Intermittent fasting – the pros and cons

The following question and answer was an interview with Joshua Burt, journalist for London magazine Coach:

Josh: Would you advise calorie counting as a way to diet?

Ian: Personally, ‘no’. My motto is ‘quality before quantity’ – if you truly eat well, with very high-grade local, seasonal, organic produce, and at the same time use your intuition to guide your choices, your need to count anything will fall away over time. Watch how a young child eats – it’s all about whether he/she feels like eating what is on their plate at any one time. Of course, most of us have been bought up with the notion of counting and being accountable for what we eat, so some sort of monitoring is not a bad idea, at least until you’ve created more self-awareness. I suggest writing a detailed food diary at least three days/week for a few weeks for reflective purposes.

Josh: Would you do intermittent fasting yourself and what would the benefits be?

Ian: I will occasionally do a one day fast, but more than that. Since I am already very slim and lean, I’m not wanting to lose weight, but I do it for gut rest. Occasionally giving your gut a day off kinda re-sets the digestive fire, which can improve your nutrient absorption in subsequent days.

 Josh: Eat Stop Eat – where you fast for one entire day, or two entire days each week

Ian: As mentioned, it’s pretty good for gut rest, but it’s also beneficial for detoxification purposes – fasting or juice fasting is a common part of detox programmes. In terms of weight management and general health, there are several advantages to fasting for a complete day. By not allowing yourself to eat for a day, it is a lesson in appetite regulation and in understanding what food you need and what you don’t need – if you then counter it by binging for days, you’ve missed the point, but if you then transition back into even healthier eating than before, you’ve done a good job. Obviously, in terms of calorie intake, you can drop your weekly intake by quite a bit, which is good for some people in terms of weight management. Also, the pancreas (that secrets insulin) gets a day off, so may be a good thing for long-term management of insulin and prevention of diabetes.

Josh: What’s the disadvantage of having an entire day of fasting each week?

Ian: Fasting for a complete day can be problematic for people who are metabolically depleted – by this, I mean individuals with a sluggish thyroid (type of people who’s body’s a pretty un-responsive to diets because they have already put themselves through too many restrictive or stressful behaviours in the past), those who are adrenally fatigued and those who have problems with blood sugar regulation (eg. insulin resistance). Going for hours without food forces the body to release stress hormones to breakdown fuel resources to supply sugar into the bloodstream. This sounds like a good thing, but if the body is already depleted, it just adds another stress to deal with, which is even more depleting in the long-term.

Josh: Is it easy to do this kind of thing?

Ian: For very determined, goal-driven people, taking a day off eating shouldn’t be too hard. For me, because I’ve already set the intension in my head, I don’t find that I get so hungry. But, for some, it will be torture I’m sure. There is certainly a reported adaptation phase to doing intermittent fasting, so give yourself 2-3 weeks to adjust. If you’re still struggling, I would suggest taking a look at those adrenal and thyroid glands – you might be pushing a body that actually just needs some TLC for a change.

Josh: The Warrior Diet – where you don’t eat during daylight hours, like the old hunter gatherers

Ian: I’m really into looking back in time to see what our ancestors used to do. For this reason, I like the Paleo dietary principles. BUT, we need to understand that we have evolved a reasonable amount as humans since then, so I think we can borrow some of their principles and see what comfortably fits into our own lives. We should also not believe everything that we’re told – for example; I’ve been practicing nutrition a very long time and I never knew that cavemen only ate in the dark….

Josh: Were we designed to be hunter gatherers?

Ian: I think every modern human was born to move just like our ancestors did. I also believe that every modern human was born to thrive on nature-derived food and to dwindle on man-made processed food. If we could do some more walking, some more growing of food and less sitting in an ergonomically compromised position for 8-12 hours per day, I think our health would show the advantages.

Josh: What is the advantage of doing this diet?

Ian: I’ve read about the 16-8 intermittent fasting regime, where you might eat your last meal at dinner time and your next meal at lunchtime. This one makes sense to me… some of the time…. because we aren’t always ready to digest and assimilate our breakfast in the early hours on command. But to only eat during night hours, I think is just an example of somebody looking for another ‘diet’ to make their name with.