An introduction to intermittent fasting

Over the last few years the concept of intermittent fasting has become a popular health, fitness and wellbeing trend. As with most things, it's important to understand the core principles around intermittent fasting to work out if it is right for you and something that you can integrate into your life on an ongoing basis.

As with My Life Tonic, we aim to encourage people to try and make small changes in their daily lives that are sustainable for the long term.

Below, I'll outline some of the various options for intermittent fasting - hopefully you'll be able to find the option that works best for you on an ongoing basis.

What are potential benefits?

  • Simplify lifestyle; as it provides a clear structure to follow
  • Improve health
  • Potential to lose weight

What is Intermittent fasting?

Firstly, intermittent fasting is NOT a diet that dictates what you eat but when you eat and there are several options you can choose from (and adapt for what works for you).

Simply put - when the body runs out of sugar stores it starts to burn fat in a process that is called 'metabolic switching.'

Particularly in modern society, there is the temptation to continually graze with 3 meals a day and snacks throughout the day. We are not giving our body time to rest, or stop.

12 -16 hours fasting

Firstly, we've found this the easiest to integrate into our daily routine, and one that can be increased gently over time. Ultimately a 12 hour fast can be from dinner through to breakfast the next day. We now tend to eat earlier, not past 7pm and then can have breakfast before Max leaves for school in the morning.

If we want to extend the fast, then we can eat breakfast later, whilst being up with Max each morning. Sharing regular meals as a family is important so, it maybe that we have a hot lemon drink in the morning together and have a slightly later breakfast. Whilst you are fasting it is important to stay hydrated so drink plenty of water (hot or cold) or drinks without any calories (black tea or coffee for example).

5:2 Diet

This is when you consume 500-600 calories for 2 days per week, whilst eating 'normally' for the remaining 5 days. Having tried this a few years back, I found this quite a tricky regime to integrate into my routine along with regular exercise, work and social life.

24 Hour Fasting

Fasting for a full day, once or twice a week (not consecutively!), whilst making sure to stay hydrated. Having struggled with the 5:2 regime, this is not something I have done.

Remember - Fasting aims to reduce the calories you intake - that doesn't mean 'binge' eating in the window when you are not fasting!

What are potential benefits of fasting?

Weight loss

  • Eating fewer meals is likely to reduce calorific intake thereby aiding weight loss
  • Enhanced insulin sensitivity -  insulin sensitivity improves and insulin levels drop significantly which can help protect against type 2 Diabetes
  • Increased human growth hormone levels (up to 5 fold increase) can stimulate both fat loss and muscle gain
  • Lower insulin levels and increased hormones raises the level of fat burning hormone norepinephrine
  • Short term fasting can increase your metabolic rate and help burn fat

Reduced inflammation - a marker for chronic diseases (cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes)

Heart health - reduction in 'bad' LDL cholesterol, insulin resistance and blood sugar all factors affecting heart health

Memory - animal studies have shown to increase working memory, whilst verbal memory has improved for adult humans.

Before you start....

Firstly, the very nature of fasting (any of the above options listed) - will mean you will feel hunger. Fasting should be thought of as one element of living a healthier lifestyle of controlling your eating habits, along with drinking enough water,  getting enough sleep, regular exercise, whilst also maybe cutting down on caffeine and alcohol.

As will all tweaks to your existing lifestyle routine, it will take some time to adjust. So feeling 'weak' or not feeling as sharp as you normally do are likely to be short term side affects. The body can take between 2-4 weeks to get used to intermittent fasting, so if you feel tired or cranky do try and hang in there if you can.

If, however, you are dealing with any of the following are areas, then it's best to consult a medical professional before you start any form of intermittent fasting

  • If you are underweight
  • Has a history of eating disorders
  • Have low blood pressure
  • Has diabetes
  • Experiences difficulty with blood sugar regulation
  • Are on existing medication
  • Trying to conceive
  • Are breast feeding
  • Experience amenorrhea

People under 18 should not try intermittent fasting.

We hope you have found this introduction helpful in outline some of the reasons you may want to try fasting and the associated benefits.