WHAT IS ‘INTERMITTENT FASTING’?
Article written by our dietician, Anel Kirsten.
Many diets focus on WHAT you eat, but ‘intermittent fasting’ is all about WHEN you eat. With ‘intermittent fasting’ you eat within a specific window period and you fast for several hours a day. The whole idea of intermittent fasting is to help the body burn fat and thus regulate your weight.
New research shows that intermittent fasting also has numerous other health benefits. This way of eating is based on human evolution and the way hunter-gatherers lived. They did not have refrigerators and shops for their convenience, and at times they did not find food for long periods and as a result they did not eat three or four meals a day, as we are used to today. The intermittent fasting diet is described as a way of eating like our ancestors ate.
How does Intermittent fasting work?
Intermittent fasting varies between times in which you must fast and times in which you may eat. When we eat, the food we eat is converted to glucose, which serves as an energy source. What you do not burn immediately is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. When you need energy, the glycogen in the liver and muscles is quickly converted to glucose as an energy source.
When there is too much glucose and it is not used, it is converted to fat (which serves as stored energy). However, when glucose and glycogen stores become low, your body begins to burn fat. This is exactly what you are trying to do with a fast program. You want to drastically lower your liver and muscle glycogen stores so that you can start burning your fat stores. If you are an average active person, it takes about twelve hours before your glycogen store becomes depleted – therefore it is important that you fast for at least 16 hours to benefit from it and / or lose weight.
There are several fasting or intermittent fasting schedules or plans. The different options include:
The 16/8 fast: You fast every day for 16 hours and then eat in the 8 hour window period. Some people extend the fast even further, some fast for up to 20 hours and then only eat during the four-hour window period. It comes down to skipping one of your meals. If you are someone who does not actually eat breakfast anyway, it works well to skip breakfast and you start your day with lunch.
The individuals who do not want to miss their dinner with their family, should fast after dinner then, for 16 hours (if you eat at seven o’clock, you break with a ‘brunch’ at eleven / twelve o’clock the next day). 16/8 method is currently the most popular approach to intermittent fasting.
The 5/2 fast: This means that you are on a very strict diet of 2000 to 2500kj (500 – 600 calories) for two days of the week, while you eat as usual the other days of the week. You can fast for two days in a row e.g. Monday and Tuesday or you can choose two non-consecutive days e.g. Monday and Friday. At this stage there are no specific approaches that stand out. Choose the approach that best suits your lifestyle.
Research shows that it can be an effective weight-loss method, especially during menopause. Intermittent fasting not only helps to burn fat, but also gives rise to beneficial metabolic changes that protect organs against chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers. Research has also shown that it helps with hormone regulation, improvement in insulin resistance as well as reduction of inflammation. An interesting phenomenon that occurs when you are fasting is autophagy. It is a process during which your body gets rid of old cells and forms new healthy cells. You are, as it were, renewing yourself.
What are you allowed to drink and eat?
During the fasting period you may drink water, sparkling water, coffee and tea, as long as it is without milk and sugar. Fruit juice, milk, yoghurt, alcohol and sugary soft drinks are not allowed. However, always be aware that when you are allowed to eat, there must still be a focus on healthy food and portion control, as it is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight. You will not lose weight if you indulge in sugar and other unhealthy high energy foods as well as junk food.
It is usually recommended that you stick to the typical Mediterranean diet when you are not fasting, but some research shows that people who limit carbohydrates (Banting/Keto) during their eating period still seem to lose a little more fat. You can actually follow any of the eating plans on the LK FITNESS APP eating plans with intermittent fasting as long as you go through the fasting period of 16 hours.
How to use ‘Intermittent fasting’ in the LK Fitness app.
The 16/8 fasting style is currently the most popular and people find it the most sustainable way of intermittent fasting. When you use the 16/8 fasting method you are going to fast for 16 hours and eat within the 8 hour window period.
First you have to decide which diet on the LK FITNESS APP you want to follow; the Low GI Low Fat; Mediterranean Diet or the Keto / Banting eating plan. Once you have decided which plan you want to follow you will eat again for the first time 16 hours after dinner. If you typically sit down for dinner around 7pm, you don’t eat or drink anything after that for 16 hours. You break your fast with lunch or a snack the next day between 11am and 12pm. So, you are going to either skip the breakfast option on the LK Fitness eating plan and move directly to the lunch on the plan, or you can have your breakfast between 11:00 and 12:00, and if you are hungry again in the late afternoon, you may eat something from the suggested lunch or one of the permitted snacks as set out on the LK plan you have chosen. Dinner will then follow and you will fast again for 16 hours after you’ve had dinner. So your dining window is from eleven to seven. Note: you can decide your intermittent fasting window, depending what time you are usually having dinner.
Here is an example of a day on the low GI plan:
Breakfast: Muffin (see recipe) with marmite / fish spread and 30g cheese. 1 Fruit
Lunch: 6 Provitas, 1 can of tuna, 2 teaspoons Lite mayonnaise / pesto / hummus and 1 cup of salad. Optional: 1 Fruit
Dinner: Bobotie (palm size), 2 cups carrot and coleslaw, ½ cup rice (white / brown / wild rice)
When you fast you skip the breakfast. You can go directly to lunch (Provitas and tuna). Should you feel hungry again by late afternoon, eat something from your suggested breakfast on the eating plan, or have a healthy snack like fruit. Dinner namely Bobotie is eaten according to the meal plan. After that, you fast again for 16 hours until the next day. The same strategy is followed for the Keto / Banting eating plan and the Mediterranean diet.
Is ‘Intermittent fasting’ safe?
This fasting diet is not for everyone. Any individual who wants to try this type of fasting diet should first discuss it with their doctor. People with any metabolic disease such as diabetes should preferably follow a fasting diet under the supervision of a doctor or dietitian. People who should rather stay away from ‘intermittent fasting’ include children under 18, pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding and individuals with a history of eating disorders.
Some people feel particularly sharp and energetic when fasting, while others are irritated and anxious, struggle to concentrate and think about food all the time. It can sometimes take the body 2 to 4 weeks to get used to this way of eating. You may feel hungry at first, but luckily it passes quickly. Note that intermittent fasting can have different effects on different people. Talk to your doctor if you start to experience unusual symptoms such as anxiety, severe nausea and /or severe headache.