The lowdown on intermittent fasting

Although intermittent fasting is an age-old practice, it's made a recent comeback, thanks to a series of studies highlighting the many benefits of calorie reduction. But whether you choose to fast now and then or cut back on calories, the key to long-term health is to listen to your body. If you’re curious about intermittent fasting, here’s what it’s all about:

Why choose intermittent fasting?

Well for starters, intermittent fasting simply means not eating for a short period of time to give your body a break from digesting foods and eliminating toxins. Many people use intermittent fasting methods to shed a few kilos, but recent studies also point to its powerful anti-ageing benefits and it's ability to reduce inflammation in the body. When you fast, many changes occur on a cellular and molecular level. Fasting also temporarily alters your hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible. Plus, it helps to regulate blood sugar levels. 

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting speed up the body’s natural recovery process as it increases cellular repair and turnover, while allowing your body the chance to re-set and detoxify. In addition, intermittent fasting has also been shown to;

  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Improve the body’s response to insulin
  • Boost levels of human growth hormone (which is a major bonus for fat loss and muscle gain)
  • Improve overall brain functioning and concentration (even though you might experience a bit of brain fuzz while fasting).

Is it for everyone?

Although there are many benefits to this way of eating, it’s certainly not for everyone, and I’m a big believer in listening to your body’s signals, because we’re all so different. While some people can easily fast for hours or even days, others really struggle to skip a meal, so it really depends on you – your body type, overall health status, fitness levels and the type of lifestyle you lead.

For instance, if you’re sitting at a computer all day, every day, it might be easier for you to try intermittent fasting every other day versus a busy, active person whose calorie demands are higher.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it’s also important to chat to your doctor before trying intermittent fasting or a calorie restricted diet. This way of eating isn’t recommended for:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding moms
  • Women who are trying to conceive
  • Those with current hormonal imbalances
  • Diabetics or those with blood sugar problems
  • Men and women who are underweight
  • Endurance athletes
  • People with a history of eating disorders.

Want to give it a go? There’s a few ways to start…

Calorie restriction is based on limiting calories while providing adequate vitamins and minerals essential to health. If you want to follow a calorie-restricted diet to lose weight and boost your overall health, I’d suggest seeing a registered dietitian for a well-balanced eating plan.

No matter how you choose to fast, all these schedules involve periods of eating and periods of fasting – where you only drink liquids such as water, coffee and herbal teas and / or some diluted fruit or veggie juices. The aim is to stay away from solid meals while fasting.

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The 24-hour fast – This simply involves a day or two a week where you hold off on eating anything solid for 24 hours. You can start after dinner, breakfast or lunch and fast until the same time the next day.

The 5:2 diet – The idea behind this plan is that you eat normally for five days with no calorie restrictions, and then for two non-consecutive days, you only eat 500-600 calories. For example, you’d restrict calories on a Monday and Friday, and you’d eat normally for the rest of the week. This doesn’t mean overeating on the ‘normal’ days. To achieve optimal results, it’s important to follow a healthy, balanced diet.

The 16/8 plan – This is by far the most popular way of fasting as it’s simpler to follow. With this plan, you simply wake up, skip breakfast and only eat within an eight-hour window, so say from 1pm-9pm. You then fast again until 1pm the following day.

I’ll stress again that these plans aren’t for everyone and if the idea of fasting doesn’t appeal to you, then simply carry on with your healthy eating plan and listen to your body.

For me, the key to optimal health and well-being is to listen to your body and be in-tune with your unique needs. I personally follow an intuitive eating approach and it’s kept me healthy and balanced for many years.

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