BALANCE

INTERMITTENT FASTING: SHOULD YOU, OR SHOULDN'T YOU?

We speak with Sydney PT, health and fitness expert Esther Hesse on the pro’s and cons of intermittent fasting. Should you or shouldn’t you?

M+E: What exactly IS intermittent fasting?

EH: The simplest way of explaining intermittent fasting is that you fast for a scheduled period and eat for a scheduled period. Our bodies use glucose as a main energy source, excess glucose is then stored in our liver in the form of Glycogen and fats. When the body is in a fasted state the liver converts the stored glycogen back to glucose which usually takes an inactive person approximately 10 – 12 hours but an active person can take much less. Once these stores are depleted the body then uses stored fat tissue thus resulting in fat loss. There are a few different types of intermittent fasting:

  • 16:8 – eating within an 8-hour window and fasting for the remaining 16-hour window
  • 5:2 – eating normally for five days of the week, and only eating one meal per day for the remaining two days with limited calories
  • Extended periods of fasting, typically for 24, 48, or 72 hours

The most common and in my opinion easiest to maintain would be the 16:8 approach.

M+E: Why is it beneficial for the human body – and why isn’t it? What are the pros and cons?

EH: The reported benefits include cognitive improvements in concentration and memory, body composition changes such as fat loss while being able to maintain lean muscle and reduce blood pressure – it can also reduce inflammation and cardiovascular health improvements. However, the majority of studies documenting these improvements have been done on animals, and more recent studies show that the benefits of intermittent fasting are no more superior than any other energy restricted diet.

The negatives to intermittent fasting can include finding it challenging to function without any food until midday; a potential increase in lethargy and feeling less alert; and in some circumstances it can have the opposite effect and promote binge eating. Furthermore, we still don’t know if there are any negative effects of long-term intermittent fasting.

M+E: How does someone know if intermittent fasting is the right approach for them?

EH: There are so many variables involved in this and it isn’t a one size fits all solution. Firstly, is it easy to adopt intermittent fasting with your lifestyle? If the response is yes, then it will be easy to maintain. What are you eating in your scheduled eating times? Limiting eating time is not a green light to eat junk food – your diet should still consist of food that is nutrient dense. It is important to monitor your results to ascertain whether you are not only achieving the results you want but feeling better too.

“There are so many variables involved in this and it isn’t a one size fits all solution. Firstly, is it easy to adopt intermittent fasting with your lifestyle? If the response is yes, then it will be easy to maintain. What are you eating in your scheduled eating times? Limiting eating time is not a green light to eat junk food - your diet should still consist of food that is nutrient dense.”

M+E: For those who intermittent fasting is not suitable for, what are some other ways to achieve similar results?

EH: There are no quick fixes to changing body composition. If you are struggling with fat loss then it may not be as simple as restricting energy consumption. There are so many other factors that may affect this, such as underlying health issues, stress or anxiety, constant dieting or inconsistent exercise – all of which can make it challenging to get results. The best advice I can give is to eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and veg and move as often as you can. Identify limiting factors like stress and health issues and try to adopt a healthier approach to looking after mind and body.

M+E: As a PT, how do you feel about intermittent fasting – do you recommend this for clients, and have you tried it yourself?

EH: There is no magic diet that works for everyone. I don’t go out of my way to recommend any particular diet to clients. If the then I will tell them about the pros and cons and my personal experience with it and let them decide if it’s something they want to pursue.

My personal experience with intermittent fasting was really positive. I was the leanest and fittest I had ever been, and it assimilated well into my lifestyle (as I was fasting until 12pm – 1pm naturally due to work). I stopped when I was pregnant and haven’t adopted it strictly again since Hart was born but I do find myself naturally fasting until midday without making a conscious effort.

M+E: What are your feelings on longer fasting – days or even weeks on juices/water etc?

EH: I think they are a complete waste of time and money. There is no quality clinical evidence to prove that longer fasts do anything except line the pockets of whoever is promoting them. If you are already eating a well-balanced diet, then doing a juice or water fast is redundant. In my experience people fall on juice and water fasts to detox their bodies because they binge on booze and other things on weekends, leading them to eat bad foods and be inactive for days/weeks. Then they decide to do extended fasts on just water or juice to help their bodies to detox, but what people don’t understand is how advanced the human body is to start with. Our bodies excrete toxins through our liver, kidneys, skin, gastrointestinal tracts and lungs. So if you want your body to function better, eat lots of nutrient-dense food and move more!

Reference List: Anton, S. D., Moehl, K., Donahoo, W. T., Marosi, K., Lee, S. A., Mainous, A. G., 3rd, Leeuwenburgh, C., & Mattson, M. P. (2018, Feb). Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting. Obesity (Silver Spring), 26(2), 254-268. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.22065

Follow: @esther.hesse.pt | @maurieandeve

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