Excuse Buster: Digging into intermittent fasting
PHUKET: Intermittent fasting is all the rage at the moment with diets such as the 5:2 Diet going mainstream and becoming a big hit. Could temporarily abstaining from food be healthy, or is this practice potentially setting a person up for trouble?
As a nutritionist, it goes against one of the original rules we were taught to preach such as: Eat small meals often and don’t skip meals – especially breakfast.
Over the years I have come to recognize that there is no ‘one size fits all’ dietary strategy and the key to long term health success is that a person adapts food choices and timing according to what works for them, always taking into account their lifestyle.
Having followed my own original advice for many years to eat every 2-3 hours and not skip meals, about 10 years ago I experimented with this radical idea to not eat so frequently and even extend my evening fasting periods by performing intermittent fasting (and later also experimenting with fasts of much longer duration) which proved to be a revelation.
I realized I didn’t need to eat so often in order to still function well physically and mentally, and it was easier to not gain fat. But the potential benefit of fasting for long term health is another big reason it is a permanent part of my lifestyle. There is a lot of good research on the benefits of intermittent fasting, and here is an excellent summary cited in the journal Cell Metabolism 2014.
“Fasting has been practiced for millennia, but only recently studies have shed light on its role in adaptive cellular responses that reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, optimize energy metabolism and bolster cellular protection. Fasting has the potential to delay aging and help prevent and treat diseases while minimizing the side effects caused by chronic dietary interventions.”
Should we all be practicing intermittent fasting regularly?
In my opinion there are some people not suitable for either intermittent or full fasting (most fall into the common sense bracket):
1. Children or adolescents
2. Pregnant or breast feeding women
3. Most Athletes while in training or competition
4. Young women with hormonal (including menstrual cycle) issues– fasting can potentially make things worse by adding further stress
5. People with more serious health issues (physical and mental) including burnout syndrome (adrenal fatigue), blood sugar imbalances, or a sluggish thyroid.
Who are good candidates for intermittent fasting?
In my opinion the people best suited to intermittent fasting are those who have first got the basics of good nutrition, movement and a supportive lifestyle. For some that may take several months.
If weight loss is the goal, before jumping into intermittent fasting I recommend starting by cutting sugar and starchy carbohydrates, coupled with eating more fibrous carbs (vegetables), good fats and clean proteins.
I am always wary of someone trying to run before learning to walk in dietary terms because I have personally seen countless people focus on more advanced interventions like intermittent fasting, before consistently getting the basics right. Dabbling in dietary changes like intermittent fasting for some is just another style of yo-yo diet which can lead to further issues including hormonal imbalances (such as from the thyroid).
Intermittent Fasting Options
There are countless possibilities to perform intermittent fasting, and here are two popular choices:
1. 5:2 Diet method (pioneered by Brad Pilon who wrote ‘Eat stop Eat’). This style generally means eating one meal for the day, one or two days per week with the other days eating normally. For example, that could mean abstaining from breakfast and lunch on fasting days.
2. Another popular method is using a lengthened daily fasting time (made famous by Martin Berkham – www.leangains.com). Instead of fasting from say 8pm (end of dinner) to 7am you try to hold out breaking the fast (breakfast) until say noon and having an eating window from noon to 8pm. You may still eat two to three meals per day, but all to be consumed within the eight-hour window. This gives you 16 hours fasting time.
Intermittent fasting shows an enormous clinical potential for reducing cellular damage and improving health markers but we always need to remember attaining optimal health should first start with the basics of clean diet, regular exercise and a supportive lifestyle because performing intermittent fasting in a malnourished and highly stressed state may cause more problems than it solves.
Craig Burton is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN) with a Bachelor of Science degree (Sports Science) and a National Academy of Sports Medicine (PES) certification.
— Craig Burton
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