As we move into the festive season of over-eating, we thought it would be fitting to talk about fasting – a nutritional approach that has risen to superstardom in recent years.
From the time humans were hunter-gatherers we have fasted. It started with long periods of food restriction as we hunted before filling up on a high-calorie meal.
For centuries, the modern western diet moved away from these long periods without food as they were seen as punishment, rather than a positive way to improve our health. It was only in 1945 that scientists discovered long periods of abstaining from food extended the life span of mice, causing a dietary revolution.
What exactly is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle pattern of eating that cycles through periods of high-calorie consumption followed by long periods of low/no calories. It is not a diet per se, as it doesn't govern what we eat, instead, it controls when you eat.
How could this be so simple? Well, intermittent fasting encourages more production of neurons and more signaling of molecules in the brain. Scientists have suggested that these new freshly activated neurons can positively affect your cognition and mood.
Intermittent fasting also acts by giving your organs time to rest from food processing and allows for autophagy to occur - cellular waste removal. Damaged cells naturally accumulate over time and without a chance to flush them out, your body’s processes can slow down and develop into many chronic diseases.
It is suggested that fasting for 10-14hrs is enough to promote a ‘metabolic switch’ whereby your liver is depleted of glucose and forced to let go of fat cells, breaking them down into ketones (small fat chunks) for your cells to use as energy.
As you can see, the science is out about fasting, showing that it can increase your body's growth hormone to help burn fat and build muscle, improve insulin sensitivity and drop insulin levels, and positively change the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease.
Why not give it a try?
Intermittent fasting is most commonly adopted in one of three forms;
16 / 8 – eat during an 8-hour window each day and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. Most people just skip breakfast as it’s easier to wake up and get on with your day. Research is also coming out to suggest that we were all lied to as kids about the need for breakfast (check out the breakfast lie built by cereal brands).
5:2 Diet (or 6:1) – pick two non-consecutive days each week to consume 500-600 calories. We recommend doing days that you don't plan to workout.
Eat-Stop-Eat – pick one or two days each week to consume no calories for 24 hours. The simplest way to achieve this is to go from dinner to dinner, which avoids sleeping on an empty stomach.
With all of these fasts, you must drink water and you have the option to drink black tea and/or coffee to help curb hunger, just avoid milk and sugar. If you aren't trying to lose weight, simply increase your calorie consumption during the allocated eating periods.