By Ruth Osborn
Fasting is not new, but what is new is research that indicates the wide ranging health benefits of fasting. While human research is still a work in progress, indications are that if we include some kind of fast as part of our nutritional regime we will reap positive benefits for our health, wellbeing, longevity and our waistline. By experimenting with fasting we learn to recognise the body’s true signals. We feel the difference between real hunger and what we perceive as hunger, but which may actually be just a habit or simply boredom. This awareness is essential for anyone who would like to achieve or maintain a healthy body composition. From a health standpoint, when you are in a fasted state your body does all of the necessary repair work for your cells and tissues. Conversely, when you consume calories your body is in what is called the ‘fed-state’. In this state your body is working hard to break down the food you have consumed into its essential nutrients and waste products. So if we are constantly consuming calories our bodies do not have the time to properly repair themselves.
Traditional and religious fasting often means going without food for long periods of time, but an easier way to get these benefits in the context of your regular life is by using Intermittent Fasting (IF). This modern method of fasting is just as it sounds: intermittently eating then intermittently fasting or, as Brad Pilon (a pioneer of IF since 2007) simply puts it: eat-stop-eat. There are different ways to implement IF, and what is best for you will depend on your tolerance for fasting and your lifestyle. Some people find that doing one 24-36 hour fast each week works for them. Others stop consuming calories at a given time of day, say 2.00 pm, and do not eat again until 2.00 pm the following day. This gives a fasted period of 24 hours, but you do not go without food on any single day.
However, most people are more comfortable with shorter regular overnight fasts that are easier to manage. In fact, most of us fast on a daily basis that coincides with our sleep period – the time between our last meal of the evening and the first meal of the next day (which in English is called breakfast because it is the meal that ‘breaks the fast’). So the easiest way to integrate IF into your life is to just extend this natural overnight fast that happens when we are sleeping. If we can have a minimum of 12 hours between our last meal of the day and the first meal of the next day we are giving our bodies a decent period of time to rejuvenate. For instance, you will get 12 hours of IF by finishing eating supper at 9.00 pm, and then not eating again until 9.00 am the next morning. You can easily extend that period by a few hours if you finish eating earlier the night before (very healthy in its own right), and then wait a bit longer to eat the next day. Doing this will reap even more of the benefits of IF, as a comprehensive study by Precision Nutrition found that the optimal overnight fasting periods are 14 hours for women and 16 for men.
Further research on the long term benefits of IF is ongoing. So far results have shown that short periods of fasting can help us to be healthier by speeding up fat loss and increasing the effectiveness of exercise. The Precision Nutrition report states that: “data show that IF, when done properly, might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain (or maintain) lean mass, and more.” Of course, IF is just one of the many tools that we can use for optimal health and weight management. The first step to any health improvement is the combination of regular exercise with eating a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables that are organic and/or local whenever possible.
The comprehensive study on Intermittent Fasting by industry leaders Precision Nutrition is available at www.precisionnutrition.com/intermittent-fasting
Brad Pilon’s book Eat Stop Eat outlines the IF process (www.eatstopeat.com
) and further information is available on his personal site http://bradpilon.com