Eating over the party season can be tricky for those of us wanting to be mindful of our health and our waistline. In recent years, one approach has emerged as a way to enjoy the fun and still protect our health. This strategy doesn’t rely on forbidding treats, and it’s free of time-sucks like counting kilojoules or weighing food. Best of all, it’s backed by science, which has shown that it can actually rev your metabolism.
This flexible way of eating can also make it easier to navigate festive feasts and all the barbecues and parties of summer without feeling your clothes are getting tighter.
“With traditional diets, it’s easy to break the diet ‘rules’ and give up when willpower wanes,” explains dietitian Brooke Delfino. “This approach does not involve cutting kilojoules or depriving yourself of foods you love, so it’s more flexible and easier to maintain in the long term.”
So what’s the secret?
You might already have heard about the 16:8 diet or Intermittent Fasting. The great thing about this part-day fasting is that it’s so easy to follow. There is only one rule – that you fit all your food into an eight-hour window of the day. This means that you might have your first meal at midday and your last meal at 8pm. The only guiding mantra is that during the other 16 hours – which includes the eight hours you’re sleeping – you don’t eat.
“The 16:8 style also works well if you like to sit and enjoy a meal with your family at night, you do shift work, or you’re not a breakfast person and are happy to have your first meal of the day a little later,” Brooke Delfino says.
Best of all, you can also schedule your eight-hour eating window to time with that cocktail party or festive dinner and enjoy a margarita or dessert without widening your waistline.
“During your ‘eating’ block of the day, you enjoy nourishing food without cutting any food groups,” explains dietitian Jaime Rose Chambers, who authored the guide, 16:8 Intermittent Fasting (Pan Macmillan). “When you’re in fasting mode, it’s only for a short time and it’s mostly when you’re asleep, so before you know it, the fasting part of the day is over.”
This break from eating allows your body to have a rest from constantly processing food and energy. “It creates the opportunity for your cells to access and burn your fat stores in order to lose weight or help maintain a healthy weight,” Jaime Rose says.
Shifting to this eating pattern may require making incremental changes to allow your body to adjust. “Though you can jump right in, some people make the change gradually, by pushing back their breakfast time a little each day,” she adds. “They then have an earlier dinner, which allows more time to burn kilojoules before bed.”
An Approach Backed By Science
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting doesn’t just help you lose weight, but also improves your overall heath:
EATING HABITS IMPROVE
People who engage in intermittent fasting tend to adopt better eating habits on their non-fasting days, a win-win for the whole week.
TONES SKIN AND MUSCLES
Want to look and feel younger? Intermittent fasting causes a spike in human growth hormone, often called the elixir of youth, as it promotes more supple skin and leaner muscle.
“Intermittent fasting leads your body to release a compound that helps reduce inflammation,” Jaime Rose Chambers says. “This can reduce your risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's and type 2 diabetes.”
BETTER DIGESTIVE HEALTH
It can help soothe and even flatten your tummy. “Fasting gives your gastrointestinal system time to heal and repair, and can help restore a healthier balance of gut bacteria,” Jaime Rose says.
BRAIN POWER BOOST
Intermittent fasting can give your concentration and brain health a boost. “When you’re in fasting mode, your brain produces a protein that stimulates the creation of new brain neurons and connections between them,” Jaime Rose says.
INSULIN LEVELS DROP
Studies show that people tend to have more stable blood glucose and insulin levels once they start fasting. This fat-burning means a lower risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE AND CHOLESTEROL
As they both drop to healthier levels, your heart health increases.
Short, sharp fasts appear to work a little like an immune system reboot, helping your body clear waste material out of cells and create more new cells, US research shows.
Intermittent fasters often enjoy rapid weight loss over the first few months of dieting, losing fat, not muscle. The weight they lose is maintained so they continue to enjoy fitting into their favourite jeans or little black dress.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT FASTING
To maximise the benefits of stop-go fasting, we answer your most commonly asked questions:
Q: When can I eat?
A: You can schedule your eight-hour eating block in whenever it suits you. “Most people fast until midday, then start their eating window, which finishes at 8pm that night,” Jaime Rose says. “This allows you to break up your fast with a filling lunch, afternoon snack to beat the 3pm dip and to enjoy dinner with family or friends.”
Q: What can I eat when I’m fasting?
A: Clear fluids, such as water or herbal tea, but no foods that contain kilojoules.
Q: What can I eat when A I’m not fasting?
A: Tuck into whatever you want, with no restrictions, as long as you keep your day’s food intake within your eight-hour eating window. “As you don’t need to cut out food groups, count kilojoules, weigh or measure foods, or skip tasty sauces or dressings, you won’t feel you’re on a diet,” Jaime Rose says.
Q: How often should I fast?
A: Start with a few days. Then you may move to part-day fasts every day of the week or on five days when you’re at work, with weekends off. “Research shows that even three days of part-day fasting a week has health benefits,” Jaime Rose says. “As well as helping you lose weight, it can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as protecting your brain as you age.”
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