Intermittent fasting is definitely having a serious moment – you only have to flick through a gossip mag or hit the work lunchroom to know it’s the ‘in thing’. The popular health and fitness trend boasts various health benefits, but is it more than just a craze? We decided to look into the concept of intermittent fasting to put the record straight once and for all.
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What is intermittent fasting?
Although intermittent fasting sounds a little intense, it is dubbed as one of the easiest and most sustainable options for a healthier lifestyle.
This is because it is more about when you eat rather than what you eat. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating, requiring you go a longer time without food so your body has more of a chance to burn fat.
There are a few variations of intermittent fasting out there, with the most popular one being the 16:8 diet, otherwise known as Leangains protocol.
The 16:8 variation is where, in a 24-hour period, you only eat within a timeframe of 8 hours and then fast for 16 hours. So, you might forgo breakfast and have your first meal of the day at 1pm, only eating up until 9pm, before starting the cycle again after 16 hours.
It first sparked global interest in 2012 when a programme called Eat, Fast, and Live Longer aired in the UK, presented by Dr Michael Mosley who has since published several books on the benefits of fasting.
What is the science behind intermittent fasting?
Giving your body a break from food (say for a period of 16 hours) isn’t a bad thing; research suggests it provides a whole host of health benefits. But what’s the science behind it?
In between meals, insulin levels go down and fat cells release stored sugar used for energy. When insulin levels go down for long enough, this is the period when your body burns off fat.
What are the benefits?
Research suggests it helps lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, prevent diabetes and protect against heart disease. But one of the most common reasons for intermittent fasting is weight loss.
A recent study that followed a group of 150 overweight and obese participants found that intermittent fasting does lead to weight loss, though “may be equivalent but not superior” to calorie-counting. The lead scientist noted that for some it would be easier than simply counting calories.
Many contest that it is certainly a more sustainable way to lose weight, based on the fact you are likely to eat fewer calories by eating fewer meals a day. Not to mention fasting also allows you to burn calories faster than usual. Fasting is also said to curb cravings and stress eating, as your hunger hormone ghrelin is reduced.
Should you try it?
Healthy eating can be hard to maintain, so in this respect intermittent fasting could make your life easier on the quest for a healthier body.
However, it’s not for everyone. If you are underweight, have a medical condition, a history of eating disorders, are pregnant or breastfeeding, fasting is most likely a no-go. You can always consult a health professional if you’re not sure.
It’s crucial to eat a nutritious and well-balanced diet when fasting otherwise you might not see any results at all – if weight loss is your aim that is.
An easy way to test the waters is to eat between the hours of 8am-6pm, eating every meal as usual but still having a 14-hour period of fasting.