Intermittent fasting is one of those topics that immediately divides people. Some people swear by it while others think it teeters on disordered eating. Personally, I’ve always sat in the latter camp.
According to Harvard Health, studies in humans have shown that intermittent fasting is safe and effective – however, it is not any more effective than any other diet and people can find it difficult to fast (I’ve also been in that camp).
What is intermittent fasting?
James defines intermittent fasting as “an eating pattern that involves consuming food during specific hours.” According to her, the optimum time to fast is between 12-16 hours – during that time, you give yourself a break from eating.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
First, we have to address the fact that reduced calorie consumption is an obvious side effect of intermittent fasting. However, authors of scientific studies (one of whom has studied the fast for over 25 years) say that weight loss is not the main driver of the health benefits observed in preclinical and clinical studies.
So there’s a myth busted – don’t get into intermittent fasting solely for weight-loss reasons.
“Health benefits of intermittent fasting include cell regeneration, insulin sensitivity, disease resistance, and more,” says James. “During the fasting period, your body uses its fat stores for energy. It releases fatty acids known as ketones into the bloodstream, which have been shown to protect memory and learning.”
Gut health is another thing that benefits.
“Your gut bugs can determine how well you process your food and even tell your brain when you are hungry or full,” says James. “A healthy gut is important for overall health, and fasting can help improve gut flora.”
If you eat dinner at an earlier time, your gut microbes will get their much-needed rest – which they need to function effectively. Whereas consuming a large meal late at night means your gut has to work overtime to digest it, resulting in a negative effect on your overall gut health.
How do you do it?
“My recommendation is that you eat your last meal by 6 pm, which means you can have your first meal between 6 am and 8 am – allowing you to have breakfast before work.”
Aforementioned intermittent fasting expert, Mark P. Mattson, PhD. – neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine – suggests that people should not go into it cold turkey. Instead, clinicians should encourage their patients to adopt a gradual, phased-in schedule, in consultation with a dietitian or nutritionist.
Is intermittent fasting safe?
According to James, yes it is. “However, pregnant or breastfeeding women or those with medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney stones or gastrointestinal problems should consult with a doctor first before considering it.”
At the end of the day, most of the clinical research on intermittent fasting has been conducted on middle-aged adults who are considered “overweight”.
If you’re considering intermittent fasting, make sure to talk to your health professional before undertaking it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, you can call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.