Intermittent Fasting

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So what’s all the fuss about intermittent fasting? Is it dangerous? Does it work? If so, which methods are the most effective?

Like with so many areas on the cutting edge of nutritional science, the waters are murky, with some enthusiastic advocates writing best selling diet books and others taking a measured approach, waiting until more studies are done.
The early data is certainly encouraging, suggesting that Intermittent Fasting (IF), might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain or maintain lean mass and more.

Fundamentals First

What strikes me about that impressive list of benefits is that they are also markers of health that we consistently achieve at RISE (the jury is still out on ‘extending life’ since we’ve only been helping people for 24 years so far, but we’re hopeful :)) with regular exercise and a healthy diet. For that reason, we don’t see IF as the one and only way to help people reach their goals.
We use IF sometimes, in certain situations when it matches the needs and goals of the individual. Every program is personalised.
Check out our previous blog Top 5 Healthy Eating Tips for ideas on how to get started with a healthy eating plan and make sure you are covering the basics before you consider IF.
It seems to me that it will be quite a number of years before science is able to confirm the exact benefits of IF in humans and which methods (there are many) are the most effective.

What We’ve Learned About IF

As a result, many people, including us at RISE have been self experimenting with some of the different IF protocols and this is what we’ve discovered so far.
  • Fasting is a great way to learn how to manage hunger.
  • Fasting helps us appreciate food and the process of eating.
  • Fasting is an effective form of weight loss.
  • Fasting works, but is not for everybody and is not necessary to achieve great results.

Physical Hunger vs. Psychological Hunger

It’s liberating to realise that hunger is not an emergency, it’s just a feeling. Many of us react in panic to the first sign of hunger and immediately eat something, convincing ourselves that we “need it” to function, when in reality, a distraction is all it takes to change that feeling for a while. A brief walk, a big glass of water, a max set of push ups, a phone call, an interesting task are all simple ways of distracting the mind and riding out the first wave of hunger.
Or better yet, we can sit with the feeling of hunger and notice that our reaction is usually the worst thing about it. If we consciously relax our breathing and remain calm we’ll notice that nothing really bad happens if we miss a meal or two.
One of the best things fasting can teach us is that hunger doesn’t go up in a straight line, it comes and goes in waves. I have found that real, physical hunger kicks in towards the end of a full day of fasting as opposed the habitual, psychological hunger which first appears 3 – 4 hours after my last meal when my body and brain are used to eating again. Being able to recognise this difference is a useful skill in maintaining a healthy weight.

Trial 24 Hour Fast

If this piques your interest, why not try a one off, 24 hour fast? You don’t have to commit to fasting, long term, just give it a go once and see what you learn about yourself. It can be scary and intimidating but equally liberating and enlightening. And as soon as you’re done, you can go back to normal eating.
The main reason to try it would be to, understand how you react to the feeling of hunger, to distinguish between body hunger and ‘mental’ hunger and then use this information to interpret your appetite correctly in the future.
If you’re keen to give it a try, here’s a good way of doing it.
9pm Saturday:
   – Eat your last meal of the day
   – Drink 500ml (2 cups) of water
9am Sunday:
   – Drink 1 L (4 cups) of water + 1 serving of greens powder
   – Drink 250ml  (1 cup) of green tea
   – Take 5 grams of EAA (essential amino acid) powder
2pm Sunday:
   – Drink 1 L (4 cups) of water + 1 serving of greens powder
   – Drink 250ml (1 cup) of green tea
   – Take 5 grams of BCAA (branched chain amino acid) powder
9pm Sunday:
   – Eat a small snack before bed
   – Drink 500 ml (2 cups) of water
   – Eat Normally

Appreciating Food and the Process of Eating

Most of us are conditioned to habitual, unconscious eating. A day without food resets our perspective. After a full day of fasting, it’s easier to appreciate firstly that we actually have food to eat and that sitting down to a meal is both a pleasure and a privilege.
If you find this one off trial doable and useful, you could consider doing it on a more regular basis. Once a season, once a month or at the most, once a week. Whatever you feel you are getting benefit from. We don’t recommend doing a 24 hour fast more frequently than once a week though as this may lead to malnutrition.

The 16:8 Method

Another popular IF method among fitness enthusiasts is to reduce your daily eating window to 8 hours, leaving the remaining 16 hours to fast. Considering about 8 hours of these will be while you are asleep, there is only another 8 hours to refrain from eating.
You might choose to skip breakfast and eat your first meal of the day at 12pm and finish your last meal of the day by 8pm. Or you could skip dinner and have breakfast at 8am and finish your last meal by 4pm (or any other variation that suits your daily schedule).
To make the most of this method (which was famously adopted by Hugh Jackman to get in shape for his Wolverine role) advocates suggest you train in a fasted state at the end of your fasting period and then eat your biggest meal of the day directly after your training.
It is also recommended that you include carbohydrate and calorie cycling – meaning on your training days eat larger meals consisting of protein, veggies and carbs and on your non training days eat smaller meals of protein, veggies and fats.

The Fast 800

Dr Michael Mosley is one of the many ‘self experimenters’ in the IF field who seems to be doing a good job of connecting with the mainstream of health conscious people. He has made television documentaries on fasting (and other areas of health) and has written some best selling books on the subject.
A number of people we work with have enjoyed positive results following his most recent program known as ‘The Fast 800’. Mosley encourages people to lose weight quickly by consuming just 800 calories per day until they achieve their goal weight and then scale it back to a 5:2 and then a maintenance phase.

Who Should Not Do Intermittent Fasting

Pregnant women, any one who has or has had an eating disorder or people looking to be healthy and fit without a desire to be extremely lean. Remember, although fasting works, it is not necessary to fast to be healthy and fit.

Tips and Tricks

If you are keen to give IF a try, here are a few concepts to consider.
– Don’t start IF if you are new to exercise and nutrition. Learn the basics first.
– Be clear on your reasons for doing it which may include; learning not to fear hunger, respecting the process and privilege of eating, to improve insulin sensitivity and to lose bodyfat/weight.
– If you do decide to give it a go, start small. Perhaps just shift a meal time by one hour and see how it feels. Take your time. It will take a few weeks for your body to adjust to the new routine. Don’t feel like you have to be too rigid with the protocols. All the different IF methods boil down to the same basic concept of ‘sometimes you eat, sometimes you don’t’. In the end, anything that gets you to eat fewer total calories will achieve a result.
– And remember, what you DO eat is as important as what you DON’T. Establish good basic nutritional habits first. Eat good quality food, in the right amounts at the right times. For most people, this is enough to get into great shape, no IF required.
Enjoy your next meal, especially if it’s your last for a while! 🙂
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