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What's the deal with intermittent fasting?

Have you been experimenting with fasting lately or know someone who has? Intermittent fasting has been getting lots of attention in the media and the wellness sphere, but what’s the big deal? Why would you choose to not eat and how could it be good for you?

The term intermittent fasting covers lots of different ways of changing your normal pattern of eating using short-term fasts. Usually, the first question people ask is why would you fast and deprive yourself of food? Many of us are scared of being hungry and fear that if we don’t eat regularly the hunger will just get worse and worse until it becomes this raging need to devour everything in sight. This is not the case! If fasting is working for you, then you might get some mild hunger pangs, but they usually go away after a few minutes. They might return after another hour or so, but again, often dissipate within a few minutes.

So, how to do it? There’s loads of ways you can experiment with intermittent fasting and some patterns that might suit you better than others. Some approaches include skipping one meal of the day, or not eating for a whole day, or for one day a week or once or twice a month. Another method is to extend the duration of your usual overnight fast to anywhere from 12 to 16 hours. This might look like finishing eating in the evening by around 7:30, and then not eating again until 7:30 or closer to lunch time the next day.

Keen to try it out myself, I initially tried not eating for a whole day. It didn’t go down well. I felt pretty rubbish: tired and hangry (hungry and angry!). I then tried the 16:8 fasting pattern which was much better for me (and my family!). Most days of the week I have dinner by about 7pm, and don’t eat until around 11am the next morning. This means I fast for 16 hours (including overnight) and then eat all the day’s food within an 8-hour window from 11am to 7pm. I notice that this means I eat when I actually feel hungry, which feels really good, instead of eating out of habit or mindlessly snacking.

One of my clients chooses to do alternate day fasting where she fast for 24 hours every other day. I would find that too difficult, but she reports many benefits. Results from the growing research around fasting also show lots of positives including good effect on cholesterol, a decrease in inflammation, clearer thinking and more energy.

So, good things can come from intermittent fasting, but does it suit everyone? The short answer is no. It’s not recommended if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding. It’s also not recommended if you’re tired, stressed, unwell or sleep deprived. One thing to also remember is that it shouldn’t feel ridiculously hard. If you’re feeling dizzy, faint, exhausted, terribly hungry, hangry or finding it hard to concentrate whilst you’re fasting, it may not be suitable for you and it’s a good idea to check with your GP. If you’ve a history of or currently dealing with an eating disorder, again, I’d check with your GP first.

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