Nutrition is an evolving science and advice tends to change with new research. I studied nutrition in the early 90’s when we were taught that eating small amounts regularly was the best way to keep blood sugar balanced. For many years I told all my clients to do this but I now believe this to be out dated advice and that we really need to have a fresh look at when we eat as well as what we eat. We now understand and have a lot more knowledge now about insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, microbiome (bacteria within our gut), inflammation, oxidation and heart disease – all of which have been shown to benefit from Intermittent Fasting or IF. Intermittent Fasting (IF) is now being hailed by many nutrition experts as anti-ageing and health promoting but fasting is nothing new – many religions demand periods of fasting and our hunter-gatherer ancestors would certainly have gone for long stretches without food.
5 reasons to start IF
- Prevents Insulin Resistance
IF reduces circulating glucose, which in turn reduces insulin levels in the blood, which helps to normalise insulin sensitivity – all of which means a reduction in insulin resistance. Improved blood sugar balance means we crave sugar and stodge less so the knock-on effect is that many people who start IF lose weight. Insulin resistance contributes to most chronic disease – diabetes, cancer and heart disease – so improving insulin sensitivity is a must for improving health.
A study in the British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease 2013 found that ‘individuals with type 2 diabetes who fast on consecutive or alternate days not only lost more weight but also acquired cardio protective benefits and experienced better hearth health.’
- Improves Cardiovascular Health
IF can improve cardiovascular health as it has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood levels of LDL cholesterol and fat.
- Boosts Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
IF is thought to raise levels of HGH, which results in improved muscle mass and better bone health, thus slowing the ageing process.
- Reduces Inflammation
IF reduces inflammation in the body and decreases oxidative stress, warding off cell damage and thereby preventing cell death and increasing longevity.
- Boosts the Health of the Microbiome
Diversity of gut bacteria is key to good gut health and improved immunity and certain beneficial bacteria in the gut thrive and multiply in a fasted state.
There are several ways to fast and my favourite (and definitely the easiest method) is to go for 14-16 hours without eating – for me this means finishing eating by 8.00pm and not eating breakfast until 10.00am the next day. I don’t manage this every day but always fast overnight for at least 12 hours. The total number of calories eaten in a day does not need to change, it simply means eating within a more restricted time frame. Many of us do this naturally at weekends, waking late to enjoy a brunch, so we know how easy it is.
Hardy intermittent fasters might have a 24 hour fast once or twice a week but
Dr Kiran Krishnan, a renowned microbiologist, advocates an eight-hour time window for eating, finishing dinner at 8.00pm and not eating again till midday the following day. Similarly a nutritionist colleague of mine finishes eating by 5.00pm and enjoys breakfast the next day at 9.00am.
Before you embrace IF a word of warning – do not attempt any form of fasting if you are hypoglycaemic or diabetic (not for pregnant or breast feeding women either). It is very likely that you have blood sugar problems if after a few hours without food you feel weak, light-headed or irritable. If you suffer from blood sugar problems you should see a qualified nutritionist and sort this out first.
When you are eating, eat well. Include lean protein and healthy fats and reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates to a minimum.
My advice is also to try exercising first thing in the morning while you’re fasting so your body is still in the fat burning phase. Break your fast with a meal rich in protein and good fats (eg. eggs, salmon and avocado) to reduce insulin release.
You can work IF into your life gradually starting with an overnight 12 hour fast and gradually building to 14-16 hours. Try it for yourself you may be amazed by how good IF makes you feel!
Alli Godbold is a qualified nutritional therapist, specialising in weight loss, fatigue and digestive and hormonal health. She is also a certified gluten practitioner. Alli has worked forThe Food Doctor and currently works as nutritionist for The Healthy Holiday Company and is a regular contributor to Healthista.com. She runs frequent cookery workshops from her West London kitchen and has published a popular cookery book Feed Your Health. She created the Nourish diet for weight loss and improved health and has recently published a book of healthy recipes for her Nourish clients More Nourish Diet Recipes.