5:2, 4:3, 2:5…however you choose to do it; there’s been no escaping the buzz around intermittent fasting over the past year.
The craze started with Dr Michael Mosley’s Horizon documentary back in 2012 which led to the publication of his bestselling book, The Fast Diet: The secret of intermittent fasting – lose weight, stay healthy, live longer, with Mimi Spencer last year. The premise is to restrict your calorie intake on fast days (500 for women, 600 for men) and eat whatever you want the rest of the time. According to research this will not only help you to consistently lose weight, but also boost your health, with links between intermittent fasting and reduced risk of breast cancer and dementia being studied.
As is always the case with ‘fashionable’ diets, intermittent fasting has some high profile celebrity advocates. Beyonce, Miranda Kerr and Ben Affleck are said to be fans, but just how easy is it to put into practice in everyday life?
The truth is; here in Britain we’re not used to fasting. With so many of us brought up eating breakfast, lunch and dinner plus snacks in between, we’re simply not used to experiencing the hunger that occurs after so long without food. So launching straight into a restrictive 600 calorie a day regime is sure to come with a few side effects; namely hunger and being driven to distraction thinking about food.
Sure, it’s only one day after which you can eat whatever you like, but that leads to my other issue with intermittent fasting – that people may overindulge on the five days where they are given free rein, using their ‘fast day’ as an excuse to eat cakes, cookies and crisps as they please.
While research suggests that dieters rarely eat more than 110% of their recommended daily calorie intake on feast days, I still can’t help but think that such a yo-yo approach to eating could lead to disordered eating habits with a preoccupation counting calories instead of thinking about the nutritional benefits that certain foods could have.
Of course, some people may like following a structured eating plan to be accountable for their weight loss, but keeping healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. Forget calorie-counting, fasting and spending all day thinking about what you can, or more often can’t eat. Instead focus on eating meals packed with fresh and whole foods – fruit, vegetables, lean meat and fish, eggs, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds – there are so many foods that you can enjoy all day every day without the need to obsess over their calorie count or if you’ve left a significant fast period between meals. To me that sounds like the best kind of diet; a balanced one.
Have you tried intermittent fasting? What do you think of the 5:2 diet?