Intermittent Fasting Health Benefits: Fact or Fiction?

In recent years, a term that has gained considerable traction has been that of “intermittent fasting”. Coined a while back by Martin Berkhan and made popular by the likes of Dr Oz, Michael Mosley, even Oprah, celebs around the globe, and many sports and health enthusiasts swear by the formula it presents.

The most popular form is the 16:8 regimen: here, you consume all your calories in an 8-hour feeding window and then do not eat for the remaining 16 hours in a 24-hour cycle. This includes the time that you sleep, so if you stop eating at around 7 pm you will break your fast at 11 am the next day. Many individuals push this window till noon or even 2 pm, increasing the fasting period. Regardless of the time, the feeding window remains the same and the cut off time should be adhered to. If you don’t binge in your 8-hour window, you should automatically force calorie restriction, and in most cases, weight loss will occur. The question on many lips is: is this healthy?

There are various apparent benefits to intermittent fasting, ranging from a reduction in multiple adverse health outcomes, including heart disease, cancer and even diabetes. While many of these benefits are related to calorie restriction and weight loss, research also indicates that underlying biological protective mechanisms are ‘switched on’ due to intermittent fasting, resulting in a range of reported health benefits. Research in this area is ongoing, but overall, it appears as though intermittent fasting is highly beneficial.

Though intermittent fasting can prove to be a very effective way to lose weight, it is important to remember that weight loss and fat loss are two very different things. Ideally, when you are practicing intermittent fasting, I’d suggest you include more lean protein in your diet to preserve as much lean muscle as possible while in the fasting state. Whilst fasting, you want to ultimately lose fat, particularly subcutaneous fat (that lovely cottage cheese fat that sits under the skin) and excess visceral fat (the fat that sits around your organs). Although the body NEEDS fat for energy, hormone production, a healthy immune system and protective roles, one can simply have too much fat. A very high body fat percentage (BF%) is dangerous and not advantageous to our health, wellness or longevity.

The ideal female body fat percentage is around 22% and for males 15%. This is the fat to muscle ratio. So when thinking about reducing your body fat percentage, it is important to consider how close you are to these healthy ranges and gauge from there. You must keep in mind that it can be extremely dangerous for you to lose an excessive amount of body fat since having extremely low levels are not geared towards health. Do your research and consult a health practitioner before drastically dropping these levels (yes, even if you have much to lose to reach optimal health, it is essential to do this in a healthy, sustainable manner.)

With intermittent fasting, it is important that you break your fast with both a protein and a carb so that your body, in its fasted state, can absorb these nutrients while your cells are open. This allows you to reap the benefits of these macronutrients working in your body to nourish you at maximum potential. When you break your fast with a fat, your cells close, and absorption is limited. This is why I find HPR recovery to be the perfect solution to breaking your fast, as the protein to carb ratio is physiologically perfect.

It is important to note that you could be on a chocolate-only diet, be following the 16:8 formula, still be in a calorie deficit, and be losing weight, but this is in no way a healthy lifestyle. It is imperative that you carefully consider what you eat, what nutrients your food comprises of, and how you moderate your eating to fuel your body correctly. We sometimes focus on scale numbers more than the numbers that really matter – the nutritional values. We need to gear our minds towards getting rid of the “bad” fat keeping the “good” fat, retaining lean muscle and having enough fuel to perform optimally in your everyday life. We need to eat for health and energy; energy sustains life.

Since you are likely to consume fewer calories while following an intermittent fasting eating plan, you are likely to lose some weight (again, if you’re not binging or over-consuming), as long as you are doing your 16:8 safely and are mindfully putting your health, wellness and body first, you should see positive health results. A good start is also to ask yourself: ‘why am I doing this?’. Speak to a professional and do not try any over-restrictive eating regimes without a professional’s help, knowledge and guidance.

Eating plans are not “one size fits”; if it’s overly generic, you should question it. Your energy requirements are different to mine. We are all different vehicles, and we all require different amounts of fuel. It is vital to ensure that your eating plan is geared towards YOU, YOUR goals and YOUR health needs.

Please feel free to contact me for any further advice.

Your resident sports nutritionist
Candice De Mendonca
Aka The Fitness Hybrid

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