The fasting debate has been going on for a while now with the 5:2 diet gaining a great deal of attention in recent years and now, intermittent fasting. With hundreds of varieties of both the 5:2 diet and intermittent fasting, it's becoming far too confusing to put into practice. Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? Is it really worth planning your food intake times? Will it affect your social life? 

Here's the low down on the most popular methods:

The 5:2 Diet

This method gained a lot of popularity due to the work of Dr Michael Mosely. The 5:2 diet involves you ‘fasting’ two days a week. Although this does not mean you have to abstain from food completely it just means you significantly reduce your calorie intake. It is recommended that females consume 500 calories a day and males 600 calories. Whilst the results of this mean that you have a significant calorie deficit within that day, research has suggested that on the ‘feed’ days individuals only consumed 115% more than they would normally which means per week you are still left in a calorie deficit. 

Now whilst you could argue against the idea that calories are the be all and end all, it is essential to make informed and good food choices for the fast days. Foods high in healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates are best. Eating simple carbohydrates (typically high sugar foods) will spike your blood glucose levels, your insulin levels and make you hungrier quicker which will mean you’ll find the fast more difficult. It is also an idea to spread your intake out throughout the day to maintain that balanced blood glucose, although, this is definitely something which you have to assess yourself and see what works for you. The 5:2 is more likely to affect your social life as you have to plan your fast days well in advance and it is not recommended to do them back to back.  

 

16:8 Diet

Popularised by fitness expert Martin Berkhan, this method requires fasting for 16 hours of the day and eating during an 8 hour period. There is no calorie restriction in this theory and it is often referred to as an eating pattern rather than a ‘diet’. This is the most realistic and easiest form of intermittent fasting as it simply requires you to skip breakfast, have lunch and a slightly earlier dinner. For example, finishing eating at 8 pm and begin again at 12 pm. It is also less likely to impact your social life. Research suggests that this may help to improve insulin sensitivity and cell repair. However, more research is required to confirm this. 

 

24-hour x2 diet

Eat-Stop-Eat: Do a 24-hour fast, once or twice a week. This is the more extreme version of intermittent fasting, with no food or calorie-containing drinks. For example, if you finish dinner on Monday at 7 pm, and don't eat until dinner the next day at 7 pm, then you've just done a full 24-hour fast. You can also fast from breakfast to breakfast, or lunch to lunch. This method is more likely to impact your social life and requires even more planning than the 5:2. Once again it is not recommended that you fast on two consecutive days. 

 

Now you understand the differences in these methods, are there any real benefits of restricting our feeding time and/or the amount of food we are consuming? 

Some research suggests that intermittent fasting can improve insulin sensitivity which helps to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, reduce inflammation, aid weight loss, improve cholesterol and promote delayed ageing. 

So whilst this all sounds fantastic and potentially the answer to all your nutrition questions and issues, is it really all it is laid out to be? 

This is a very new area with not many studies and as a result, there may be other ways of fasting but there is no research to back these up. Some studies suggest that the weight loss is merely glycogen and water depletion, however, we are all different and not everything works for everyone. Alternatively, it may be that the weight lost on an intermittent fasting diet may be due to significantly reduced calories. As mentioned, this is something which could impact your social life and more specifically it is essential to consider the impact of restrictive feeding on your mental health. Often restricting yourself from eating can lead to other psychological problems down the line. Overall, it's not to say that intermittent fasting is a bad idea, but simply that a lot more evidence is required before making the commitment and it's important to be aware of the impact it may have on your social life and mental health in the long term. 

 

 

 

Jenna Hope, Nutritionist (ANutr), MSc, BSc (Hons) www.jennahopenutrition.com
Photo Credit: Brooke Lark
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