Wed, Aug-28-19, 05:55
11 things nobody tells you before you start intermittent fasting
The first, and maybe most important thing you have to understand about nutrition is this: just because something makes perfect sense doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. It makes sense, after all, that eating fewer calories should be the only thing that matters for fat loss; that eating like our paleolithic ancestors did should make us healthier; and that eating loads of fat and almost no carbs will ‘force’ our bodies to use the former as a fuel source. And yet, whichever one of those things you believe, a sizable chunk of the nutritionist population is standing ready to call you insane.
So when someone tells you that just timing your food intake better might make all the difference – that you can still binge occasionally, as long as you’re willing to padlock the fridge for a few hours a day – you’d be right to be sceptical. But still: results are promising. Some experts claim that intermittent fasting can get you lean, help you manage hunger levels better than conventional dieting, and possibly even make you healthier, by stabilising your insulin levels or acting as a form of artificial calorie restriction.
A new study runs along exactly these lines: go without food for 36 hours, then eat whatever you like for 12, and you stand to lose, on average, more than half a stone within a month.
Scientists at the University of Graz in Austria believe the strength of alternate-day fasting (ADF) may lie in its adherence to hunter-gatherers’ patterns of eating thousands of years ago, when food was not available every day.
However, they warn that it may not be suitable for everyone and that further studies need to prove its safety over the long-term.
So, is intermittent fasting really the health feast it seems? Here’s what nobody tells you before you kick the KFC bucket for 36 hours at a time...
1. There are loads of versions of fasting...
If the 5:2 – that’s cutting down to 500 calories two days a week, as popularised by Dr Michael Mosley – doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other options. 16/8 sees you restricting your eating to an eight-hour window (maybe a late breakfast, a small lunch, and an early dinner), while the ‘Warrior Diet’ trims it down to four.
Eat-stop-eat is arguably the most extreme, involving a 24-hour fast once or twice a week – and ‘spontaneous’ fasting is just a fancy name for skipping a meal occasionally.
2. ... And some of them are very unpleasant
Quite a few of the lab studies showing health benefits of intermittent fasting used some version of ‘alternate-day’ fasting – where subjects ate as little as 500 calories one day, and then went back to fasting the next. This isn’t an approach for the unsupervised or inexperienced, and it’s not entirely clear if it’s sustainable.
3. It’s a lot easier if you’re busy
In contrast to other popular diets - which often involve prep, or at least time to cook - IF actually works better if you’re on the go. With no time to think, you’re unlikely to miss snacking - especially once your blood-sugar stabilises.
4. You don’t actually get that hungry
Assuming you eat sensibly the rest of the time, fasting isn’t that bad. The eight and four-hour options, especially, are pretty easy: black coffee acts as an appetite suppressant, and along with guzzling a load of water, it’s more than enough to keep you going until lunch or dinner.
The effect of blood-sugar levels on your energy, for most people, are overstated - after an initial bedding-in period, you’ll do just fine.
5. …Unless you do the full-day version
I’ve done the full 24-hours without eating – well, from dinner one day to dinner the next – once. For the first 20 hours or so, everything was fine; for the last four, I felt like I was in the last legs of a marathon, and it was only extreme sluggishness that stopped me rushing to the shops on a biscuit mercy-dash.
6. There’s a much easier option
If you’re like most non-fasters, your current eating window’s likely to be around 15-16 hours of the day – almost all the time you’re awake – and a growing group of researchers think that might be a problem. Humans are diurnal: our metabolisms have evolved to be active during the day, with light exposure and food intake controlling when our enzyme activity switches on and off. By switching to a 10-12 hour eating window, these researchers suggest, we might be able to get our circadian clocks back on track, with results that range from improved digestion to better endurance and more muscle.
Better still, it’s nowhere near as punishing as fasting: make your breakfast a little bit later and stop eating after supper, and you’re technically doing TRE, or ‘time-restricted eating.’
7. Yes, coffee counts (sometimes)...
Conventional intermittent fasting tends to allow black coffee or green tea, since they’re calorie-free. TREaters, though, point out that coffee is technically a ‘xenobiotic’ (just a fancy word for ‘thing that doesn’t naturally occur in your body’) - so it’ll still kick off the metabolic processes that they’re concerned with. This might not necessarily be a problem for fat loss, but it’s something to consider if TRE turns out to be beneficial.
Water, since it doesn’t need any digestion, is fine. Fill your boots.
8. ... And that might actually be a good thing
Ah yes, we’ve all seen the coffee-shop chalkboards and ‘funny’ mugs, but let’s be honest: if you’re a mumbling, shambling mess until your first shot of morning java, that’s a problem. When I tried TRE, I had to shunt my first coffee to an hour after waking up and glug a pint of water instead, and after a week, I actually felt... better? This probably shouldn’t have been so surprising.
9. It’s absolutely the best way to ‘eat’ on planes
Plane food is: a) horrible, and b) really just there to stop everyone trotting up and down the aisles like excited toddlers. Fix your hunger levels, and you can reject this tyranny: it’s not the end of the world if you don’t eat for eight hours, and it certainly beats trying to get sachets of protein powder onto a plane.
10. It’ll reshape your long-term relationship with hunger
In the modern world, one might argue, we’re all a bit too used to getting what we want, as soon as we want it: banging our hands on the table if Netflix gets a bit wobbly, refusing to work when Spotify shuts down and grabbing a muffin at the first twinge of hunger. Deliberately resist your urges for a few weeks, though, and the process gets easier: and at some point, you’ll realise that it’s normal to actually be a bit peckish most of the time.
11. It never works when you’re hungover
You’re still going to need a fry-up. Work around it.