InterIntermittent Fasting is the latest buzzword in health circles. This ‘not a diet BUT a lifestyle change’ is followed by many who vouch for its immense health benefits. We sat down with Dr. Shamaila Siddiqui, a doctor and a certified Obesity Management expert to find out what the BUZZ is all about?
What is Intermittent Fasting??
IF is an eating pattern that involves a fasting and eating cycle, which you can modify according to your lifestyle. You have the freedom to eat whatever you want, as long as you eat within a certain time frame.
Why the buzz about it?
IF is not a diet but a lifestyle change, which many can adopt. Different types of diets suit different people and are not for everyone, but IF can be for everyone. IF has many health benefits besides weight loss (big one). It improves insulin sensitivity and controls blood sugar in diabetics. It increases longevity (remember all religions have some form of fasting), improves autophagy (a process where weak dead cells are eaten up by our own body), and studies have shown that IF can help cancer patients respond in a much better way to chemo. With weight loss comes the added benefit of improving cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Who should do it?
Pretty much everyone can do it. If you have medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines, hypoglycemia, it’s advisable to discuss with your physician and try it under medical supervision as with weight loss medication, adjustment is necessary.
Are there different types of Intermittent fasting?
- 5:2 Diet is a form of IF where you eat normally for 5 days of the week and for 2 days you eat less than 500 calories a day. As you restrict calories you automatically do not eat all day long and reserve those calories for meal times.
- 16:8 Fasting entails eating in an 8 hr window during the day. It could be your choice of hours. Some people prefer to eat from 9 am to 3 pm, others from 12-8 pm. It depends on your lifestyle and what works for you. It’s easier for some to miss breakfast and have dinner with family, for others breakfast is important and not eating after 5 pm works.
- Alternate day diet, is another form of IF where you eat on alternate days. I would not recommend this one for beginners.
How often should one do it?
I would recommend to start slow and try fasting 1-2 days a week, and gradually increase to 3-4 days, then more if desired. Start with a 12-hour period of fasting and gradually building it to 16 hrs. Initially you’ll feel hungry but then the body gets used to this form of eating. Naturally we become mindful of eating more healthy, nutritious and filling foods in our eating window to keep us full and ready for the fasting hours ahead.
As I mentioned earlier, Intermittent Fasting is not a diet or a magic pill. It’s a lifestyle change and a different eating pattern. First change you’ll notice is that you have more energy and less brain fog. Within a few weeks you should notice some weight loss and reduction in abdominal circumference. People who monitor their blood pressure and blood sugar should see an improvement. For most people snacking is reduced and people tend to avoid empty calories like chips/cookies etc. which are not filling.
How is it different to the fasting in Ramzan?
During our rozas (religious fasts), we do not eat or drink. During Intermittent Fasting you are allowed to drink water, zero calorie herbal teas or black coffee, or with very little amount of milk (<50 calories once in the fasting window). Also, we have to be mindful when eating during the eating window to avoid processed carbs and high sugar, and eat more protein, low glycemic index carbs and healthy fats, especially if you are doing this to lose weight or improve diabetes.
Foods to avoid during IF
During IF there are no restrictions on any food group during eating window but it’s better to avoid processed carbs, white carbs and high sugar for a healthy eating pattern.
Foods to eat during IF
Since you know that your body will not get any food for 12-16 hrs, try to eat more nutritious and filling foods during the eating window like lean protein (Chicken, Fish, Turkey), beans, legumes, and Tofu (for vegetarians), healthy grains like oats, quinoa and farro. Also, fats keep you full longer so avocados will become your best friend! Nuts and olive oil are encouraged.
Recommended foods to start and end the fast
I generally recommend to eat gently once breaking the fast, so fruits or a salad is a nice option to start. A balanced meal of protein, carbs and good fats is great to end the eating window and prepare your body for the fasting state.
A typical fasting day
There are no fixed recommendations or sample menu to eat during the eating window, but for a general idea your day could look like this;
Breakfast at 9 am (Egg, fruits, whole grain toast OR boiled egg with oatmeal and berries)
Lunch 1 pm – Any lean meat or beans with Salad
Dinner just before 5 pm – Any lean meat prepared any style, avocado, healthy grains of your choice and some nuts
Since it’s only an 8 hr eating window most people eat 2 full meals (breakfast and early dinner with a snack in between)
Healthy snack options- cheese, yogurt, nuts, avocado, and fruits.
How long can one do it to actually see benefits?
I recommend to start the Intermittent Fasting process gently with 12 hrs and gradually extend to 16 hrs. Let your body adjust to the new eating schedule. Usually in 1-2 weeks of fasting the blood sugar will show improvement and a change in weight and fat loss is noticeable within 3-4 weeks.
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