The Benefits Of Fasting

WORDS: Rick Brennan - Certified Personal Trainer, Coach & Sports Nutritionist PHOTOGRAPHY Lifestyle Photography-

With global obesity epidemic rates at an all-time high, we are confronted daily with new weight loss schemes. However, I believe all diets achieve a weight loss result through the same mathematical equation, eat less energy (calories/food) and increase energy (activity) output.

Fasting has been one of the hottest topics in health and wellness circles over the past few years.  Most people I speak to have either tried it or certainly know someone who has, all having varying opinions on what works best. People proclaim fasting promises weight reduction, better health, better cognitive function and a longer life. With so much hype surrounding fasting and with such a large volume of money pitched to the media surrounding fasting, I thought it was time to share my thoughts. My experiences come from being in the health and wellness industry for 30 years, both as a coach and as someone who has tried and tested the many different protocols. I found there are both benefits and challenges to fasting.

Fasting is not new. It has been around since the 5th century when the father of medicine “Hippocrates” was recommending food abstinence to aid in the recovery of certain health conditions. Early in the 1900s researchers took a huge interest in the positive effects fasting had on obesity and the benefits that short starvation periods had on weight loss.

Fast forward to early 2000 when intermittent fasting became the rage. It was a more popular method than full starvation methods, which have been used in the past and attracted greater attention from the masses for this very reason.

In 2016 we witnessed a fasting media explosion when Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won the Nobel prize in medicine for his research into the process known as autophagy. Ohsumi’s research has enabled us to have a far greater understanding of how we can slow down the aging process through the positive impacts of food fasting. Autophagy is a process where new cells are created by destroying damaged cell structures. Research shows fasting for 16 hours can be enough time to trigger autophagy while also improving blood sugar control, improving brain function and lowering inflammation. Ohsumi’s research also showed that exercise can also induce the autophagy process in some cells.

Fasting can be done in a variety of ways, such as intermittent fasting, time-restricted feeding, and alternate-day fasting, which allows people to choose the method that best fits their lifestyle and goals.

I found the most popular method was the 16:8 fast (intermittent fasting protocol) for several reasons. This method consists of 16 hours of fasting (no calories) followed by an 8-hour window to consume your daily calories. The 16:8 fast can be best suited for those that find skipping meals earlier in their day enables them to bank their calories for later in the day. By skipping breakfast and a morning snack you can bank your calories for later in the day when you find hunger kicking in. For most people, starting their day with a black coffee or tea is a perfect fit. A traditional intermittent fasting protocol would mean you eat your daily calorie allowance during your eating window. However, I find that not replacing lost calories normally consumed from the meals skipped, allows for far greater body fat loss due to my body being in a higher calorie deficit (going back to that mathematical equation). I know some people believe the body can be forced to burn stored fat for energy when in a fasted state. I firmly believe the body’s ability to drop body fat is determined by a total daily calorie (energy) consumption with a seven-day approach to the total calories consumed over that seven-day period.

The 5:2 fast that I follow is very different to the normal 5:2 protocol. My 5:2 version suits those that are happy with their current baseline (shape) but are wanting a little more freedom on weekends. My method consists of lowering calories from Monday to Friday which allows to bank more calories for later in the week, like the weekend. For those wanting to maintain their current weight, shape and size I encourage you to try this 5:2 protocol as it’s a straightforward way to stay on top of your energy intake while enjoying a social life on weekends and not compromising all your hard work throughout the week.

I find some supplements certainly help when fasting in the morning. One of these is BHB (Beta-Hydroxybutyrate) which is an excellent product to enhance energy output and cognitive function.

Here are my top five reasons for implementing a fasting protocol into your life.

  1. The ability to backload calories:

Trying to maintain weight, let alone lose weight (body fat) at any time for some can be arduous and sometimes near impossible, especially during times of celebration. Whether you have a busy corporate career and attend dinners and functions, or you have a busy social calendar that includes dining out, to those celebrating their weekly date night, backloading calories is a fantastic tool to help control your daily calorie intake.  The ability to restrict calorie intake during certain times of the day or week and then eat more during other times is what I believe to be the most powerful tool when it comes to maintaining a calorie balance.

  1. Weight loss:

Reducing overall calorie intake by limiting the amount of time in which you can eat is a great weight loss tool. Time-restricted eating can make it easier for controlling total daily calories. I think it’s important we understand calorie balance doesn’t just exist over a 24-hour period. I firmly believe from my experiences that we need to take a 7-day approach. Don’t be fooled into believing you can fast for 16 hours and then eat your current baseline calories during your 8-hour eating window and achieve the best fat loss results. A calorie deficit will always determine fat loss results.

  1. Health benefits:

Health benefits include improved insulin sensitivity, reduction in inflammation, and lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

  1. Mental clarity:

I found fasting in the morning after consuming a black coffee allowed for greater focus, concentration and mental clarity.

  1. Convenience:

Fasting can be a convenient and efficient way to not only improve health but give you more time as less meal preparation is required.

Starting a fasting regime can be a simple and effective way to improve your health, but it’s important to do so in a safe and sustainable way. Here are two tips to help you start a fasting regime:

1. Start your day by drinking plenty of water.

2. When breaking your fast, focus on eating nutrient-dense foods that will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function properly.

It’s important to note that weight loss is not guaranteed and fasting should be combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise programme, as our health and wellness should be an enjoyable and sustainable lifetime journey. You should always consult with your healthcare professional before starting any new diet regimes.