Intermittent fasting: Here’s what you need to know

After months of lockdown, many people across Ireland will be keen to lose the so-called ‘COVID stone’.

One weight-loss option that has been gaining attention is ‘intermittent fasting’ – an approach that sees dieters restricting their eating to specific hours of the day.

On The Hard Shoulder, Kieran heard about what exactly it entails and how it could potentially benefit some people trying to lose weight.

Here’s what you need to know about intermittent fasting

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Professor Francis Finucane – Consultant Endocrinologist in Galway University Hospital – described intermittent fasting as “simply a process where food intake is restricted to specific times”.

He said: “The idea with it is that ultimately that you reduce your food intake over the time, on average.

“That would lead to weight loss and a reduction in the risks associated with excess weight.”

He noted there are some studies suggesting it can lead to ‘modest weight loss’ in the short-term – potentially around 3 kg in people who go on the programme for a period of months.

Importantly, however, there’s no evidence yet that such a diet would lead to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

As a result, intermittent fasting isn’t as proven an approach to weight loss as better established treatments such as drug therapy and more widely-tested lifestyle interventions.

It’s also something that’s unlikely to work if a diet just consists of ultra-processed food.

Professor Finucane said it could potentially still be beneficial in some patients, as different therapies will work for different people.

However, he encouraged anyone with diabetes, cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure to consult their doctor before beginning intermittent fasting.

“Easier to sustain longer-term than a more drastic diet”

Heather Leeson, a nutritional therapist with Glenville Nutrition, says intermittent fasting is something they have tried with some of their patients.

She said the research into the approach is ongoing, but it is something that’s easy to do.

She explained: “It’s also very safe, even to fast for 12 hours overnight – you can get any combination of numbers, but 12-12 is a pretty safe one to try.

“You might finish your dinner by 8pm in the evening, and then have breakfast at 8am – you’ve just done a 12 hour fast pretty easily.”

She stressed there’s no ‘magic bullet’, and fasters won’t lose weight if they only eat junk food during the hours when they do eat.

However, she said one benefit of intermittent fasting could cut out the ‘mindless grazing’ many of us do during the day.

She explained: “It’s very simple – you don’t have to decide whether you have that chocolate bar you really want, or do you go for the apple the nutritionist told you to eat. You don’t have anything.”

For those who do find the 12-hour approach beneficial, they can then move on to slightly longer fasting hours.

A 16:8 approach – where food consumption (along with drinks containing calories) is limited to eight or so hours a day, such as midday to 8pm – is one popular approach often cited by proponents.

Heather said intermittent fasting is something that’s flexible, and could be done Monday to Friday before relaxing during the weekend.

She suggested: “It’s still helpful to put a little bit of shape around the week in terms of building healthier habits.”

Even with that more relaxed weekend, Heather said intermittent fasting is an easy and flexible approach that some people will find sustainable.

She added: “It’s definitely not for everybody, but for some people it works really well and is easier to sustain longer-term than a more drastic diet.”

Main image: File photo. Picture by: Patrick Pleul/DPA/PA Images

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