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FAQ on fasting

FAQ on fasting

Intermittent fasting diets seem to be the ultimate answer to weight problems, health issues and can even delay ageing. Interested? Here is everything you need to know to get started.

What is intermittent fasting?

Fasting diets were created by the monks in the middle ages.  Intermittent fasting (IM) involves slashing your calories on one or more days each week. Dieters typically eat 500 calories (600 for men) on the days when they’re fasting and eat whatever they want on the other days. Studies show that people following the diet experience healthy, sustained weight loss without feeling deprived. It may sound faddish but it’s actually scientifically proven and has significant health benefits other than fat burning. Very popular with both men and women, and celebrities include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Beyonce and actor Hugh Jackman, this diet looks set to continue its popularity into 2014.   

Which diet?

There are several versions of intermittent fasting diets. The 5:2 diet or “Fast Diet” by Dr. Michael Moseley, is the original and most popular. As the name implies, you fast for two days each week, and eat your normal diet for the other days. Other versions include the Every-Other-Day-Diet which requires you to have 4 fasting days, and the stricter ‘Alternate Day’ diet which is one day on, one day off. Whichever ratio of days you follow, the benefits of intermittent fasting remain the same.

What are the health benefits?

Many people follow an intermittent fasting diet in order to lose weight, roughly 1-2lb each week, depending on how many days you fast. Research shows that the diet burns fat more effectively and permanently than other diets. This is because it restricts overall calorie intake, reduces blood glucose and insulin levels, preserves muscle tissue and maintains a healthy metabolism. It’s also easier to stick to than other diets because you only have to deprive yourself for one day before returning to normal the next.

Although many overweight people follow the fasting diet, losing weight could almost be considered a side effect of the diet. Significant health benefits also include reduced inflammation, lower blood pressure, improved brain function and a generally protective effect on the brain and cardiovascular system.  How does this all happen? Restricting food intake appears to send our cells into survival mode making them more efficient, with increased resistance to stress and damage.

Increased longevity is another highly celebrated benefit. It appears that dietary restriction extends lifespan by reducing the amount of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Fasting also appears to change our body to ‘repair’ mode rather than ‘growth’ mode. This delays the onset of several age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease.

And don’t forget the lifestyle benefits of simply having some days free from thinking about and preparing nutritionally-balanced food (perhaps a welcome break for a nation increasingly obsessed with diets and cookery). 

What should I do on my fasting days?

Try to stay as active as possible. If you sit around slothfully you will be more likely to think about food and give in to your cravings. Many people choose their busy days as fasting days for this reason. If you’re not at work you could take a walk, bike ride, do some housework, read a book or see friends. You can even go the gym. In fact, studies show that people who exercise on their fasting days burn more fat.  It might be too much to complete any endurance events like a marathon though! Just aim to keep your body and mind occupied and you won’t think about food so much.  

What will happen on my fasting days?

Don’t expect it to be easy at first. You will feel hungry, but this is quite natural and the feeling will pass. You might feel grumpy, tired, have some stomach discomfort, feel shaky or have headaches. But once you’ve done your first few fasts these side effects will lessen and you will start to feel good.

What should I eat and drink on my fasting days?

You should drink as much liquid as possible. This will give the illusion of a full stomach, and keep hunger pangs at bay. Water and herb tea is good, but black tea and coffee are also acceptable, even with milk. You could have alcohol but it will count as calories and will go to your head quickly if you are hungry.

For the fasting days you can eat when you want. However, you should focus on minimum calories, maximum protein and fibre. This will keep you feeling full and energized. It’s best to avoid foods which are refined carbs such as white bread and potatoes because these will raise your blood sugar levels and start cravings!  Good ideas include vegetable soups, chicken and fish meals. Filling winter stews are also great this time of year. Many people choose to eat breakfast and dinner only, but snacks are perfectly acceptable. Popular options include vegetable sticks, fruit and raw almonds.

Let us know how you get on!