When it comes to getting healthy and shedding excess weight, we’d go for the most painless option — no question about it. Yes, of course, we know that exercise and maintaining a balanced diet are still requisite no matter what weight-loss strategy we pick, but if there’s something that makes the process any easier, we’d try it in a heartbeat.
Which is why when articles about intermittent fasting started popping up all over our social media timelines, our interest was piqued.
The premise seems simple enough: You eat for a certain number of hours in a day, and outside of those hours, you don’t. But is it really as simple as it sounds? Let us take a quick look at what it is all about.
1. What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a process in which you are restricted to eating within a certain time frame. Outside of that time frame, you avoid consuming any calories. You can drink water, but you can’t eat any food. Since there are no dietary restrictions, it is — in a way — less of a diet and more of an eating pattern. Ultimately, the goal is the same as with a typical diet — calorie reduction (on days that you choose to fast).
2. Why is it popular?
A diet that isn’t tied to a strict meal plan can be very appealing to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want during non-fasting times — intermittent fasting is only effective for weight loss when combined with calorie restriction.
The flexibility of intermittent fasting is also a draw to people with busy schedules and a jam-packed social life. You can adjust your eating period according to your commitments, which means it fits easily into everyday life.
Of course, as with many other dieting methods, intermittent fasting is not recommended for those who are pregnant, people with medical conditions, and those who used to have an eating disorder, or currently struggle with one.
3. How long should you fast?
There are different ways to practise intermittent fasting. While some people might prefer eating within a set time frame daily, others might choose a more varied form of intermittent fasting in which they eat very little during certain days or go without food for an entire day.
Here is a breakdown of the three basic intermittent fasting methods, ranging from easiest to hardest.
In the 16:8 diet, you fast for 16 hours a day and eat within the other eight. This is generally the most manageable way of intermittent fasting, as you can still fit in your three daily meals, or skip one if that’s what you would prefer. If you are already used to skipping a meal, this method of fasting should not be very different from your usual eating pattern.
Instead of just jumping straight into a 16-hour fast, beginners are recommended to start with a 14-hour fast instead and work your way up.
The 5:2 diet is a slightly more extreme version of intermittent fasting, in which you eat normally for five days of the week and consume less calories on the other two. For the two days that you are (partially) fasting, you should only consume 500 to 600 calories. Get used to the 16:8 diet before trying out the 5:2 method.
The eat-stop-eat method involves committing to a 24-hour fast, once or twice a week. It’s important that you are still consuming the normal amount of calories on the days that you aren’t fasting. This method is much more extreme than the two above, and can be much harder for those just starting out.
4. What should you be eating?
An important note about intermittent fasting: You can drink water during your fast and you should be drinking it. You are also allowed coffee or tea, as long as you do not add sugar, milk or cream, as these all contain calories.
As you will be going without food for a certain amount of time, there are things you can eat that are more filling and will discourage you from eating prematurely. Food that tends to be more filling are usually high in protein or fibre, such as boiled potatoes, eggs, oatmeal, fish, meat and Greek yoghurt.
5. How can one maximise the effects of intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting works best if you go for healthy foods when you are supposed to eat and also exercise regularly. In other words, your efforts will definitely go to waste if you go for fried chicken and junk food for those few meals you take during fasting days. And if you plan to exercise, it is best to do so within the eating period on fasting days.