Intermittent fasting

 

In last week’s post, Stuffing food into a hole that isn’t food-shaped, I discussed the use of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), popularly known as ‘tapping’ for handling the emotional drivers of food cravings.

There’s another powerful tool for reshaping your relationship with food: a form of intermittent fasting known as ‘time-restricted eating’ or the ‘restricted feeding window plan’. I’ll be delving into the fascinating science behind this, and other forms of fasting including extended water-only fasting, alternate day fasting and the 5:2 plan, in the June 20 Deep Dive webinar (one of the membership benefits of my EmpowerEd nutrition and health education program).

(Just to whet your appetite – pardon the pun – the health benefits of time-restricted feeding include better blood glucose control, reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence, greater activation of fat burning, and potential longevity benefits; more about that in the webinar!)

There’s another potential benefit of time-restricted eating that researchers find harder to quantify than observable, measurable phenomena such as blood glucose level and body fat percentage, but which is commonly reported by many people who practise intermittent fasting – an altered relationship with food, specifically reduced dependency on it. My own experience with time-restricted eating, which I’ve been practising for the last 4 months, aligns with this.

I first became interested in intermittent fasting after reading an article by Jennifer Marano, co-founder of TrueNorth Health Center in northern California. As a long-time proponent of supervised water-only fasting for the resolution of chronic conditions such as migraines and autoimmune diseases, as conducted at TrueNorth, I was intrigued by Dr Marano’s positive take on intermittent fasting – particularly since I’d been previously turned off the practice by Michael Mosley’s populist and nutritionally reckless version of it.

Of course, Dr Marano promotes intermittent fasting as a complement to a well-structured wholefood plant-based diet, not a replacement for it, as Mosley does. And that, it turns out, makes all the difference.

Unsurprisingly, the research on Mosley-style intermittent fasting, which encourages high consumption of animal protein, shows negligible benefit. For example, in a study of young overweight women who were randomly allocated either to the 5:2 diet or a standard calorie-restricted diet based on the Mediterranean diet, the 5:2 dieters lost only 800 g more than the Mediterranean dieters by the end of the 6 month study period (6.5 kg vs 5.7 kg – not exactly an impressive weight loss in either group!).

On their calorie-restricted days, the 5:2 dieters were instructed to drink 1.136 litres (2 pints) of semi skimmed milk and eat 4 serves of vegetables, 1 serve of fruit and a salty low calorie drink; on their unrestricted days, they were assigned to the same diet as the Mediterranean diet group: a macronutrient ratio of 30% fat:45% low glycaemic load carbohydrate :25% protein.

On such a nutritionally bankrupt diet, no wonder many of the 5:2 dieters (but none of the Mediterranean dieters) experienced a lack of energy, headaches, feeling cold, constipation and hunger, whilst being more than twice as likely as the Mediterranean dieters to suffer a lack of concentration, bad temper and preoccupation with food.

In contrast, my own experience is that when intermittent fasting is practised in the context of a high-nutrient wholefood plant-based diet, energy level, mood and concentration improve, hunger is virtually absent, and preoccupation with food actually diminishes rather than increases.

I’ve been working on my own relationship with food with many years, having battled bulimia in my late teens and early 20s. While I had dramatically reduced my use of food for psychological comfort before I began my time-restricted eating plan, I was still turning to food when I was procrastinating, and I was definitely still doing some ‘recreational eating’ – that is, eating just because the food looked tasty rather than because I was actually hungry, or searching for food ‘treats’.

Four months into eating within an 8-hour window (from around 12 noon to 8 pm works best for me), I feel I’ve reached a whole new level in terms of my relationship with food.

I am far more mindful with my eating, and able to discern when I’m actually hungry – as in, my body is signalling a biological need for food. I still enjoy food when it’s meal-time (you kinda do, after 16 hours without it ;-)) but I’m perfectly comfortable going without food, or delaying eating even further if my schedule demands it – at times I’ve gone as long as 20 hours without eating and remained fully functional both physically and mentally, when I had an all-day seminar to run and no time to eat.

The ‘food porn’ that shows up on my Facebook feed doesn’t trigger my appetite, and I can walk past cafés wafting out delicious aromas without being remotely tempted to go inside and buy something. I don’t feel any need to make ‘treats’ for myself, because the wholesome food I prepare for my family’s meals is so completely satisfying.

Oh, and I’m lifting heavier weights in my morning weight training sessions, running further and faster in my daily dog walks, and recovering faster, with virtually no muscle soreness even after an intense workout.

It’s very empowering to be in such a strong position with respect to food – I feel I am now unequivocally the boss of it, rather than it being the boss of me!

I didn’t really expect any of these benefits at the outset; I was more drawn into intermittent fasting by the burgeoning research on the long-term health benefits of time-restricted eating – in particular, its impact on insulin resistance, which is the driving factor behind the type 2 diabetes which has plagued multiple generations on both sides of my family tree.

I was also curious to see if it would help with some hormonally-driven gut issues that have accompanied perimenopause for me (as they do for many women during this transition phase; in case you were wondering, time-restricted eating has also worked wonders on my bloating!).

Now, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. It is not recommended for children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women, or people who have an eating disorder or have recently recovered from one. People who are already underweight or at the lower limit of the healthy weight range should not undertake intermittent fasting unless under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider. Professional guidance is recommended if you are taking prescribed medications as adjustment of these may be required.

But if you’re not in any of these categories, you’re already following a healthy diet (which reduces the likelihood of you experiencing unpleasant ‘food withdrawal’ symptoms during the fasting phase of your day) and you’re looking for an extra physical and mental edge, or you feel that food has more control over you than you have over it, intermittent fasting may be worth experimenting with.

Currently practising intermittent fasting, or have done so in the past? I’d love to hear about your experiences – please comment below!

If you’re curious to learn more about the fascinating science behind intermittent and water-only fasting, and the practical applications of fasting, join me for the Deep Dive webinar ‘Fasting for Health Gains’ at 8 pm (Sydney time) on June 20. Just register for your free one-month trial of EmpowerEd and you’ll receive access details for the live webinar.

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2 Comments

  • Gi Gi E McKeown

    Reply Reply June 14, 2017

    Hi, I read about the benefits of fasting in Paul C Bragg’s book.
    So now I fast for 24 hours each week, usually on Monday.
    I love fasting and feel so clear mentally plus have huge amounts of energy. I don’t talk about it or even tell anyone when I’m doing it due to the lack of understanding of most people.
    Thanks🙂

    • Robyn Chuter

      Reply Reply June 14, 2017

      Thanks for your input! I’ve always had some concerns about repeated 24-hour fasts because they tend to cause loss of muscle protein – more so than time-restricted eating or longer (3 day +) fasts.

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