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What is intermittent fasting and what to actually eat when you are on it

Intermittent fasting is one of the top lifestyle trends this year — not only because we came out of COVID-19 looking a little chubbier and tubbier, but also because it has proven results with (relatively) little effort required. Nevertheless, as with all diets (and diet fads), it’s important to be properly informed before embarking on a journey of changing your eating habits.

Here, Dr Priya Khorana gives us the ultimate low-down on intermittent fasting, from the perspective of someone who really knows a thing or two about this stuff. Read on, take note, and decide for yourself if you’re ready to (stomach) rumble.

First things first: a little note on intermittent fasting

intermittent fasting
Image: Courtesy Ella Olsson/Unsplash

Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet. It is a timed approach to eating, and unlike a restricted fad diet, it does not specify what foods a person should eat or avoid. To put simply; IF does not change what you eat, it changes when you eat.

It may have some health benefits, including weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity, but it is not suitable for everyone and should be done with careful consideration. People with advanced diabetes or who are on medications for diabetes, people with a history of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not attempt intermittent fasting unless under the close supervision of a physician who can monitor them.

Having said that, there are some evidence-based benefits of IF. In men, it has shown to reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels (and thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes). It has also been shown to reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, thereby slowing down the effects of ageing. Lastly, the insulin levels drop human growth hormone (HGH) increases, which helps facilitate fat burning and muscle gain.

How does it work?

intermittent fasting
Image: Courtesy Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

Depending on your IF approach, you’re either shortening the eating window each day or engaging in 24-hour fasts one or more times a week. One of the most popular approaches is the 16:8 method, which is when you fast for an eight-hour window — this is often the approach I go for. It is vital to stress that folks use an eating approach that works and is sustainable to them.

What are the most popular methods?

The 16:8 Method
This is also called the Leangains Protocol and involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1-9:00 pm. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.

The Eat-Stop-Eat
This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week. For example, you may not eat from dinner one day until dinner the next day.

The 5:2 Diet
With this method, you consume only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week but eat normally the other 5 days.

Before fasting

intermittent fasting
Image: Courtesy s-o-c-i-a-l-c-u-t/Unsplash

As a doctor of nutrition, I will always recommend foods for improved health, including high-fibre, unprocessed, whole foods in all colours and varieties. A mostly plant-based Mediterranean-style diet has been linked to improved health benefits, and in this case, I will suggest this way of life even whilst fasting. Making sure you are nourishing your body as effectively prior to starting your fast will help prevent any feelings of being ‘hangry’ during the fast.

It is also vital for me to suggest that if you are embarking on an IF journey, staying hydrated is key. Fasting can come with some initial side effects, such as increased hunger, low blood sugar, headache, irritability, dizziness, and fatigue — so please embark with caution.

During and after fasting

Limiting your dining window does not give you an excuse to binge eat — especially on unhealthy foods — because you will not see the benefits. Eating unwholesome (read: junk) food in a shortened feeding window on the IF diet may also put you at risk of deficiencies in key nutrients such as calcium, iron, protein, and fibre, all of which are essential for normal biological function.

What you need to do is consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, and sufficient lean protein and healthy fat — boosting important antioxidants and nutrients which all result in an increased lifespan and reduces the risks of developing lifestyle-related chronic diseases.

What is important to emphasise is that the goal of IF is to maintain a healthy amount of calories for your body during the fast so you do not “rebound eat.”

intermittent fasting
Image: Courtesy Brooke Lark/Unsplash

Takeaway points

For those starting out, I suggest implementing a 12-hour fasting/12-hour eating window and building up from there, eventually finding a schedule that works best for you. The most important thing is breaking your fast with fresh, unprocessed, nutrient-dense whole foods, prioritising healthy sources of protein and good fats, all while limiting junk foods that negate any benefits of IF.

For more super-nutritious advice and information, be sure to follow the fabulous Priya over on Instagram and Facebook.

Featured and hero image: Courtesy Malvestida Magazine/Unsplash

This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Bangkok. 

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