Intermittent fasting (IF) is currently one of the world’s most popular health and fitness trends. People like myself are using it to lose weight and improve health. Many studies show that it can have powerful effects on our body and brain, and may help us live longer! I came across an article about IF by Dr Mercola about 2 years ago, when I was still holding on to about 10 kilos of excess baby weight! I gave birth to Luca in May 2014 and although I breast fed, I was eating clean and exercising, it seemed that the extra weight did not want to budge. Over the months I grew more and more fed up, ashamed and unhappy. I used to hide my body in baggy tops and prenatal jeans and/or yoga pants! I was at a loss, what was I to do?
Photo by Rezel Apacionado
One Saturday morning I received a newsletter from Dr Mercola about IF and it changed my life. I embraced IF and to my surprise after a couple of months I managed to shed about 5 kilos without following any crazy diet or fitness plan. Two years on, I still do IF about 3 times a week, not so much for the weight loss benefits, but to stay healthy.
I would like to share what I know about IF so that if you find yourself where I was 2 years ago, you can consider adopting this life changing approach to eating.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent Fasting is not a “diet”, it’s an “eating pattern” that alternates between periods of fasting and eating. It does not say anything about which foods you should and shouldn’t eat, but rather when you should eat them – having said that I always advocate eating a healthy and balanced diet as often as possible.
IF has gained popularity over the years and different methods have been used. All of them involve splitting the day or week into “eating” and “fasting” periods. During the fasting periods, you consume very few calories or eat nothing at all.
These are the most popular methods:
• The 8 Hour Diet: it involves skipping breakfast or dinner and restricting your daily eating period to an 8-hour window, for example 9 am to 5pm. Then you don’t eat for 16 hours;
• 24 Hour Fast: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week;
• The 5:2 Diet: On two non-consecutive days of the week, only eat 500-600 calories. Eat normally the other 5 days.
As a busy working mum of a toddler, I’ve personally found the 8-hour option to be the simplest, and easiest to stick to. I usually eat breakfast at 7.30, have a snack at around 11, lunch at around 1 pm and a high protein snack at 3.30.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
Weight loss is the most common reason that people try intermittent fasting and scientific studies have also show that intermittent fasting is a very effective weight loss tool.
The main reason IF works so well, is that it helps you eat fewer calories overall. In addition to that IF changes hormone levels that facilitate weight loss by lowering insulin and increasing growth and fat burning hormone levels.
It goes without saying that if you binge and eat massive amounts during the eating periods, then you may not lose much weight or none at all.
Additional Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
I personally use IF for health reasons and no longer as a weight loss tool. I find that the days I do IF I feel lighter, my digestion is better, I have more mental clarity, energy and just feel good about myself. Research that has been carried out on intermittent fasting, in both animals and humans have reported the following health benefits:
• Weight loss: As mentioned above, intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and belly fat, without having to consciously restrict calories;
• Insulin resistance: Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance by lowering blood sugar, which should protect against type 2 diabetes;
• Inflammation: Some studies show reductions in inflammation;
• Heart health: Intermittent fasting may reduce LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammation, blood sugar and insulin resistance. These are all risk factors for heart disease;
• Cancer: Animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting may help prevent cancer;
• Anti-aging: Intermittent fasting can extend lifespan in rats;
Keep in mind that the research is still in its early stages. Many questions have yet to be answered in higher quality human studies.
Should You Try Intermittent Fasting?
I believe that there here is no one-size-fits-all solution in nutrition. The best diet for you is the one you can stick to in the long run and that makes you feel and look good. IF is not something that anyone needs to do. It is just one of many lifestyle strategies that can improve your health.
Eating clean foods, exercising and getting adequate sleep are still the most important factors to focus on. If you don’t like the idea of fasting, then just continue to do what works for you.
IF is great for some people, not others. The only way to find out if it’s for you is to try it out.
I personally like find that IF makes my healthy lifestyle simpler. I believe that “healthy eating” is simple, but it can be hard to stick to when you are busy running around your kids, work full time and have to deal with tons of chores!
When I fast in the evening, I really enjoy not having to think and prepare evening dinner for the whole family, let alone clear everything up. Naturally Luca doesn’t fast, so I still need to get his tea ready and I cannot say that the temptation to try his food or finishing up his left overs is not there. But I remind myself that I can eat tomorrow. I am not going to lie, your mental strength and focus are tested, however they also increase greatly and your confidence grows as consequence. Less weight, increased mental strength, a win win situation for me!
How to Start
Chances are that you’ve already done many “intermittent fasts” in your life. As a mum, out and about, so focused on the little one/s needs you have probably ended up fasting without knowing it.
As mentioned above, I personally find that the 8-hour diet method is the simplest and most sustainable way to do intermittent fasting. I recommend that you try that one first.
If you find that it is easy and you feel good during the fast, then you can try moving on to more advanced fasts like the ones previously described. I invite you to experiment with the different approaches and find something that you enjoy and fits your schedule.
Some People Should Avoid IF
IF is pretty safe. There is nothing “dangerous” about not eating for a while if you are healthy and well- nourished overall.
However, hunger is the main side effect of intermittent fasting and if you have a medical condition, then you should consult with your doctor before going on this journey.
This is particularly important if you:
• Have diabetes.
• Have problems with blood sugar regulation.
• Have low blood pressure.
• Take medications.
• Are underweight.
• Have a history of eating disorders.
• If you are trying to conceive.
• If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
By the way Mamas, it goes without saying: No Fasting for Children!