Intermittent Fasting – What’s It All About?

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Let’s take a closer look at the ins and (mainly) outs of what life in the ‘fast’ lane (geddit?!) really entails

Clock like plate on the table with fork and bread knife, intermittent fasting

I’m sure we’ve all been there:

Browsing the inter-web looking for the latest tips, tricks and shortcuts to getting in shape, and fast.

Speaking of fast, something you’ll have probably come across is the ever-present dietary art of intermittent fasting (IF).

Now, when it comes to losing weight, most of us are aware that it naturally involves eating a wee bit less. But what about not eating at all?

At least, not eating at certain times of the day.

The most common method used for IF is the classic ‘16:8’ daily routine, so to speak.

In layman’s terms? Skipping breakfast and loading up on larger meals later in the day.

As with the majority of classic diet fads, it’s heavily restriction based – more from a timeframe point of view, in this instance.

But, when it comes to our eating habits, intermittent fasting works quite well for a few different reasons.

Let’s jump into it’s pros and cons.

Intermittent fasting and biscuits

Intermittent fasting, biscuits

One of the main reasons IF works for so many is the inclusion of the rather sociable hours surrounding lunchtime and dinner.

This gives any ‘fasters’ the freedom to enjoy meals out with their mates and perhaps even a cheeky dessert or a larger portion of steak.

Sounds like the ideal fit, right? No more sugar restrictive approaches and the chance to indulge on your favourite larger dishes. Salads? Bugger off.

No such thing as ‘bad’ foods anymore, only poor timings, as they say.

IF also plays into the age-old conundrum of late-night snacking.

We’ve all done it, perhaps more than we’re willing to admit. A hard day’s work and a chance to unwind by the telly. Dinner comes and goes, and we’re left with the ever tempting cupboard full of biscuits.

Alas, no more ‘after eights’ of any description if you’re fasting. Once 8pm rolls around, that’s you clocked out, whether you like it or not. “STEP AWAY FROM THE COOKIE JAR.”

That said, for many, the ease of working with existing habits before the cut-off point (good or bad) is a handy tool, as it lowers the effort required to make positive changes.

Just the very ‘shortcut’ to losing weight that so many crave.

The caveman approach?

Something you’ve no doubt come across is the idea of our bodies are very similar to those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. That’s right, cavemen.

Whilst this is true in many regards, think about those endless benefits of staying active or Neanderthal courting techniques seen out and about on a Saturday night, there’s more than meets the eye.

IF supporters argue for the circadian basis of such a strategy. If you think about it, tribes would often hunt during the daytime and unwind in the evening, enjoying the fruits of their labour, quite literally. It makes sense then that we, as humans, continue this pattern to maximise performance.

Studies have indicated relative success with long-term fasting, for both general health and weight management in particular.

But, naturally, we no longer live in dense rainforests, indulging on the carcasses of wild animals. We live in cities, communities where food is readily available, where a Big Mac sits wrapped and ready to go no matter the time of day.

This is one of the arguments many use to discredit the paleo approach. Sure, our bodies may be more primed for minimally processed foods and designed to eat more nutrient rich sources but the reality is: the bigger picture matters.

When it comes to the root of nutrition, energy balance will always win.

I don’t know about you but give me 30 minutes in my local China Buffet King and I’ll sure as hell meet my daily energy requirements (and then some).

Stop being so hormonal

glucose meter alarming, intermittent-fasting

Another large part of the IF argument is the ever-demonised hormone insulin. Many argue it’s a direct component of fat gain but, as always, the devil is in the detail.

Coming back once again to our good old friend, the randomised clinical trial, results have suggested a certain benefit to glucose regulation for type 2 diabetes. Skip breakfast and skip a trip to the doctor, they claim.

What’s more, insulin can only increase the amount of fat stored if the body is in a caloric surplus.

The best part? Your body doesn’t care what time of day it is. If you regularly consume more than you expend, you will inevitably pack on the pounds.

“But I can’t possibly eat that much in eight hours, I hear you say.” Once again, context is key.

During this window, many fall into the trap of simply filling up on junk.

For any dietary approach, there’s more at play than simply quantity or calories. Sure, it might be easier to stick to a reasonable number of calories if you reduce the time available for eating but, naturally, takeaway pizza orders aren’t going to do you any favours.

Eat less, weigh less?

woman with her right hand gesturing stop on table with only 2 breads, a bread knife and fork on the plate, intermittent fasting

The majority of IF ‘literature’, if we can call it that, is heavily-based around the drawbacks of eating more meals per day.

Whilst the ‘metabolism boosting’ benefits of breakfast have been somewhat disproven, it still has its place for many in our day-to-day activities.

Once fed, the body supposedly can’t burn fat due to the presence of insulin, required to balance our blood sugars.

Of course, this hypothesis may be true for that timeframe but, once again, we have to consider the whole day’s intake.

Studies have shown, time and time again, that the energy we consume for the whole day is what truly matters.

I guess it comes back to our good old friend, correlation and causation. If you think about it, the likelihood of sticking to a diet or eating slightly less will definitely increase if the time you have to eat is reduced.

Similar to cutting out whole food groups (definitely discouraged), the ease of maintaining a deficit of calories per day will always increase.

I’m no mathematician, but the amount of meals you can squeeze into 8 hours versus 16 is probably going to be slightly lower.

But how about socialising?

Young people eating in Thai restaurant, intermittent fasting

Something to consider is the idea that sustainability is key. As cliché as it may be, doing something you enjoy is definitely important.

This absolutely applies to our eating habits. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy the occasional evening out with my mates and, as you can probably imagine, we often stay out way beyond the 8pm curfew.

When it comes to any approach to health, socialising is definitely a key focus.

No-one wants to be the lone ranger who says no to a slice of cheesecake having checked their fasting schedule.

Happiness, for me, is absolutely centred around friendships and enjoying the food we share with others.

Why leave yourself out in the cold when you can enjoy the comfort of good company, good food and a balanced approach to all things nutrition based.

Can you stomach it?

A perhaps more concerning issue is the movement towards larger meals which can over stretch our stomachs in the long term.

What does this mean for our hunger levels?

Think of it like a wage. If you’re an employer and offer a large raise to your staff, they’ll naturally be pretty pleased.

Our stomach is similar in many ways, our levels of satiety are very much based on volume as opposed to pure calories.

Once you provide a certain level of food intake, your body naturally raises its expectations.

A movement towards a more conventional eating pattern can leave you feeling somewhat short-changed.

Cue periods of over consumption and back to the drawing board we go.

It’s as simple as in and out

A post shared by Scott Baptie (@scottbaptie) on

To take a balanced view, IF does work for many. It’s a handy tool to reduce the often-unavoidable anxieties a lot of us face when it comes to losing weight.

But here’s the kicker: it doesn’t have to be so hard.

Something I love about learning is the fact that you never forget the fundamentals.

As a Chemist I can absolutely vouch for the importance or even simplicity of thermodynamics.

Don’t worry, I’ll save you the nitty gritty, but nothing will ever change the fact that energy in and out is a universal truth.

Not even ‘fake news’ can argue against that.

I suppose the age-old conundrum we face is that selling the idea of balance and being sensible will never make front page news.

People enjoy a sense of controversy and the ever-alluring idea of a quick-fix or the demonising of certain foods or rouines.

We live for the next trend or instant satisfaction.

But something you can’t possibly replace is sustainability.

Sure, I have to be consistent with what I’m eating and how much I’m eating, but put some birthday cake on my plate and you can bet on me taking my slice.

This is the beauty of nutrition, it can be whatever you want it to be.

Sure, we have a few rules to stick to, but like most things, the basics will serve you well.

Think of it as a foundation.

If you build a strong base of healthy habits, sound knowledge and a willingness to adapt, you’ll go far.

But jump into the next fad every month and you’ll be out on the streets in no time.

A cheeky pudding?

So there you have it, a wee bit more to fasting than perhaps you realised.

Can it work for you? Sure thing. But it definitely isn’t the be all and end all that many claim it is.

I don’t know about you, but ‘breaking-the-fast’ is always something I look forward to. Call me old fashioned, but a hearty bowl of oats to get my day started is all I could ever wish for.

That’s not to mention sharing a chocolate knickerbocker glory with your partner either, some things just have to be done.

Perhaps the phrase ‘live fast, die young’ really is true after all.

Let’s face it, life really is too short to spend half the time starving ourselves to a certain degree.

Impatient, perhaps, but I’d much rather fill up my tank before I run out of gas.

Not so much in the fast lane anymore.

 

Declan McLaughlan

20, Medicinal & Biological Chemistry undergrad, passionate cook & keen gym-goer