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My thoughts on intermittent fasting

Are we in fad territory again? Or is intermittent fasting a genuinely helpful tool for losing weight? If so why? Is it better than normal dieting? Well here’s my take…

Before I start, let’s take a look at what intermittent fasting actually is…  Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.  Generally speaking, there doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on which foods to eat, but rather when you should eat them.  This already sounds fishy if you ask me!

There appears to be several methods of intermittent fasting, and the three below are widely considered as the most popular:

  • The 16/8 Method: Fast for 16 hours each day
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: Once or twice a week, don’t eat anything from dinner one day, until dinner the next day (a 24 hour fast).
  • The 5:2 Diet: During 2 days of the week, eat only about 500 calories.

Some of you (you know who you are – loyal followers) may be aware that I’ve been dieting for a while with the aim of reducing my body-fat percentage to 10%.   There’s a few big names in the fitness industry who absolutely swear by intermittent for weight loss, so I figured I’d have a crack at it.  I’m currently using the 16/8 method which means I only eat between Noon and 8pm, and interestingly, I’m seeing some great results.  Over the last 2 months I’ve dropped my body-fat from 15% to 11% which I would consider a fairly decent accomplishment, particularly as I haven’t behaved especially well on weekends lately.

However, I must make it clear that I’ve also eaten in a caloric deficit. I don’t care what people say, If you eat a tonne of calories you will gain weight, regardless of whether you’re intermittent fasting or not.  This is not made obvious enough, in fact, some advocates of intermittent fasting seem to imply that you can eat as much as you like outside of fasting hours which is frankly ludicrous and stupid.  If you’ve got a big appetite like me that means putting away 3 tubs of Häagen-Dazs in one sitting and being hungry for more a few hours later.  You absolutely must figure out your basal metabolic rate and eat in a deficit, there is no debate here.  Anyhow lets have a look at some science….

A recent study conducted in August this year aimed to determine whether the 5:2 fasting diet was a feasible weight-loss method for obese males, and furthermore, whether it was more effective than a standard energy-restricted diet (SERD).  A total of 24 participants were randomised to consume either the 5:2 diet or a SERD (2050 KJ (500 calorie) reduction per day) for 6 months. Weight, waist circumference, fasting blood glucose, blood lipids, blood pressure and dietary intake were measured at baseline, 3 and 6 months by a blinded investigator.  What were the results? Well both groups did well.  I won’t bore you with the stats but the study concluded that the 5:2 diet is a successful but not superior weight loss approach when compared to a SERD.  Furthermore neither diet had any particular advantages when it came to diastolic blood pressure, fasting blood glucose or blood lipids.  I imagine what ended up happening is that both groups ended up eating a similar number of calories every week, but this was unfortunately not recorded.

Now the science is done let’s start wrapping this up.  The truth is that all forms of dieting are an absolute pain in the ass.  If this wasn’t the case everyone would be slim and we wouldn’t have an obesity problem.  I will say though, that having followed a style of intermittent fasting myself for the last few months, I have had more success with fat loss than ever before.  Why? I think it’s simply because if I can get through the morning without eating, it’s easier to eat in a deficit for the rest of the day.  Whereas, if I eat breakfast, by lunch time my stomach is empty and I’m ravenous again.  Furthermore it’s not like I’m waking up having run a marathon the day before… you don’t need breakfast to function effectively in the morning, you’re NOT depleted of energy, you’ve got glycogen stored away and some bodyfat wrapped around your stomach. How about getting a good nights sleep and drinking a black coffee first thing in the morning? You’ll get through to lunch time easily enough and before you know it you’ll see your bodyfat percentage dropping.

So in conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that intermittent fasting is not a fad, but it is not magical either.  I personally think it’s the least painful form of dieting which is why I’ve had some success with it.  If you’re thinking about dieting any time soon – give it a shot.

Have a look at the study here if you fancy it (Don’t bother)