Now before you start forming opinions, let me get to explaining. As a dietitian, I’ve never been keen on advising clients to follow “quick weight loss” solutions. I’ve never been a fan of detoxing, cleansing, fasting or even diets such as Atkins and Paleo. With the aforementioned, you’ll achieve results —but it’s temporary — and when life gets in the way (travel, social obligations, family life), you tend to veer away from consistency. While that may not be your choice, that’s just how things work.
Since I started pursuing nutrition (over 8 years ago), I’ve been focused on helping my husband find a healthy lifestyle — one that particularly works for him. I introduced him to the concept of breakfast because he would wait until 10 or 11am to eat his first meal, scarf it down and then complain of acidity soon after. I encouraged him to avoid egg yolk because of his susceptibility to familial high cholesterol. I suggested he use a reusable water bottle to focus on adequate hydration. Sure, these tips are simple. I also recommended to follow a dietary pattern of eating smaller, more frequent meals daily. So instead of 3 large meals, why not focus on breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and then dinner. This way you eat small portions and encourage variety in consumption.
What we’ve come to realize over the years is that the smaller, frequent meals really doesn’t work for “his type.” What is his type? His type is a super busy, global friendly, start-up entrepreneur. The type that travels often. The type that has to meet people for dinners. The type that speaks on panels. The type that sits in transit for long periods. The type that sleeps late. The type that gains weight with stress especially in the midsection. With all these variables, it becomes an obstacle to eat healthy and regimented —especially to follow the smaller, more frequent meals. We had to find a better solution and fast.
As a result, I was introduced to Intermittent Fasting. I was not able to find a significant amount of evidence based research but after a couple weeks, I came across Professor Mark Mattson. His research demonstrated a connection between caloric intake and weight loss as well as caloric intake and brain function. He explains, “Every time you eat, glucose is stored in your liver as glycogen, which takes about 10 to 12 hours to be depleted. After the glycogen is used up, your body starts burning fats, which are converted to ketone bodies, acidic chemicals used by neurons as energy. Ketones promote positive changes in the structure of synapses important for learning, memory, and overall brain health. If you eat three meals a day with snacks between, your body doesn’t have the chance to deplete the glycogen stores in your liver, and the ketones aren’t produced.” (Similarly, exercise also produces a similar effect on brain health.)
To date, there have been two types of fasting patterns that have been explored. One is the 5:2 (five days of normal caloric consumption i.e. 2000 for women, 2500 for men and 2 days of 500 calories per day) and one that follows a time-restricted diet which follows a fasting time and a feasting time. Feasting time is usually a window of 8 hours so your body has time to exhaust its supply of glycogen, start burning fat, and produce ketones.
To understand if this dietary pattern could work for you, here are some points to consider:
- Do you travel often?
- Do you find that you’re still hungry after your larger meals?
- Do you find that you’re not satisfied with your meals even after you’re done eating?
- Do you stress eat?
- Does your lifestyle include at least 2-3 days of drinking alcohol?
- Do you prefer larger meals?
- Do you carry your fat towards your midsection?
- Are you borderline diabetic or susceptible to diabetes?
If you have answered yes to at least three if not all of the questions, it could be worth considering Intermittent Fasting. What’s interesting to note is that through this process, you begin to understand how your body operates and assess hunger cues.
When implementing, it’s important to pay attention to the following:
- No matter where you are in the world - consistency is key. Follow the 8 hour feasting and 16 hour fasting.
- If you break the fasting pattern, at best you have to keep the same caloric intake because the body doesn’t burn the fuel the same way as it would during the fasting pattern
- At each meal, focus on variety: lean protein, fiber, healthy fats and whole grains.
- Implement a healthy sleep routine - inadequate sleep is correlated with excess calorie intake
- Adequate hydration is essential. During your feasting and fasting state, hydrate. Ideally, a minimum of 96 fluid ounces per day.
- Limit alcohol intake. Supplement accordingly with water. For example, if you’re drinking wine, drink at least 4-5 oz of water after that glass of wine.
Remember, just because you fast for 16 hours doesn’t mean that the feasting window is a literal translation to “feasting.” It means that you are eating in an 8 hour window but you want to consume wholesome, nutritious food. Food that does good for your body. The same goes for if you decide to try the 5:2 pattern — don’t overeat on the 5 days because you’re restricting for 2 days, but instead, be mindful. Your ultimate goal is a healthier lifestyle by lowering body fat and overall weight in a consistent way. Even Laurie Woolever, Food and Wine magazine contributor, recaps her attempt at intermittent fasting.
As Professor Mattson says, ““I hope it’s not a fad. There’s a lot of science behind it, and the science is only increasing.”