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Monday, 2 October 2017

Intermittent Fasting - My Protocol & Journey to IF

Although I am qualified to advise in the field of nutrition. Views expressed in this blog post are my personal views on intermittent fasting, my journey to IF and details of the protocol I follow and why I follow them. For your own health and safety I advise that you please consult a medical professional before trying out any form of fasting to first ensure that you are in optimal health.

In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. 

Evidence based health benefits of intermittent fasting include: 

- changes in the body’s hormonal, cellular and genetic function; such as reduction of insulin in blood to enable fat burn. Human growth hormone can increase up to 5-fold when in a fasted state, again facilitating fat burn and muscle gain. Cellular repair, the body begins important cellular repair processes like removing waste material from cells.
- can help you lose weight and belly fat. 
- can reduce insulin resistance, lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes. 
- can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. 
- may be beneficial for heart health. 
- may help reduce the risk of cancer.
- is good for brain health & may help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.
- may extend your lifespan, helping you live longer.

Ever since I can remember, I have always eaten three square meals and two snacks each day; that was until a year ago when I found that I was skipping meals due to simply not being hungry in the mornings for breakfast or not having the time to eat during the day for one reason or another. I found that preparing three meals on time and sitting to eat became a very tedious exercise. I also found that despite eating three meals, with snacks in between I was never really satisfied, I became hungry very quickly, it seemed the more I ate the hungrier I became!

Fasting isn’t a new concept to me, although we were regular eaters in our household, there were certain times of the year that we fasted from dawn until dusk, for religious purposes - particularly the month of Ramadan, when we abstain from food and water from sunrise until sunset, and feast thereafter. The main purpose of Ramadan being to remind oneself of the hardships faced by the poor and needy, to increase spirituality, compassion, patience and to turn inward. 
I always remember the first of the thirty fasts being the most challenging, the more we did, the easier it became.  

To begin, I read Jason Fung’s “The Complete Guide To Fasting” and Dr Michael Vanderschelden’s “The Scientific Approach To Fasting”; both great starting points. 
This helped me to get the facts straight and set aside misconceptions commonly associated with fasting (like - breakfast is the most important meal of the day, fasting reduces your metabolism and sends your body into starvation mode, fasting causes thyroid problems etc).

Next it was time to decide which protocol to use; there are many protocols used in intermittent fasting. 

1) Leangains: Started by Martin Berkhan, ideal for dedicated gymmers. Perfect if you want to lose fat and gain muscle. This approach includes fasting for 14-16 hours per day and then feed for the remaining 8-10 hours.

2) The Eat Stop Eat: by Brad Pilon. 
This method teaches you to fast for 24 hours once or twice a week. The creator Brad Pilon refers to this as a “24 hour break from eating”, no food is consumed but, you can drink calorie-free beverages. 

3) The Warrior Protocol by Ori Hofmekler, this ones also known as the 20:4 Intermittent Fasting protocol, best for people who like following rules, the true devotees ;) I say this because this is my IF protocol. It includes eating one large meal over the course of a 4 hour eating window and fasting for remaining 20 hours. 

My typical fast begins at 4pm when I completely stop eating, through the evening, and night until 12 noon the following day when I break my fast with a bowl of porridge, lemon water and green tea, followed by a workout and then a large balanced meal containing about 1400 calories. 

On most days I use an app called MyFitnessPal on my iPhone which helps me track my food to ensure I am getting a good balance of nutrients and vitamins and also ensure that I am staying within my calorie range. I also top this up with iron supplements, probiotics (about which I will discuss in a later post) and a magnesium/zinc supplement. 

In the past year since the beginning of my IF “journey” I have been following the warrior/20:4 protocol at least 6 days a week, exercising consistently and have seen a 7% drop in body fat, improved brain function, weight reduction of 5kg and no hunger whilst fasting. I have also found that where before I used to wake feeling tired in the mornings even with 9-10 hours sleep I can now function better, with more energy on awakening, with less sleep than before. Aesthetically, I have noticed healthier nails, clear skin, and a big reduction in fine lines on my face. 

My biggest challenge by far has been fighting the mentality that just because it fits my calories I can eat what I want during my eating window and I will still get away with it; although this is true, IF is a lifestyle for me and not a diet and eating just one meal a day gives you even more of a reason to eat a varied and balanced diet with as many nutrients packed into it as possible. However I do allow myself one day a week to either eat what I like up until 6pm, or have a late night dinner out. I usually save this for a day I need to socialise with family and friends with the intention of returning back to usual the very next day :) 

Overall I have found that intermittent fasting is the easiest and safest way for me to stay lean and trim without the need of any fad dieting, cutting out of food groups or jeopardising the nourishment my body needs. 


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