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The 411 On Fasting

Ok so here at Rebel Muse, we're not one for fad diets. Fad clothes, yes. But fad diets? No. However there has been a lot of info running loose re. fasting lately. I.e going for prolonged periods without food to better your health - and lose weight perhaps?

Anyway, we wanted to find out more. Which is why we sat down with Accredited and Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist for Eat Fit Food, Jamie Rose Chambers, to give use the low down. 

Fasting is becoming more mainstream and popular in the health world. Can you tell us what it is? And how people are doing it? 

Fasting is not a new dietary regime; it has been an integral part of many religions for thousands of years but has recently become very popular in the mainstream health world. 

Fasting is abstaining from all food and drink completely, or restricting dietary calories for varying periods of time. In the health world, fasting can be done in a number of different ways: 

  • Moderate daily fasting

This is also known as 16/8 fasting. It involves fasting for 14-16 hours of the day and restricting your eating window to 8-10 hours of the day. This usually means fasting from dinner until lunch the following day and skipping breakfast.

  • The 5:2 Fast

This fasting regime calls for 2 non-consecutive days per week of severe calorie-restriction; 500 calories per day for women and 600 calories per day for men. Then eat a normal diet on 5 days of the week.

  • Total Fast 1 day per week

This involves fasting completely for 24 hours, once every week, usually from dinner one day to dinner the next day.

  • Alternate day fasting

As its name suggests, this fasting regime involves fasting on one day, then eating normally the next, and so on. The fast day is similar to the 5:2 Fast diet where 500-600 calories per day would be eaten.

  • Time restricted feeding

This type of fasting restricts eating to a 4-6-hour window per day, usually fasting all day then having a large ‘feast’ meal at night.

Do you think fasting is safe? When is the best time to do it? 

Like with any dramatic change to a diet, fasting can be done safely and effectively, if done properly and for the right reasons. However, fasting can also be done very badly and can become yet another ‘fad’ diet that can feed on disordered eating and have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

If people want to start fasting is there anything they should read before they begin? Should they talk to their doctor? 

Reading up on diet regimes can open up a can of worms because the quality of information is so varied. I would advise speaking to your doctor, specialist or health care professional before embarking on a fasting regime to get some good quality information and guidance.

In general, however, it is advised anyone with a history of disordered eating or anyone underweight should not fast. Fasting can also cause nutritional deficiencies, malnutrition and dehydration, which can lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating, dizziness and a very foggy head, which makes general day-to-day functioning very difficult. 

Fasting should absolutely be avoided in pregnant and breastfeeding women who need all the nutrition they can get, people on diabetes medications, which can cause a dive in blood sugar levels. Also, kids under the age of 18 who are still growing and developing and anyone recovering from surgery, who again need all the nutrition they can get.

What are some improvements that people will notice when they fast? 

Some of the improvements people experience when the fast include a reduced appetite, less sugar cravings and generally feeling lighter with more energy.

The research on the possible health benefits of following a Fasting regime are young and not yet definitive but are showing promise in:

  • Reducing blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Reducing the risk of type 2 Diabetes
  • Reducing cholesterol levels
  • Improving blood pressure
  • Improving heart health
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of abdominal fat
  • Help the body ramp up the process of cellular repair
  • Change gene expression, which may help with longevity and protection against the progression of some diseases
  • May reduce the risk of some cancers
  • May reduce inflammatory markers
  • May be good for brain health by increasing the growth of new cells
  • May help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Is there anything people should be aware re. prolonged states of fasting? How long is the recommended time to fast?  

Using fasting as a weight loss tool makes sense – you restrict your total calories, you lose weight, right? Unfortunately, our complex body systems don’t work that way, at least in the long term anyway. This ‘starvation mode’ we often hear about in calorie-restriction causes our body to preserve our fuel stores and weight loss can come to a grinding halt.

The other considerations when fasting that I see in clinic are not counting fasting day calories accurately and eating more than the recommended 500-600 calories per day. Overeating when not fasting is also very common and can simply ‘balance out’ the calories restricted when fasting.

My recommendations when fasting would be to use it to achieve your health results, then either ease into a moderate fasting regime, such as with the 5:2 Fast diet, it is recommended to fast just one day per week long term. Or ultimately, slowly return to a ‘normal’ healthy diet to maintain the health benefits created whilst fasting.

The 16/8 Fasting method, which is simply skipping breakfast and fasting from dinner through to lunch the following day is considered the safest and easiest method of fasting.

Anything else you'd like to mention re. the diet trend?

In summary:

  1. Fasting can be beneficial for those who can easily tolerate long periods of hunger or who already erratically skip meals.
  2. Fasting is NOT for everyone, look into it carefully before embarking on it. It is not and shouldn’t be used as a fad diet.
  3. Fasting has not been comprehensively studied so do so with caution.
  4. Fasting however is showing some promise with helping to improve some medical conditions.
  5. If you have any medical conditions or are on medications, make sure to check with your doctor before embarking on a fasting regime.

Images: Pinterest; Words: Yadira Galarza Cauchi

Tell us, what do you think of fasting?

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