The following are real recently asked questions from clients, regarding intermittent fasting and nutrition generally. I thought it might be interesting to address these in a blog post, as they are all good questions;
Q. I’m not comfortable with the idea of skipping meals – is this accepted knowledge?
A. Is it accepted knowledge? It depends what you mean by ‘accepted’. Fasting has been practised since time immemorial by every religion, as a way of healing body and soul and still is by the Muslim faith. Furthermore, we would not have survived as a species if fasting made us unhealthy or weak by missing a few meals here and there, since it is only recent years that food has become easily available. It is very unlikely that the benefits of fasting will be actively promoted by those in power as it would result in hard times for the very powerful food industry. There’s no money in fasting, although it could potentially result in massive savings to the NHS, as it appears to have massive benefits for all the metabolic diseases which are so widespread today. For more details on these benefits, real life testimonials, references to scientific research etc. of which there is plenty, it is probably best to refer you to Dr. Jason Fung’s ‘The complete guide to fasting’ book, which is literally just that and will really open your eyes.
Q. Why is the 5:2 diet calorie restriction and therefore not so good and fasting for a relatively short time a good thing; they seem to be the same when all is said and done?
A. The 5:2 diet, popularised by Michael Mosley, is not fasting, because it allows for I think it’s 500 or 600 calories per day on the ‘fasting’ days. These can be spread out throughout the day if you so wish. Since constantly topping up in this way means that the body will always be producing insulin to deal with this intake and insulin is the hormone that prevents us from burning stored fat, this is totally different to abstaining from food altogether for an extended period so that insulin levels are reduced to negligible levels when access to fat reserves can begin.
Q. If I don’t eat all day because it fits in better, is it okay to eat about 8-9pm?
A. Various studies, including a very convincing 2013 one, show that eating later in the day promotes much more fat gain than eating earlier in the day, even when consuming the same number of calories (further proof that it is about hormones, not calories). The hunger hormones are at their highest around 8pm and at their lowest around 8am, which is why many people report not being hungry in the morning. Insulin is produced much more readily produced too in the evening, in response to food and, as we know, this is a fat storage hormone. The best time to eat is probably just after midday, which, of course, is what happens in the Mediterranean diet.
Q. Is NO sugar the only way for low carb/ high fat to work properly?
A. No. If that were true then virtually nobody would succeed with this kind of diet whereas we know that it is more successful than probably any diet other than fasting which is an anti-diet I suppose. But the main player in fat storage is insulin. Insulin rises rapidly in response to processed carbohydrates, sees a more moderate spike with protein and very little rise with fats. So you need to keep insulin as low as possible to achieve maximum gains, therefore a diet high in natural fats and low in processed carbohydrates will have the best results to prevent fat storage.
Q. If I eat what I want, within reason, i.e. as empty of sugar as I can make it, which might be quite high on some occasions by your guidelines, but mainly eat one or two meals per day (probably no breakfast), will this work?
A. The more sugar you are still consuming the more difficult it will be to fast because you are riding the roller coaster of insulin. Those on a low sugar, high fat diet will not feel ‘hungry’ every 2-3 hours. There is no right or wrong way to fast, but the closer you can get to a diet low in processed carbs and the longer you can go without food (and the two are closed linked as I’ve said), the better the results will be. However, any move in the right direction will produce some benefit. There is no prescribed dose – only what you are comfortable with and what gets results for you.
Q. I can do the Slimming World Original plan, but it is hard because, as it is no fat as well as low sugar, it is difficult to maintain feeling full. What can I do about this?
A. I can only sympathise if you are still trying to follow a Slimming World dietary regime. Most of my clients have been there at one time or another and, like every form of calorie restriction, it can get good results initially. However, these people aways come to me when they inevitably plateau and start regaining the weight, because it is unsustainable and ultimately not how we are designed to eat. If you follow the low fat guidelines (despite the fact that practically every study that has ever attempted to show a link between high fat intake and weight gain, heart disease, high cholesterol etc. only succeeded in proving no link), then you are preventing yourself from feeling full and satiated unnecessarily. Eating healthy fats will help to stop the sugar cravings – if you try to avoid both, you are embarking on an unsustainable path that is doomed to failure in the longer term. There will also be very little left to eat because most foods have one or the other to make them palatable.
Remember, as always, to consult with a registered medical practitioner if you have any medical concerns regarding your nutrition or fasting. Children and pregnant women should not fast. Anybody taking medication should consult with their doctor before undertaking fasting.