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Everything you need to know about: Fasting

Fasting has gained popularity in recent years- with numerous protocols being hailed as the solution to multiple health concerns.  To the uninitiated fasting can also seem daunting and extreme, as well as unrealistic for modern life.

In reality, fasting doesn’t need to involve 20 days of just drinking water, or other draconian measures, it can in fact be integrated into your daily life in a much gentler, and manageable form.

The evidence is still emerging as to the exact ways in which fasting can benefit the body, but currently, there is enough promising data to make it appear worthwhile.

Here we discuss how fasting can help you lose weight, and why you don’t need to go hungry. 

Why Fast?

Fasting has been associated with a number of pretty impressive benefits. For a start, when people fasted for 16 hours a day (a pretty achievable target) they lost more weight than those who fasted for 8 hours- even when they consumed the same number of calories! 

This shows us that the benefits for weight loss go beyond just reducing calories- the effect is more likely to be associated with a reduction in circulating insulin levels, which prevents excess weight storage.

For many people, the ability to lose weight without altering calorie intake is the main draw of fasting, although of course, maintaining a nutrient dense and low-moderate carb diet alongside this form of fasting will increase your chances of success.

Even if you are not interested in weight loss, there appears to be additional benefits for your health generally.  Fasting allows the body to carry out crucial repair work- which it struggles to do if energy is constantly being diverted into digestion.

This repair work is known as ‘autophagy’- it essentially means the body clears out any old or damaged cells which may be interfering with the healthy functioning of our bodies.  Autophagy plays a key role in the prevention of chronic disease, so it is definitely to be encouraged. 

Okay so how do I fast without being hungry?

Its important to note that fasting is not about starving yourself- we want to ensure we are getting all the nutrients our bodies need to function optimally, without burdening it with excessive food intake.

Most evidence on caloric restriction is referring to the concept of intermittent fasting (IF). IF has many benefits, without the dramatic deprivation involved in long periods of complete fasting.

Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Find a style of fasting which suits your lifestyle. There are lots of different forms of IF, the most popular being the 16:8 and the 5:2. The 16:8 is a form of daily IF, whereby you eat within an eight-hour window- say from 10am to 6pm. This means you can still eat normal meals, and you can even move your eating window to 12pm-8pm if you have social plans in the evening. It is doable, and still highly beneficial.  The 5:2 is a more restrictive form of fasting so it might not work for everyone, but it can be great for weight loss. Here, you restrict your calories down to 500 2-3 times a week. This can be challenging for those who have an active or busy lifestyle so see what works for you.

  2. Keep your blood sugar balanced - if you are reducing your eating window down to 8 hours a day, you want to ensure you get everything you need nutritionally, and that you keep your blood sugar on an even keel. To do this, focus on nutrient dense whole foods, including complex carbs, healthy proteins & fats. This will prevent the type of energy highs and lows which make fasting much harder on the body.

  3. Stay hydrated - just because you are fasting for 16 hours a day, doesn’t mean you need to skip water. Similarly, teas without milk, or black coffee are all acceptable, and keeping your fluids up with help to prevent any energy dips
    For some people any form of fasting just isn’t suitable, and if you are in the following groups you may want to reconsider:
    • Pregnant or breastfeeding
    • Type 1 diabetes
    • Suffering from eating disorders

    For most people though, a simple 16:8 style form of IF offers an easy way to support your weight loss goals, improve your metabolic health via reduced insulin levels and encourage the body to repair and remove damaged cells.

    Key takeaways:

    • Fasting may sound extreme, but it can be easily integrated into your daily life via IF,
    • IF is associated with improved weight loss, better metabolic health and may promote the body to repair and restore via a process known as autophagy,
    • When choosing a form of IF consider your schedule and time it appropriately,
    • Remember to consume nutrient dense food during your eating window, balance your blood sugar and remain hydrated even when fasting.

     

    Bibliography:

    Sutton EF, Beyl R, Early KS, Cefalu WT, Ravussin E, Peterson CM. Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes. Cell Metab. 2018. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2018.04.010

    Lee C, Longo VD. Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: From model organisms to patients. Oncogene. 2011. doi:10.1038/onc.2011.91

    Kessler K, Pivovarova-Ramich O. Meal timing, aging, and metabolic health. Int J Mol Sci. 2019. doi:10.3390/ijms20081911

    Choi IY, Lee C, Longo VD. Nutrition and fasting mimicking diets in the prevention and treatment of autoimmune diseases and immunosenescence. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2017;455:4-12. doi:10.1016/J.MCE.2017.01.042

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