WE’RE told many things when it comes to food: don’t skip meals, but skip snacks, eat intuitively, but not too much…
It can all get very confusing! So it’s easy to see how the simplicity of intermittent fasting – where, sticking to your usual calorie intake, you restrict eating to certain times of the day – can seem attractive.
Even more so if you’re keen to lose weight, which lots of us are – this summer saw a whopping 1,100% increase in Google searches for: “How to lose stubborn belly fat.”
According to research by Harvard School of Public Health, intermittent fasting sees a typical weight loss of 7-11lb when followed for 10 weeks.
Ten weeks seemed a bit much for my first try, but would two make a difference to my health, happiness – and the number on my bathroom scales?
“A drop in insulin during fasting is shown to facilitate fat burning. Growth hormone levels may also increase, which can support fat burning and muscle formation,” says nutritionist Rob Hobson, co-author of The Detox Kitchen Bible.
“Fasting also appears to improve insulin sensitivity, which helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes,” says Rob.
Studies have also found fasting can help ward off arthritis*, chronic pain** and high blood pressure***, while the increased levels of healthy gut bacteria that come from intermittent fasting aid digestion, and a happy gut is linked to improved mental health.
So far, fasting almost sounds too good to be true, and I’m not one for calorie-counting either, which makes it even more appealing.
As someone who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, cutting down my window of eating, avoiding late-night snacking and allowing my digestive system time to work its magic also seemed like something I could benefit from.
I opt for the 16:8 diet, which involves eating within an eight-hour window, then fasting for 16 hours (other variations include 14:10, and 5:2, in which you fast for two days in a week).
In theory, you sleep through the bulk of the 16 hours, setting your eating window as 9am-5pm or 12pm-8pm, so you can fit in your usual breakfast, lunch and dinner times.
But you can set any hours that suit you. During week one, it was difficult to get a handle on my fasting window.
Due to a busy schedule, I had to alternate the hours I ate to avoid being antisocial, which at times meant not eating for a whole 24 hours.
As a result, during the eight-hour window I could eat, I was gorging on everything I could get my hands on, which was counter-productive.
“There is huge scope for giving in to hunger,” says Rob, “which could result in binge-eating and unhealthy snacking.”
To keep energy levels up, I was snacking a lot on apples, as they’re said to curb hunger pangs, and bananas, but also crisps and biscuits.
I was so tired and irritable, getting annoyed over silly things, such as my boyfriend eating when I couldn’t.
I even cancelled plans because I couldn’t face doing anything.
On the plus side, by the end of the first week, I’d noticed my bowel movements had become more regular, because my body had time to actually digest what I was eating and, as a result, I felt less bloated.
Even still, the number on the scales hadn’t budged.
ON THE MENU
For week two, I wanted to be more mindful about what – and when – I was eating.
I set my feasting window from 12pm-8pm, stuck to it and squeezed in three meals. It was tough though.
Rob told me to increase my fibre and protein intake to ward off hunger pangs.
Breakfast (eaten more around lunchtime) was peanut butter on toast, overnight oats or Greek yoghurt and fruit.
I’d try to make a falafel wrap for lunch, and for dinner found myself having carbs like potatoes or pasta to keep me fuller for longer.
When I ate light options, such as salmon and broccoli, I‘d wake up starving in the night.
I assumed fasting meant avoiding tea, coffee or other drinks that help take the edge off tummy rumbles, but you don’t have to rule them out.
In fact, Rob suggests getting creative with your options. “You are going to get hungry, so stock up on miso soup and low-calorie hot chocolate to have during your fasting window,” he says.
I upped my fluids throughout the day and realised that when I thought I was hungry, sometimes I was actually just dehydrated.
Although I didn’t drop any weight during my fortnight on the 16:8 plan, at times I did feel less bloated and could fit comfortably into a tighter skirt than usual.
I also drank more water, became mindful about what I was eating to stay energised and I ditched evening snacking (which is a real culprit when it comes to piling on the pounds).
However, I underestimated how hard fasting would be.
Cavemen were pros at it, fasting until they caught and killed their next meal, and some religions regularly feature periods of fasting, so it’s doable, but my concentration, tolerance level and sleep suffered drastically, plus I ended up avoiding exercise because I felt too weak.
Rob suggests exercising between meals so you are fuelled up with the energy and protein to promote muscle recovery, but I found it exhausting.
Logistically, fasting is tricky. When I meal-prepped in advance, it felt easier – but knowing those healthy meals were waiting for me in the fridge, I’d want to eat them sooner, which made it even more difficult to stick to my feasting window.
For me, fasting for weight loss just didn’t feel sustainable for more than a couple of weeks – even if it did kick my late-night snacking habits into touch!
Your Feasting-Window Meal Plan
Follow Rob Hobson’s menu to keep you from reaching for the snacks…
Porridge with milk and topped with honey, nuts, seeds, cinnamon and fruit. Stir in yoghurt for extra protein and calcium.
Wholemeal wrap or pitta bread, filled with salad and a protein (meat, fish, tofu or cheese). Add a handful of grain, such as brown rice or quinoa, and mashed avocado.
Grain-based salad with veg, a protein and healthy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds). Dress the salad with olive oil and lemon juice. Follow with a dessert of yoghurt and fruit.