more resistance to health conditions
Intermittent fasting’s ability to reduce weight will result in lower body fat.
This has further benefits to many health outcomes including improving heart function, helping to prevent cancer and generally improved immune health.
It will help you focus
Being in control of regulating your food intake also makes you more aware of your body.
This deepened sense of understanding and connection can help reduce stress and anxiety and allow you to have a clear mind to focus.
How You Can Make Fasting Work For You
Intermittent fasting should be viewed as a long term lifestyle choice rather than a crash diet.
Otherwise, it is likely that you will regain any weight lost if you resume your original eating habits.
It is also essential that you make healthy food choices; ensuring good nutrition is vital when fasting to ensure the body’s processes are taking place efficiently and effectively.
Thus, planning your meals to make sure you are getting adequate nutrients is very important.
There are two ways to successfully achieve this pattern of eating:
The simple concept is to aim to fast every day for 16-18 hours a day and only consume your food in the remaining six to eight hours.
For example, if you eat your evening meal at 6pm, then you would not eat your next meal until at least 12pm the following day, allowing an 18-hour fast in between.
The weekly approach
This suggests that you eat normally five days a week and diet two, preferably consecutive, days a week, reducing your calorie intake for those two days to a quarter of their normal level (500 calories for women, 600 for men).
As long as you avoid bingeing for five days and starving for the other two, evidence suggests this can be effective as part of a longer-term weight management strategy.
To start with, increase the gap between dinner and breakfast.
If you’re not hungry you could skip breakfast altogether; going from dinner to lunch works best.
Consider the ideal ratio of 16:8 hours, this means you’d be eating a lower-calorie but nutrient dense diet within the eight-hour window.
Typically, this would be from midday until 8pm.
Spread this over two meals and then fast until lunch the following day.
Repeat this routine at least two to three times per week.
If you feel hungry any time outside of the eight-hour window, distract yourself with an activity or task so that you’re not so aware of the hunger pangs.
Factoring in a daily brisk walk will help to speed up your metabolism and maintain muscle mass.
If you’re opting for the weekly approach, do not fast for longer than three days in a row to avoid a significant reduction in your metabolism and to protect against muscle loss.
If you’ve embarked on this approach on a long-term basis, including a cheat day every now and again is not a problem.
Who Should Not Fast
1. People who are underweight
Restricting calories may result in further weight loss.
Their nutrient and energy requirements are different to adults and fasting may not allow a child to thrive.
3. Pregnant or breast feeding mothers
Pregnancy is a time to ensure good nutrients and adequate calories for a growing baby.
4. If you have an eating disorder
Even if you have struggled with an eating disorder in the past, you may find adopting an eating pattern that restricts food may trigger a relapse.
5. If you’re recovering from surgery
Restricting nutrient intake and energy production may impair repair after surgery.
6. If you are feeling unwell or have a fever
It is important to listen to your body and avoid fasting if your body is not in optimal health.
7. If you are taking any prescribed medications, Type 1 diabetics and diabetics on insulin
It is essential to consult with your GP before embarking on any weight loss program.
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Five ways to you can fast smart
There are a number of ways to make sure your meal provides the balance of nutrients whilst ensuring you are satiated.
Try a protein shake as a healthy option as a convenient meal alternative.
Include at least two to three portions of vegetables with each meal and two to three portions of fruit per day. Also, include protein with every meal – this means meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, pulses.
Ensure your meals are protein rich to help you stay full and avoid cravings. Cauliflower and Quinoa Pilau ‘rice’ is a great example as it combines good vegetables and is an ideal meal to prepare in advance.
Include more healthy fats in your diet. Foods such as olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts and seeds are a great place to start. If you’re choosing a nut butter, pick one that is minimally processed and without any additions.
Reduce your intake of carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as well as those naughty sugary foods that we love like cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolates and desserts. In an ideal world, you should completely avoid alcohol but making a significant reduction of your intake is also great.