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Intermittent Fasting : Is It a Fast-Track to Weight Loss?
My continuing theme of healthy weight loss and maintenance cannot fail to include a discussion of intermittent fasting, the concept of which was thrust into our living rooms last year with the Horizon programme “Eat, Fast and Live Longer” and the accompanying book “The Fast Diet”, both of which are the brainchild of medical journalist Michael Mosley.
Intermittent Fasting : An overview
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Michael Mosley’s concept, his version of intermittent fasting involves eating normally 5 days per week, and on 2 non-consecutive days severely restricting your calorie intake to 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men. According to Michael Mosley, the pay-off for this type of intervention is vast in terms of better health parameters, longevity and, importantly for this blog, weight loss. However, it’s important to note that these health claims have not yet been substantiated by quality long-term trials, so let’s take a closer look in terms of the pros and cons of intermittent fasting.
Although Michael Mosley avoids describing it as such, intermittent fasting is a type of calorie restriction. I am not a proponent of calorie restriction for weight loss since, unless this becomes a life-long endeavour, it just simply doesn’t work. The body readjusts to the reduced intake and determines that this is all that is required and downregulates its metabolism accordingly. Therefore, once you decide you’ve had enough and resume normal consumption, the body regards the extra food intake as excess and stores it as fat. Hence the yo-yo effect of weight fluctuation which so many of us have experienced with calorie restrictive diets.
However, that said, there are metabolic benefits to intermittent fasting which I must mention. Fasting increases the secretion of growth hormone, a hormone which promotes fat burning (1). It also decreases fasting insulin levels and since insulin promotes fat storage and prevents fat breakdown, this is good news for anyone seeking to lose weight. Research also indicates that fasting improves insulin sensitivity (2); importantly loss of insulin sensitivity is the determining factor in diabetes onset, which is linked to weight gain, especially around the belly.
The argument that intermittent fasting is embedded in our DNA make-up is a legitimate one. Our cavemen ancestors were well versed in skipping meals due to the scarcity of food availability; it was therefore not a choice but a necessity. In today’s Western World, with its abundance of food provision, it is a much more difficult prospect to consciously choose not to eat.
To Fast or Not To Fast, That is The Question!
Before you rush headlong into intermittent fasting, consider whether it will work for you.
The Bottom Line
If you can make intermittent fasting work for you, go for it, but don’t make it regimental and make sure you fit it into your everyday life. Giving your body a rest from digestion, and allowing it to concentrate on other important metabolic activities including fat burning is undoubtedly beneficial, but only if you can do this naturally and without stress.
Don’t let intermittent fasting rule you!
Take control and incorporate it within your current lifestyle.
Juliet Schaffer, Nutritionist, Evolve Nutrition