Intermittent Fasting has become very well known in recent years and is associated with weight loss and an improved outlook for several diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Is Intermittent Fasting really that miraculous?
Is Intermittent Fasting the solution to the current obesity epidemic and the several pathologies associated with it like hypertension and high cholesterol?
Fasting itself is an ancient practice that is still used today in religions such as Judaism and Islam as a practice of spiritual “healing”. From a scientific point of view, however, it has been associated with weight loss and maintenance of general health, making fasting the subject of increasing study and popular interest in recent years.
The practice of fasting can be approached in several ways but the most common is to limit food consumption to a certain time window during the day or over the week. This is called intermittent fasting. Other possibilities such as 24-hour fasts exist, but these can be quite difficult and do not seem to be more beneficial than intermittent fasting within an hourly window.
The most frequently used hourly window for intermittent fasting involves 12 to 16 hours of fasting every day, where you have dinner at 8pm, for example, and only eat again at 12pm the following day. No food or drink is consumed within this window except drinks with no added calories or sugars, such as water, tea, infusions and coffee. These can be taken to maintain hydration, while caffeinated drinks can also be useful for maintaining energy levels during the fasting period.
Our first meal should avoid simple sugars like sugary cereals, cakes and sweets in order to avoid insulin spikes. Rather, this meal should be balanced with a source of protein, vegetables with micronutrients and unsaturated fat. A great example would be avocado toast with a poached egg.
This style of intermittent fasting may be useful for people who do not wake up hungry, who have morning sickness, or who are unable to fit in several meals throughout the day and prefer to have only two large meals.
In any case, as we are eating fewer meals while fasting, we need to ensure that each of them is balanced and provides our necessary daily nutrients. This is why you should get some advice from a nutritionist when starting to fast in order to avoid nutritional deficiencies, malaise or other symptoms which can be associated with poorly planned fasting such as headaches and energy crashes.
Does fasting guarantee weight loss? Not exactly. The only rule for weight loss is caloric restriction. Which means you need to consume less calories than those you expend, thus creating a caloric deficit and forcing the body to use its energy reserves in muscle and fat. The purpose of intermittent fasting is to reduce the time window in which food is consumed, but this does not guarantee a caloric deficit. We could say that the most important thing is not the time of the fast, but the quality and caloric value of the food eaten in the feeding window.
Is intermittent fasting better than other diets like low-carb or ketogenic fasting? Any diet can be effective for weight loss if it involves calorie restriction and a person is able to stick to it. That’s why a nutrition consultation with me, which can be scheduled at Plastic Surgery Clinic Luísa Magalhães Ramos, involves drawing up an individual assessment and an eating plan with the most appropriate strategy for a patient’s goals and lifestyle.
Does fasting have any benefits for diseases such as diabetes or cancer? There is no scientific evidence that fasting helps humans control or cure such diseases and nobody should say otherwise. But we do know that calorie restriction and good quality food can have a positive impact on type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, as long as all changes in our diet are monitored by a nutritionist.
Unaccompanied intermittent fasting can lead to binge eating, increased appetite, nutritional deficits and loss of muscle mass. If you are looking to lose weight or improve your health, you should seek out a nutritionist to ensure you comply with all the basic rules of healthy eating that are appropriate to your lifestyle and follow the best strategy for you. Don’t fall for “fasting fads” which can harm your relationship with food. After all, our relationship with food is not just physiological, but also behavioural and emotional.
Recipe – Spiced coffee
1 cup of espresso
2 pods of cardamom
1 stick of cinnamon
1 pinch of nutmeg
1 – Make some strong espresso.
2 – Break up the cardamom pods to release the seeds.
3 – Mix water, cardamom seeds, a cinnamon stick and nutmeg into the coffee to taste.
4 – Drink hot or on ice.