Fasting for a few days a week can deliver health benefits. But is there simpler way to get the same results? Yes, if you follow a few easy rules, Writes Karen Fittall
Intermittent Fasting Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting (IF), which typically involves significantly restricting kilojoules for a few days a week while eating what you like for the others, has gained traction over the last few years. A handful of IF diets exist, and their popularity is based on research showing that they boost energy and mood, lower blood pressure and insulin levels, and reduce hormones and inflammation known to increase the risk of cancer. They also work for weight loss.
But, even though fasting diets might be easier to stick to than trying to cut kilojoules every day, one in five people still find them hard to do long term. If that’s you, we have good news – there’s a simpler way to fast, you just need to know the rules.
Fast For As Long As You Can Overnight
TO: Lower your risk of breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Why it works: The easiest way to fast is to do it overnight. Restrict your eating for at least 12 hours – for example, finish dinner at 7pm and don’t eat breakfast until 7am.
This limits how high your blood glucose levels rise after you’ve eaten a meal, which lowers your risk of many health conditions. Stabilising your blood glucose also makes you less prone to sweet cravings, so helps prevent weight gain.
For every three-hour block you spend fasting in-between dinner and breakfast, your post-meal blood glucose levels fall by four per cent.
Try to do it: Every Night
Skip Breakfast Sometimes
TO: Decrease your waist circumference, which is one way to protect against type 2 diabetes. Compared to people following a standard weight-loss diet, people who skipped breakfast lost the same amount of weight, but increased the loss from around their waists.
Why it works: It extends your overnight fast to 16 hours, which reduces your post-meal glucose levels even further. And that helps to promote healthy weight management by regulating appetite and boosting how much energy the body burns.
There’s also a theory that skipping breakfast promotes healthy gut bacteria, which has also been linked to better weight loss. If you finish dinner at 7pm, don’t eat anything until 11am the following day.
Try to do it: Couple Of Times A Week
Avoid Food For At Least Two Hours Before You Go To Bed
TO: Reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.
Why it works: When you eat within two hours of going to bed, your blood pressure is nearly three times more likely to stay elevated while you’re asleep, and that’s a risk, factor for heart attack and stroke. The researchers behind the finding say it’s best not to eat dinner any later than 7pm.
Try to do it: Every Night
Leave At Least Five Hours Between Meals And Eat Plenty Of Protein
TO: Lose weight. Spreading a day’s worth of kilojoules across just three meals with no snacking inbetween, is weight-loss-friendly behaviour. Just make sure that those three meals contain a good portion of protein.
Why it works: The protein promotes a feeling of fullness, so even though you’re eating less often during the day, you’ll feel more satisfied as a result. Plus, research shows that most mid-morning snacks are eaten out of habit, not hunger, so fasting between meals is smart.
Try to do it: Every Day
Never Eat When You Should Be Sleeping
TO: Make sure your memory functions properly. Studies suggest that late-night snacking when you’d usually be asleep impacts the brain, making it harder to learn new things and store memories.
Why it works: Saying no to eating during ‘sleep time’ encourages the hippocampus – the region in the brain that’s essential for forming long-term memories – to function properly. On the flip side, eat when you should be sleeping and the molecules involved in memory formation become disrupted.
Try to do it: Very Night
Make Lunch Your Biggest Meal Of The Day. And Eat It Before 3PM
TO: Lose more weight.Eat your main meal of the day after that time and you’ll lose 25 per cent less weight over five months, even when you stick to the same number of daily kilojoules and do the same amount of exercise.
Why it works: The body ‘burns off’ kilojoules faster, earlier in the day. One explanation is that it’s due to the effect of the body’s natural circadian rhythm – later in the day, your system starts to slow down in preparation for a night’s rest.
Try to do it: Every Day
Real Fasting Diets
If you want to try a full-blown intermittent fasting (IF) diet, here’s what you need to know.
There are a few popular IF diets, including The 5:2 Diet (the5-2dietbook.com), The 2-Day Diet (thetwodaydiet.co.uk) and The Every Other Day Diet (eoddiet.com).
How They Work
The Every Other Day Diet. You fast every second day. On fast days, you have 2000kJ to spend on lunch (no breakfast or dinner), and on non-fast days you eat normally. This is slightly less than a quarter of a ‘typical’ day’s kilojoule intake.
The 5:2 Diet. You fast for two days a week (usually on non-consecutive days, or consecutive days if preferred), and have 500 calories a day to spend on breakfast, lunch and dinner. The focus is on lean protein and generous portions of vegetables. On non-fast days you eat normally.
The 2-Day Diet. You fast for two consecutive days a week. On fast days, you’re allocated a certain number of ‘serves’ of different types of foods, and you can spread those serves across the day. On non-fast days, it’s recommended that you stick to a Mediterranean style of eating.
The Health Benefits
Over eight weeks, people following alternate-day IF diets, like The Every Other Day Diet, lost 13kg, lowered their levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol by 25 per cent, and experienced a 10 per cent reduction in blood pressure.
When IF diets were put under the microscope, 65 per cent of people lost weight on The 2-Day Diet, compared with 20-40 per cent of those on traditional weight-loss diets. They also lost twice as much actual body fat, and lowered their levels of hormones linked to breast cancer. Some research has also shown that IF diets produce significantly better improvements in blood glucose control than standard weight-loss diets.
Maximise Your Fast Days By:
Drinking eight to 12 glasses of water. Food provides 20 per cent of your daily water intake, so drink more water to compensate for a lower food intake.
Picking a ‘busy’ day. You’ll be less likely to focus on the fact that you can’t eat as much food as you normally do.
Exercising. Combining fasting with physical activity lowers cholesterol levels even further. But you get a hunger surge 30 minutes after exercise, so time any physical activity to work in with your fast-day meal plan and try to eat something immediately afterwards.