To fast or not to fast: Which style is right for you?

Intermittent fasting is an increasingly popular approach to weight loss and healthier living. Susie Burrell gives the lowdown on fasting methods.

A growing body of evidence suggests intermittent fasting – the way of eating that restricts calories for set periods of time – is effective in helping to achieve both weight loss and significant reductions in inflammation in the body.

So what is the go with fasting? Are there real benefits from it and if so, what is the right way to do it? Dietitian Susie Burrell has the answers.

The 5:2 fasting diet

When we first heard the words “intermittent fasting” a few years ago, it was the 5:2 diet that caught our attention.

The 5:2 program suggests followers factor in two non-consecutive low-calorie eating days (500-600 calories).

Research suggests significantly restricting caloric intake for brief periods of time appears to “reset” a number of metabolic hormones, hormones that play key roles in fat metabolism and glucose regulation in the body.

While the caloric restriction does not directly result in weight loss, moderate weight losses over time may be observed as these metabolic variables work more efficiently.

The 16:8 diet

More recently, the 16:8 fasting diet has emerged as a popular alternative to the relatively strict 5:2 diet.

The 16:8 is a time-based eating plan in which you are encouraged to consume all of your calories within an eight-hour window.

Similar to the 5:2, it appears that the extended period of time overnight without food helps to kick start the metabolism – reducing a number of inflammatory markers in the body, which over time also supports weight loss.

Which type of intermittent fasting is better?

It is not so much a question of which method is better, but which method you will be able to stick to.

The 5:2 can be extremely effective and has a growing body of evidence to support its use, but it is not easy to do.

A 500-calorie diet equates to very little food each day – an egg, a coffee and a small meal of fish and salad is not for the fainthearted.

Like any diet, results will only be achieved when you can actually commit to the regimen and really stick to the 500 to 600 calorie days – a little cheat that means you eat 800 to 1000 calories on fasting days will not give you the results the 5:2 can induce when adhered to.

For busy, active individuals who have high-energy demands, this diet is especially tough and may even be inappropriate.

On the other hand for those who do not eat a lot through the day and instead tend to eat a larger meal at night, if they can keep the size of their evening meal controlled, the 5:2 can work especially well.

Plus there is the added bonus of not needing to count calories on the other five days of the  week.

Compared with the 5:2, the 16:8 is easier to stick to – if you can ward off your morning hunger and not eat until 10am or lunchtime each day, all you then need to do is eat two to three well balanced meals within an eight hour period.

There is no specific calorie control – you can basically eat a healthy, balanced, filling diet as long as you eat everything within eight hours and still lose some weight.

Is fasting for you?

A crucial point when considering a regular fast in your weekly dietary regime is what your energy demands are like.

If you sit down in front of a computer for many hours each day, and are not overly interested in food, cutting back for a couple of days is unlikely to cause any major issues.

On the other hand, if you are a busy mum with three kids and you go to the gym every day, chances are cutting your calories back that much when your energy demands are high may leave you feeling tired, irritable and battling extreme hunger and cravings, even if it is just for a day in total.

There is a growing body of evidence to show that fasting, even occasionally is exceptionally good for us.

It helps to get us reacquainted with our natural hunger, helps is to eat less overall and supports weight loss.

The key step in successful fasting is to choose the type of fasting you will stick to, and ideally for at least eight to 12 weeks.

Fasting is not a quick-fix diet solution, rather a lifestyle choice that can help with weight control.

Sample 5:2 fasting day

Breakfast: Small skim cappuccino

Lunch: Two egg omelette with vegetables

Dinner: 70g chicken breast plus one cup green vegies in soy sauce

Snack: One cup of popcorn, one cup of berries

Sample 16:8 Day

From 12pm: Two-egg omelette with two slices wholegrain toast

Around 3-4pm: Handful of nuts, piece of fruit

Around 7pm: 150g lean meat, jacket potato, two cups mixed vegetables, glass of wine OR small dessert

Written by Susie Burrell