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Does Intermittent Fasting Work? A Dietitian Answers Everything You Need To Know

February marks FebFast, the month where people are encouraged to forego their favourite vice, such as alcohol or sugar, in support of disadvantaged youth in Australia.

The idea of giving up something, cold turkey, even just for a month is something that most people can find hard to wrap their heads around.

However, the concept of fasting isn’t a new one, in fact it has been around for a long time, and it boasts some amazing results for participants. Interestingly though, many people don’t know exactly how it works, why it’s effective or how to go about it safely.

In a nutshell, fasting is a broad term for a variety of different fasting methods that all involve restricting your daily calorie intake to a relatively narrow window of time each day.

Dietitian Kate Save. Image: Supplied

One popular method for intermittent fasting, is the 5:2 diet. This involves eating normally for five days in the week and then restricting your calorie intake to 500-600 for two days of the week. Another example is the 16:8 method, which involves adopting an eight hour window and fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day.

By this point you might be asking, why? Fasting can have some major health benefits, including enhanced sleep, improved mental health, reduction in the likelihood of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease and promotes weight loss. It works like this:

Enhanced Sleep

Eating large meals before bed has been proven to negatively impact your sleep, promoting a more restless and less refreshing sleep.

However, fasting gives your digestive system a chance to settle down, bringing your body back to energy saving mode. It helps you to wake up feeling far more refreshed and energised, with a body clock that has become more synchronised.

Mental Health Benefits

Anxiety disorders have been known to be linked to a person’s sleep, noting the importance of having a good sleep cycle to help improve the symptoms of anxiety.

Therefore, fasting’s ability to restore equilibrium in that area, demonstrates its ability to lessen anxiety. It also steers participants away from foods that inevitably lead to energy crashes, with quick serotonin boots and can actually worsen a person’s symptoms over time.

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Chronic Disease

Fasting is known to improve certain blood markers such as increasing “good” cholesterol (HDL) and reducing triglycerides (TG), which are a type of fat present in the blood that is known to promote heart disease, as well as reducing blood pressure and heart rate.

These factors lead to improved heart health, and a lower chance of cardiovascular disease.

There’s more research to show that fasting successfully lowers blood glucose and insulin levels and is therefore an effective preventative method and treatment for management of type-2 diabetes.

Weight Loss

During fasting, your body replaces burning glucose (carbohydrates) to burning fat as its primary source of energy and fuel. This results in gradual weight loss, as well as improvements in glucose regulation, blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn aids the effectiveness of endurance training.

However, it must be noted that the results will not happen straight away and require dedication to fasting, with results expected to occur after 10 weeks.

Fasting can have a number of benefits on your health. Image: Getty

Overall, it is important to remember when intermittent fasting, is how to go about it safely, as its benefits reach way beyond shedding some extra kilos. The most essential safety tips to keep in mind when fasting are:

Keep fasting periods short

The 5:2 diet is a good example of this, as you only fast for two days and are still receiving 25 percent of your daily calorie requirements. Longer fasting periods can increase risks associated with fasting, such as dehydration, irritability, fainting, lack of energy and hunger.

Eat a small amount on fast days

This is also where the 5:2 diet is beneficial, as this can reduce the risk of fainting and the other aforementioned risks. Eating small amounts on fast days is far more sustainable that doing a complete fast and then bingeing on the weekend.

Stay hydrated

You get 20-30 percent of your fluids from food, so dramatically cutting your food intake will therefore have an impact on your hydration levels throughout the day. Aim to drink two to three litres of water on fast days but be careful to listen to your body, your thirst will tell you when it’s time to drink more water.

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Don’t break fasts with feasts

It can be tempting after a fast to fill up on all the foods you missed out on, but this can leave you feeling bloated and tired and can impact any long-term weight loss goals. On your off days, try to stick to a normal eating routine and incorporate as many of the food groups as you can.

Stop fasting if you feel unwell

If you begin to feel unwell or become concerned for your health, stop fasting straight away. While tiredness, hunger and mood changes are normal, feeling sick is not.

If you start to experience symptoms of dizziness, nausea and vomiting, chest pain or stomach pain, diarrhoea, or loss of consciousness please see your healthcare professional.

Apart from the wonderful cause behind FebFast, you’re certainly not short of reasons to partake in fasting this year.

Featured image: Supplied/Getty