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Intermittent Fasting: What is it and how does it work?

Learn the benefits of fasting and 9 tips to get you started

Intermittent fasting has been in the spotlight in recent years and there’s a good reason why. Its popularity has attracted much media attention, with everyone from celebrities to personal trainers jumping on the bandwagon.

So, what is intermittent fasting and how does it work?

Learn the benefits of fasting and 7 tips to get you started.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent Fasting (IF) describes a cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting. It is a simple way of fasting that is highly beneficial for your heath and involves splitting the day or week into eating periods and fasting periods. For example, the 5/2 method is when you fast for two out of seven days, or the 16/8 method when you fast for 16 hours each day, eating only between noon and 8pm (with no food during the night and no breakfast). There is also the eat-stop-eat method where once or twice a week you don’t eat anything from dinner until dinner the next day (a 24-hour fast).

Another way to do it (and one that CNM advocates) is to pick one meal a day (either breakfast, lunch or dinner) that you can easily skip and do this every day. Many people find this method of intermittent fasting more sustainable in the long term.

Intermittent fasting promotes weight loss and using fat stores as energy. There are two states in the body: the fed state and fasted state. The fed state is when you digest and absorb food (up to 5 hours after eating) and the fasted state starts around 12 hours after your last meal. Stored fats are the primary fuel used by the body in the fasted state because insulin levels are low. If you eat more than two meals a day, it’s unlikely that stored fat will be burned for energy.

Benefits of fasting

  • Increased energy and vitality
  • Improved mental clarity and focus
  • Better digestion and absorption of nutrients – less bowel-related symptoms such as bloating, gas and constipation
  • Balanced insulin levels (this is the hormone responsible for blood sugar regulation)
  • Clearer and more radiant skin
  • Weight loss and reduced cellulite
  • Less pain and inflammation
  • Improved immune function and a decrease in allergic symptoms

Fasting is very helpful for the following conditions:

  • Digestive disorders such as IBS, yeast infections/intestinal flora imbalances, indigestion, constipation, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory gut issues
  • Allergies including hay fever
  • Hormonal issues like PMS and PCOS
  • Skin problems – acne, eczema, psoriasis

When fasting is not recommended

  • During pregnancy or while breastfeeding
  • Babies, children, the weak and frail, elderly people
  • Those on life-saving prescription medications
  • Someone with an eating disorder (bulimics/anorexics)
  • Alcoholics and those using social drugs habitually
  • Those with serious heart/liver/kidney/thyroid diseases
  • Cancer and diabetic patients – only under supervision
  • Someone with mental health problems, if not stable

Intermittent fasting tips

Choose the best method of intermittent fasting to suit your lifestyle and schedule as one method might suit you better than another e.g., the 16/8 or the 5/2 approach. It’s a good idea to try different approaches out to see where you get the best results.

Do not snack in between meals as this defeats the purpose of fasting.

During your fast, only drink purified water and herbal teas. Avoid coffee and alcohol. You can add fresh lemon juice and turmeric to warm water and drink it as a tea. Consume as many fluids as possible during the day.

On your non-fast periods, increase your nutrient intake by eating more organic, whole foods including vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

Avoid foods that put your digestive system under stress and cause acidity in the body including sugar, refined carbohydrates (white flour products like bread, pasta, pizza), meat, pasteurised dairy products, processed/packaged foods and takeaways.

Do dry skin brushing and take salt baths in between your fasts to help promote circulation and aid the elimination of toxins. For a salt bath, add 1 cup of Epsom salts, sea salt or Himalayan salt to a hot bath and soak in it for at least 20 minutes. When skin brushing, use a skin brush with course, natural-fibre bristles; start at your feet and brush up towards your heart.

Go for a walk daily and only do gentle exercise when fasting.

Create a calm, quiet space to help keep your body and mind relaxed.

Limit your exposure to the news (both reading and watching it) as it can have a negative effect on your mental health. Instead, use the time to enjoy the company of your family and friends, or support people/groups in need.

Improve your health with fasting

Intermittent fasting is an easy and simple way of fasting that you can incorporate into your life. The health benefits of fasting are bountiful and include improved energy, mental clarity and digestive function. To learn more about intermittent fasting and other types of fasts you can do, take a look at CNM’s Nutrition for Everyday Living short course.

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