Trying the popular 5:2 or 16:8 diet? Nutritionist Brittany Darling explains how you can maximise its benefits.
Intermittent fasting has been gaining popularity in recent years and is proving to be both easy to implement, and successful in producing measurable and sustainable results.
Whether you choose time-restricted eating, calorie-restricted days, or using a combination of both approaches, it’s about finding what works for you as an individual.
Research has found intermittent fasting beneficial in reducing insulin levels, increasing insulin sensitivity, decreasing inflammation, improving blood lipid profiles and supporting long-term weight loss.
The health benefits of intermittent fasting have been observed in both men and women. However, men have shown to respond exceptionally well, and seem to have a more significant response in terms of weight loss and health outcomes than women. The difference in responsiveness is primarily due to the hormonal and chemical differences between men and women.
While multiple factors need to be considered when it comes to weight loss, what a successful loss ultimately boils down to is creating a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit means that you are expending more calories than you are consuming. Despite how simple it sounds, many people find it incredibly hard to restrict food intake to ensure a deficit, making it impossible for some people to lose weight and keep it off for good.
Rules for success
1. Be mindful of food choices on non-fasting days
Where many people fall is when they view their non-fasting day or eating windows as an opportunity to eat whatever they want. Fasting protocols typically have no set requirements on which foods you should be eating and instead advises when you can eat.
A non-fasted day should be a typical day for you in terms of food intake and include principles of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Focusing on nutrient-dense foods that offer a variety of micronutrients is vital for supporting the optimal functioning of the body’s systems. Plenty of vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, omega 3 rich foods, high-quality proteins and fresh fruits is a great start. If you choose to go crazy on junk food and use your non-fasted day as a chance to ‘make up’ for a fasted day, you are unlikely to lose weight and may even find you put on weight.
The research has shown that intermittent fasting is even more effective when followed with exercise, so make sure you are also factoring in time for a sweat sesh, particularly around the time you are ending a fast. Exercise speeds up glycogen depletion (energy stored in your liver and muscles) and can further enhance autophagy (cellular cleansing). However, it is best to keep higher intensity exercises such as strength and cardiovascular training for non-fasting days, and use fasting days as a rest day or for light movements such as walking or yoga.
3. Menstrual cycles
For the ladies who may be considering starting intermittent fasting, your monthly menstrual cycle is something to keep in mind. Appetite and energy levels can fluctuate significantly across the month due to cyclic hormone changes. There may be some days, such as the week before, or during, your period, where fasting is not supportive. If this is the case, listen to your body and try and work around your ‘less-compliant’ days.
4. Adequate sleep
Ensuring adequate sleep while partaking in a fast is essential. Without a good night’s sleep, insulin sensitivity decreases, and we are more likely to crave to wrong foods. Set yourself up for success and try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
Intermittent fasting isn’t suitable for…
- Women preparing to conceive
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Anyone with a history of disordered eating
- Children and adolescents
- Anyone who experiences frequent drops in blood sugar levels
- Anyone who is underweight
What a fasting day looks like
As long as your food intake fits within your fasted calorie allowance or eating windows for that day, you can choose how to make up your meals within the allowance. There is no specific or right way to eat. It’s a matter of experiment and determining what works best for you.
When on a calorie-restricted day, such as on the 5:2 protocol, it is recommended that people consume between 500-800 calories. The best foods to choose on 5:2 fasting day are those that are high in fibre and protein so that you feel satisfied without the need for additional calories.
Food examples for calorie-restricted days include: vegetable soups, hard-boiled eggs, grilled or steamed vegetables, natural yogurt and fruit, a nüut sachet, or lean protein such as grilled fish.
Drinks include still or sparkling water, kombucha, herbal teas and black coffee.
For time-restricted eating, such as the 16:8 method, you may like to plan for an early 5pm meal and fast until 9am, or have a later 8pm meal and break the fast around noon.
An example of a 5:2 fasting day meals:
- 9 am: Nüut Daily Balance, Keto or Paleo Sachet (approximately 200 calories)
- 12 pm: Cup of bone broth and two hard-boiled eggs (242 calories)
- 3 pm: 1 cup of raspberries (64 calories) or one tablespoon of almond butter (approximately 100 calories)
- 6pm: 100g grilled snapper with 1/2 bunch of steamed broccolini (197 calories)
What you should consume on a non-fasting day:
- An abundance of plant foods: Vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole-grains, and fruits
- Adequate protein: Whole foods plant-based, e.g., tofu, tempeh, legumes, whole-grain nuts and seeds
- Lean, organic and grass-fed meat, poultry, eggs, and wild-caught fish
- Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids: Wild-caught fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado
- Fermented foods: Kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt and kefir
Follow Brittany Darling on Instagram @wholefoodhealing.