It can be easy to assume that eating healthily is something that’s fairly straightforward – it’s a case of eating less saturated fat, salt and sugar and more fruits and vegetables, right? You’d think so, but with seemingly hundreds of different diets it can be overwhelming knowing what’s best and what’s the most effective way of losing and maintaining weight. One internet search will bring up tens of thousands of different diets, alongside the pros and cons of each one. Knowing what’s good and what’s bad is enough to send us all running for the hills.
One diet, or way of eating, that’s become popular in recent years is intermittent fasting. But what exactly does this mean, is it healthy and could it lead to weight loss?
What is Intermittent Fasting and How is it Done?
Less of a diet, more of a healthy lifestyle, intermittent fasting means severely restricting your calorie intake for certain periods of time. Most people looking to lose or maintain their weight find this easier than being on a permanent ‘diet’ where every meal needs to be calorie controlled.
The most well known type of intermittent fasting diet is the 5:2 diet. This means that for five days a week you eat normally (this means eating healthily, not eating whatever you fancy!) and on the other two, fasting, days you limit your calorie intake to 500 calories for women and 600 for men. It doesn’t matter which two days you fast but you should aim to have one non-fasting day between them.
The recommended calorie intake for a healthy adult is 2,000 calories per day, so by eating only a quarter of that, twice a week, you can expect to lose weight. There are many cookbooks and online resources that can help you work out what 500 calories is. You can choose whether to have three very small meals or two slightly larger meals on your fasting days. The 5:2 diet can also be adapted to the 4:3 diet, with four days of normal healthy eating and three days of severely restricted calories.
Another way of intermittently fasting is to follow the 16:8 rule. This means eating within an eight hour window every day, and fasting for 16 hours, usually involving overnight. For example, you could eat a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner (with no calorie counting) all within the hours of 10am and 6pm and eat nothing outside of these hours.
What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
The science behind intermittent fasting diets is becoming more and more robust, and not just in terms of weight loss. Studies have shown that severely restricting calories twice a week or only eating within a certain short window every day has other health benefits.
These include improved insulin sensitivity which in turn lowers the risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, and reduced risk factors for heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure.
Intermittent fasting does take some planning, preparation and getting used to, and is best adopted as a fulltime lifestyle, rather than done ad hoc. But since it’s considered simpler than being on a permanent diet, once you get the hang of it and you’ve fitted it into your lifestyle, you could be reaping the rewards in terms of safe weight loss and health benefits!
Written by Bev Walton, BSc Nutritional Science
I achieved a First-Class Honours degree in BSc Nutritional Science, Nutrition Sciences from the University of Reading and now have over 35 years experience in all types of cuisine, dietary plans, recipe development, health and nutrition. I have been writing for over 10 years for magazines and websites as well as ghostwriting for ebooks, Kindle and fully published books. I’m also a proud member of the Guild of Food writers.