We are fast approaching the holiday season with its myriad coloured festivities and events, and with it we are sadly bound to gain a kilo or two …that is if we’re lucky! Enter intermittent fasting! This is a term that you’ve been hearing a lot lately, you may have even tried your hand at it. You’ve also probably seen or heard about people who have met with amazing results by committing themselves to this trend. Though ‘trend’ is not really doing it justice, perhaps we should aim to say ‘lifestyle’. So, what exactly is intermittent fasting and could it be The answer to all your food and weight problems?
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting focuses NOT on what to eat, but rather on WHEN. Intermittent fasting (IF) involves alternating between regular eating and short-term fasting cycles; there is no calorie counting and no food restrictions. You can drink water, coffee, and any other calorie-free beverages during the fast. If you follow this method correctly, this means that you will be consuming fewer calories and gradually losing weight by an average of 6.8 kg between 3-12 months. The success of such a method hugely depends on your food choices and the amount of calories consumed during the normal eating periods, therefore it is crucial that you eat healthy; fasting and bingeing could be the worst possible thing to do to your body.
Types of Intermittent Fasting?
# 24-Hour Protocol: This is probably the most difficult type as it involves a full 24-hour fast once or twice a week maximum, especially for women. This needs to be built up gradually by fasting 14-16 hours at first. If you finish your dinner by 7 pm on Monday for example, you will fast until 7 pm of the following day where you are allowed to break your fast. You can also fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch; the most important thing is not to binge after you break the fast since you will be ravenously hungry.
# The 16/8 Method (the “Leangains method”): This is probably the most popular method amongst women as it involves fasting for 16 hours a day and eating normally during the remaining eight hours. This is as simple as not eating anything after dinner and skipping your breakfast. Women are advised to start with a 14-hour fast and to slowly build it up; which shouldn’t be too difficult since we Muslims do it during Ramadan. As for non-Muslims, they have probably experienced it when they had to fast for at least 12-hours prior to doing certain blood tests.
# The 5:2 Diet (the “Fast Diet”): This is closer to an actual diet as it involves lowering your calorie intake by 25% (about 500 calories) of your usual consumption twice a week (allow one day between fasting days) and eating normally the rest of the week. You can do it by fasting on Mondays and Thursdays by eating two small meals (around 250 calories for women and 300 for men).
# Modified Alternate-Day Fasting: This involves fasting every other day while eating normally on the non-fasting days. You should be consuming around 500 calories on fasting days. This is also one of the advanced fasting diets and is not recommended for beginners; it is also the most difficult to sustain.
# Crescendo Method: This is about fasting 12-16 hours two to three times week. The fasting days should be evenly spaced out during the week for example Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
# The Warrior Diet: This method is about eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and having one large meal at night. This is quite close in nature to a paleo diet and it’s considered one of the first forms of intermittent fasting.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Weight Loss, and reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Lowering insulin levels and reducing insulin resistance (this is evident for men more than women).
- Improved metabolism with short-term fasts (extended fasting days actually lower metabolism).
- Preservation of muscle mass (when compared to other regular methods of dieting).
- Improved psychological well-being
Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting
Hunger, feeling weak and loss of focus at times, though these side effects will be reduced when you build tolerance.
There is some evidence that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men. Examples include cases in which blood sugar control worsened after three weeks of fasting for some women, while others have experienced some menstrual cycle changes. Scientifically speaking, extended periods of calorie restriction affect the release of (GnRH) gonadotropin-releasing hormone which in turn also affects the secretion of two reproductive hormones (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone which are responsible for disrupting period regularity, affecting fertility and bone health among others. Should anyone face any of these issues they should opt for shorter fasts and fewer fasting days; they should also consult with their doctors.
Intermittent Fasting is clearly not for everyone but it is a weight-loss tool that has proven effective in recent years. The best types for women are the 14-16 hour fast, the 5:2 diet and the modified alternate-day fasting. Trial and error work best so test it out to see which of the methods works best for you or even if it works at all, bottom line is that you need to eat healthy when not fasting! I personally tried the 16/8 method and found it somewhat easy to maintain; however I have to admit that I wasn’t wholly committed to be able to witness any actual results, and on top of that I found that I was craving all my off-limit foods during my eating hours and I easily acted on my cravings thinking that I’d earned them. Which is counterproductive but this was me. Our final word is that a consultation with your physician is your best bet prior to committing yourself to such a regime or any other regime for that matter!