Intermittent fasting (IF) has received a lot of attention lately.
So what is it?
It is when you alternate between periods of eating and fasting. There are a number of different methods to choose from.
Some research has shown that IF can aid weight loss and improve metabolic health. This is due to the fact that you eat less in the week than what you usually would. This approach may work for some people while it may not work for others. Sustainability can be a problem when it comes to adopting this approach to eating, as it can be very difficult to follow long term. Additionally, there is a lack of research on the long-term effects of following this dietary approach.
IF is not a magic pill. If you do choose to follow this dietary approach, it is important to do it the right way to ensure that you stay true to your body’s needs.
Keep the following in mind if you decide to give IF a try:
If you feel like you are becoming too obsessed with food and the clock you might want to consider a more balanced approach to eating where you can enjoy regular healthy meals and snacks. Your dietary approach should not increase your stress around food. IF can result in disordered eating because you have to stick to a strict rule of eating or not eating during a specific time in the day. This is a red flag, as it takes us away from listening to our body and rather puts a focus on external rules that are made by humans. Our head starts deciding what is best for our body! It is important to listen to your body's internal hunger & satiety cues. If you are hungry, eat! Don't create hard rules for yourself and don't feel guilty if you're eating a meal outside of a set time frame. You don't have to follow IF 100% all the time for it to have benefits on the body.
If you are doing IF just for weight loss, this could be another red flag. When we do something for weight loss alone instead of health, we are often skewed with our thinking to start with. When weight loss is our main goal we tend to become more extreme with our behaviours. Although diets like IF can lead to weight loss and weight loss can lead to health, it’s important to keep in mind that the body will eventually adapt to the skipping of meals and will start to use less energy and store energy when you do eat. This is especially true when breakfast meals are skipped. The earlier hours of the day are when we are most active and need more energy. Additionally, the digestion, utilization and absorption of food is more effective in the earlier hours of the day. Hence why the body will start to use less energy and store more energy at night when it is fed. It does this with the goal of ensuring that it has enough energy during the day when it is needed the most. This is when you may start seeing a plateau in your weight loss or your weight may start creeping up while your energy levels start to decline.
When you do eat it is important to make it count. IF won't get you results if you binge on junk foods or eat more calories than what your body needs in general during the non-fasting periods. A focus still has to be put on diet quality and quantity. This means eating a well-balanced healthy diet and being mindful about the amount of food that you are consuming. Ensure that your meals are balanced with a lean source of protein, a high fibre low GI carbohydrate, a healthy fat and lots of vegetables to ensure that you are provided with sustained energy levels. A healthy diet consists of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean protein and healthy fats. Your intake of saturated fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates should be limited.
It is also important to practice mindful eating. Ensure that you take at least 20 minutes to eat a meal. This is the amount of time it takes for the stomach to send a message to the brain that food has arrived. Mindful eating can prevent overeating to ensure that you give your body the correct amount of food that it requires.
If you are experiencing severe side effects from IF like nausea, light-headedness, severe hunger, headaches, irritability, poor concentration and shakiness you might want to try another IF method or skip IF all together. It might not be the best option for you. Note that IF is also not safe for some people, including pregnant women, those with diabetes and other health conditions If IF is not for you, you don't have to worry! As long as you are not eating through the night you are already getting a fast in. By having a slightly earlier supper you can also get the IF results. However, it is also important to remember that the same results can be achieved by exercising regularly and following a normal healthy & well balanced diet. Sustained weight loss follows when a person learns to listen to their body and eats just less than what their body burns.
To conclude: IF can be used as a tool for its many health benefits, but if it is made into a strict diet that tells you exactly when you should be eating and you are not listening to your body anymore, this is starting to become disordered eating. Naturally we fast every night while we are sleeping so the best way to do IF is to do it #1 - intuitively where we listen to our bodies (remember that you do need to know what your body's signals sound like to listen properly!) and #2 - to do it in a way that works with our body’s physiology. This means eating in the day when your body uses and digests food best and needs the food the most, while skipping evening meals where the body doesn’t use and digest the food as well and does not need as much energy. However, if you are hungry at dinnertime, listen to your body and eat! Your body knows best.