Does intermittent fasting work?

The third in our series of mainstream diet reviews, looking at the benefits and pitfalls of popular diets and talking about how fitnaturally’s approach differs.

Intermittent fasting’s background

Fasting is nothing new. Humans have been fasting for centuries, as part of most major religions, as preparation for war, as a supposed cure for ills and for ‘cleansing’ and weight loss purposes. Many tribes have a long history of fasting. Most of us fast overnight between the evening meal and breakfast – called sleeping.

Most recently, fasting has taken an upturn in popularity since a couple of mainstream television programmes hailed its reported benefits to fat loss and brain health. Since then the 5:2 diet has become one of the most popular IF regimes, spawning hundreds of books and generating a huge amount of media coverage, and revenue.

How does intermittent fasting work?

It’s basically meal-skipping or going for large swathes of time without eating. There are many different fasting regimes but the most popular at the moment is the 5:2 diet. It involves eating whatever you like on 5 days of the week then restricting calories to 600 a day on the other 2 days. Other approaches include fasting for 14-16 hours a day then eating all your daily calories in the remaining 8-10 hours. During the fast you’re allowed black tea and coffee with artificial sweetener. Next there’s the regime where you fast for a whole 24 hours once or twice a week, then eat as you like on the non-fasting days. Lastly (for the purposes of this blog anyway) there’s The Warrior Diet, which involves fasting or ‘undereating’ for 20 hours every day and doing most of your eating in a 4hr time slot. Small snacks can be eaten during the 20 hours, however.

Essentially these regimes cause weight loss by calorie restriction, as do all diets. They just play around with the times that people are allowed to eat, thus restricting food intake for large chunks of time and assuming people won’t overeat in the remaining time.

How do you access Intermittent Fasting?

As there are so many regimes it depends which you choose. IF is largely administered through books and online communities and its purveyors make their money through book sales and sales of supplements to support certain regimes.

Fitness

IF is all about a way of eating rather than encouraging exercise although it does go hand-in-hand with certain fitness practises.

Price

The price of whatever book or supplements go along with any given regime. Variable.

Benefits

Intermittent fasting can help people to break an over-reliance on eating too much. We live in a culture where people are constantly eating, always snacking and rarely going more than a few hours with food. This causes weight gain and dulls people’s natural hunger signals so they’re never properly, physically, hungry but are often emotionally and habitually hungry. Learning to go for longer periods without food can reset those bad grazing habits.

It can help to control blood sugar and insulin, which figures because it’s eating food that raises both, so if you’re not eating food you’ll have lower blood sugar and insulin. But does it fundamentally change hormone response? We need to wait for more research to give a definitive answer there.

It’s extremely hard to give an objective view of its benefits as there have been no long term studies in humans and because of the nature of IF people don’t tend to follow it for long enough to produce any meaningful data.

In terms of the ideas about IF’s positive effects on brain function, the thinking is that fasting stresses your brain (it certainly does), and your brain then adapts to stress and changes it’s response to it. There is thought to be a subsequent increase in the growth of neurons, as occurs in response to exercise.

Drawbacks

Fasting does not suit a great many people; women in particular can struggle with it, suffering from headaches, lack of energy and disturbed menstrual cycles. A woman’s reproductive cycle is highly attuned to energy balance, periods of starvation can prevent ovulation and cause amenorrhea. Those things in turn can compromise bone health.

It can contribute to thyroid hormone depletion and increase cortisol production – basically messing with hormones that make the body function efficiently, although it can help to control insulin production.

Fasting does not in itself teach people how to eat healthily; it’s perfectly possible to fast and then to eat poor quality food, and too much food, during the eating window. More seriously it can encourage eating disorders, one aspect of anorexia is the mental changes that occur through starvation, so that the person is then faced with food that their brain no longer allows them to ‘fancy’, so after a period of fasting the person can somehow start to ‘get off’ on that feeling of deprivation and control. Binge eating too; building up a fierce hunger can lead to bingeing on inappropriate foods in huge amounts, and the brain’s need for glucose may lead people more towards sweet foods when they break a fast.

Fasting can disrupt sleep and alter the body’s natural circadian rhythm. It can polarise stress; the hormonal effects of stress are compounded by the physical stress effects of fasting. It’s dangerous for pregnant women, for anyone who drives or operates machinery or performs a job with any element of risk to life.

It’s also very hard to maintain for more than a few weeks as it doesn’t tend to fit with everyday life, family life or socialising. And it’s just not much fun.

Lastly, though I’m sure I haven’t covered all it’s drawbacks here, it can lead to nutrient deficiency. If you’re fasting for long periods over an extended time then you have to be extremely vigilant about the range and quality of foods you eat when you do eat. Let’s say you’re eating one meal a day, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll get all the nutrients you need in that one meal, or in seven meals a week. This is where you’re likely to be sold supplements. Not good.

Basically if you stay at home, don’t do anything physically risky, don’t socialise, don’t mind risking nutrient deficiency, can sleep for England, aren’t reliant on good hormone balance, don’t tend to get headaches and aren’t expecting optimal exercise performance and recovery then IF *might* be for you.

 

How does fitnaturally compare with intermittent fasting
It’s about nutrition

fitnaturally teaches people to eat the right amount of food for them at the times that are right for them. Its generic nutrition approach is based on three meals a day and no snacking, unless the snacks are for fuelling exercise, with an option at weekend to have brunch and dinner and just some fruit in-between – when people are getting up later and have less of a structured routine to follow. With its bespoke nutrition it tailors food intake and timings to individuals and their unique metabolism, lifestyle, health and hormone status. It’s absolute fundament is optimum nutrient intake rather than enforcing periods of starvation.

It teaches the joy of eating

fitnaturally focuses not directly on body weight but on achieving a healthy level of body fat and maintaining it for life with real and tasty food, healthy joyous eating and regular enjoyable activity. fitnaturally promotes whole foods in the right amount and timed optimally to achieve great health. fitnaturally believes in eating by healthy instinct, and nurturing that instinct in its clients by working closely with them and reconnecting them with their body’s natural hunger and satiety. It’s not about deprivation but about the joy of healthy eating.

fitnaturally helps people to reconnect with their kitchens and to find the love for choosing quality (not necessarily expensive) ingredients and to use cooking as relaxing downtime and see food as a positive rather than a demon. It encourages families to eat together at the table and benefit from the shared love of good food and conversation. That’s difficult with an IF regime!

It’s not about deprivation

fitnaturally educates people about correct portion sizes, timing of meals and how to get all the nutrients they need. It reconnects them with natural hunger and fullness feelings so they learn instinctively what their body actually needs. It works closely with people to overcome emotional eating and other types of disordered eating so they can break free from that burden and enjoy food without connecting it to feelings.

It’s sociable, fun and flexible

People are encouraged to make and cook easy healthy and quick meals from scratch and to make meal times special and, if possible, sociable. Rather than seeing food as something that causes weight gain or loss it’s seen as something that nourishes, satisfies and brings people together.

fitnaturally works for single people to couples to families, it’s not something that’s done in isolation but a way of life for everyone, from all walks of life. There are also specialist plans for diabetics, sportspeople, couples trying to conceive, pregnant women, students and families, as well as variations for vegetarians and vegetarian/fish eaters within all those plan types.

Its plans are used right across the world from Australia to New York to Colorado to Italy to Thailand to New Zealand, as well as across the UK.

It educates

Its clients are encouraged to ask questions about healthy eating and nutrition and in 2018 there will be a fitnaturally Graduate scheme whereby people can reach a certain level of recognition for their progress, nutrition knowledge and healthy behaviours.

It’s inspirational

It’s a change of lifestyle, for always, rather than a temporary diet. Therefore it has to be enjoyable, inspirational and something the person will eventually be able to do without overthinking thinking, and without suffering. fitnat is how people used to eat when most people were slim and didn’t even know about calories, but it’s better because it’s more varied and exciting!

fitnaturally is for everyone, not just die-hard regime followers, but for regular, healthy, happy and well balanced humans.

It’s qualified and supportive

With fitnaturally people get meal plans written by qualified nutritionists, and continual support from the same. They can email, call, Skype or text their nutritionist and they get free nutritionist advice in the facebook support group as well as support and encouragement from peers.

fitnaturally is fully qualified to advise on and deliver exercise and fitness training and provides online plans to suit individuals, with safe and effective exercise and activity. It also encourages people to be generally more active by taking just ten minutes here and there during the day to walk or move however they can, with no huge expectations beyond good health. People learn to love being outdoors; stepping outside brings easy health benefits and is free!

It’s cost effective

Plans start from just £18 a month with no joining fee. There are no extras to buy, no books, no supplements, just real food.

So, finally, does intermittent fasting work?

Yes it can help people to lose weight, like any other diet it’s a way of restricting calories, but it’s unsustainable for most people who live regular lives and it can bring with it some serious health issues and risks.

fitnaturally’s diet works in the short and long term because it addresses all aspects of health and healthy eating and educates people about good nutrition, enjoyment of good food, and activity, as well as encouraging good sleep and reduction of stress. It suits everyone, not just the dieter, because it’s good old fashioned healthy eating and the food is gorgeous, with loads of choice. It’s similarly priced but offers far more long term value and better all-round health.

Other reviews

 

Find your healthy sweet spot eating delicious, natural food and being more active outdoors.
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