Friday, April 12, 2013

Fasting: A Fast Way to Lose Weight?

Everyone seems to be talking about intermittent fasting at the moment. It's popularity hit the mainstream after a Horizon programme featuring Dr. Michael Mosley aired last summer, but it's been bubbling under the surface for a while and has been popular with gym freaks and life extension types for years.
Now, for many people, the idea of going for a whole day without food, or even missing breakfast, it too much to bear thinking about. I too, was the sort of person who couldn't go more than a couple of hours without food; thinking that I'd faint if I missed breakfast, let alone didn't eat all day. I fully subscribed to the 'eat little and often' idea that we had to avoid hunger at all costs and keep the metabolism firing all day with regular top ups of food. I'd snack every couple of hours, always keeping something on hand to keep hunger at bay and keep the internal fire burning.
Recently, I've totally changed my approach and the results are surprising. The purported benefits of fasting are many; studies on mice suggest that intermittent fasting can help to repair DNA, reduce chronic diseases such as cancer,increase longevity and increase insulin sensitivity to name but a few.
Studies in humans aren't so numerous but show it could reduce bad cholesterol, lead to weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone that stores away sugar, often as fat, and keeps it there.
The more insulin sensitive we are, the less insulin our bodies need to produce.
Therefore we store less energy as fat and we actually burn more fat because the insulin isn't keeping it locked in our fat cells. Being more insulin sensitive means you'll be far less likely to develop type II diabetes.
For many, fasting intermittently, particularly the 5:2 approach, may be easier to stick to than say, for example, continuously reducing your calorie intake, like most other diets or weight loss regimes.
Dr. Michael Eades (one of the best-known bariatric (obesity treatment) doctors in the US) puts it really well, when he states that "Diets are easy in the contemplation, difficult in the execution. IF is just the opposite - it's difficult in the contemplation but easy in the execution"
The idea of the 5:2 method of intermittent fasting is that for 2 days per week you restrict your calorie intake to 500 calories if you are a woman, or 600 if you're a man. Some people like to spread their calories out throughout the day, where as I prefer to simply eat one meal at the end of the day, and give my digestive system and pancreas a rest for the day. I drink a few cups of Yerbe Mate or Pu'erh tea to help curb my appetite but otherwise eat nothing until around 6pm, which, if I have eaten my dinner at 6pm the previous day, has given me a solid 24 hours without food.
This way of eating seems so much easier than the grim slog of day in, day out calorie restriction that many diets recommend. You know that you will get to eat at the end of the day, and you'll get to eat normally the following day. It also takes the ambivalence out of it; the "will-I-or-won't-I-have-another-biscuit" thing that so often plagues dieters.
I'm simply not eating all day so the decision is made. Once you've started out the day not eating, the motivation is strong to see it through. Hunger may come and go during the day, but it's nothing horrific, and the next meal is just around the corner.
Plus, if the weight loss and life extension promises aren't motivation enough, a fasting day is often simpler; no need to worry about what to take to work for lunch, or having to go and buy something. Think of the money saved buying a crappy lunch in an overpriced sandwich shop 2 days a week if you need another excuse to give intermittent fasting a try!
Our cells are constantly dividing all the way through our lives. The faster this happens, the more quickly we age, and more division brings a greater risk of DNA mutation and therefore cancer. Fasting switches our bodies from 'growth mode' into 'repair mode' by reducing a hormone called IGF-1. This repairs DNA damage in our bodies and mops up the effects of stress. Sounds pretty good right?
With endorsements from the likes of Hugh Fernly-Wittingsall and Dr. Mercola the trend looks set to continue. Will you be trying this yourself?
Chloe Brotheridge is a qualified hypnotherapist and nutritionist based in London.

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