by Sarah Hughes
Having been a trainer and Pilates instructor for almost 15 years, I’ve come across every crazy diet in the book and have spent more hours than I care to add up persuading clients to take a more measured and less drastic look at their eating.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a dietary approach which has been gaining popularity over the past decade and thankfully it’s one that doesn’t fill me with dread when a client announces they’re going to give it a go. This is because there’s a really robust evidence base around the practise, and when done properly, it can have fantastic, long-lasting results.
So what is Intermittent Fasting and what are the benefits?
I suppose the biggest difference between IF and other diets is that instead of telling you whatto eat, it tells you when to eat, by reducing the window of time in which you consume foods.
Now hold up; don’t get too excited. It doesn’t mean that you can binge eat crazy amounts of food within that window. The idea is that calorie consumption will naturally be lower if there are fewer hours in the day/days in the week when you allow yourself to eat.
The benefits of IF have been widely researched over the past ten years or so and the results are startlingly positive, taking in way more than just weight loss. From a reduction in the risk factors associated with Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes, to increased heart health, improved mood, stronger muscles and even increased life expectancy.
Evidence does show that the effects are most significant in middle-aged overweight or obese men. Why do they get all the good news eh!?
We have to remember that during the perimenopause or the menopause itself, women are grappling with many other symptoms and hormonal changes which might affect appetite and energy levels. This means women might need to be more careful about the type of fasting they try.
Still, if you have some stubborn weight to lose and aren’t a fan of calorie counting or sticking to rigid diets, IF could be just the thing to try.
What are the different ways you can fast?
The great news if you’re nervous about fasting is that there are lots of different approaches you can take. Let me tell you about a few of them… including the various ways my family members fast. Oh yes, my family have been way ahead of the curve… way ahead of me, in fact, when it comes to IF.
The 16/8 method
Favoured by my 34 year old brother, this one advocates fasting for 16 hours per day and eating for 8 hours (not non stop, wink wink). So for Jack, that means he has his first meal of the day at 12 noon and finishes his intake by 8pm. During that time he will probably have two meals and a snack.
Who it might work for: People who are good at being disciplined, no late night sofa snacks on this one! Also good for those folks who prefer to skip breakfast.
Who it might not work for: Very physically active people. I teach my first fitness class of the day at 6.30am and my day is pretty non stop from then on. I absolutely have to fuel my body throughout the 12 hours that I’m working or on the move.
The 5/2 method
Possibly the most famous of the IF’s. It was popularised by a book by Michael Mosely and became quite the craze around five years ago. This type of IF advocates eating normally for 5 days of the week and then consuming only 500-600 calories on the other two days of the week. It’s the one that my 59 year old Mum and Step Dad are big fans of. They don’t stick with it every day of the year, but instead use it as a quick-fix pre holiday or if they’re aware they’re carrying a little excess weight.
Who it might work for: People who can plan their schedules carefully and reduce activity levels on fasting days.
Who it might not work for: Again, people who are very active seven days per week (I’m looking at you lot, Mums of young children). I know this one would be torturous for me!
The Warrior Approach
Aka - the one that my 65 year old Dad does. This one is the closest to a traditional diet of all the types of intermittent fasting. That’s because the advice is to consume raw fruit and vegetables only throughout the day and then consume one large meal at night. It’s different from the other methods in that it encourages only whole, unprocessed foods .
Who it might work for: People who love fruits and vegetables! It’s also important that there was enough calorific intake to support any intense physical activity throughout the day.
Who it might not work for: People who are time-poor or eat out lots. You need to be very controlled and disciplined to stick to this one seven days per week in the long term.
Ok so I saved the best until last. And why is it the best? Obviously because it’s the one I do! The 12/12 involves eating say between 7am and 7pm or 8am and 8pm if you’re a slightly later riser.
I absolutely love this method because it is achievable in the long term, therefore it feels the least like a fad diet of all the popular IF routes. It’s important not to try to cram food in as you head towards your cut-off hour in order to maintain a healthy calorific intake.
Who it might work for: Anyone who struggles to stick to a traditional diet, but who knows they tend to overeat by snacking on the sofa in the evenings.
Who it might not work for: People who want to achieve a quicker or greater weight loss may find this one isn’t enough of a kickstart for them. You could of course start with one of the other methods and settle into the 12/12 as a longer term maintenance solution.
Any considerations you should make before starting?
I’m always an advocate for getting checked over by your doctor if you think there’s a real problem with your weight. It may be they can check for hormonal dysfunctions or offer advice around local services and activities.
Research shows that the effects of fasting tend to plateau after around 6 months, so in order to maintain our weight (or keep losing weight if that’s what we’re hoping to achieve), we need to ensure we’re eating a balanced diet and being active almost every day.
Finally, we must remember that intermittent fasting is very different to just starving ourselves! Our precious bodies need fuel to keep getting us through our hectic lives, and we need to treat our bodies with respect because of all the frankly fabulous things they do for us. I know y’all agree with that.