About 2 months ago I watched an Horizon Special on a new method of dieting called Alternate Fasting. It was presented by Dr Michael Moseley and was really intresting, as it suggested that in the Western World contrary to the current Government health guidelines we eat far to much. Basically in the third world large quantities of the population die of starvation, but in the Western World we die of over eating. The premise of the program was that if you restrict your calorific intake to 1400 calories a day for life you will push your body to switch from the normal growth mode into repair mode. For most of us our bodies are in growth mode, which is fine when you are a child and very young adult as your body needs to grow, but over the age of about 21 your body should stop gowing at that stage, so the grow mode continues to over produce a hormone called Insulin Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF1). This helps perpetuate the growth phase, which actually results in damage to the body and can account for most of the ageing that we experience. Limiting this hormone can kick the body into repair mode which then means cells repair themselves rather than reproducing. Limiting calorie intake to 1400 calories a day puts the body into permenant repair mode, of which the alleged results are a longer healthy life and regulation of body weight!!! There are people in the USA who do live to this daily calorie restriction and they have been shown to be absent of any heart disease, cancer issues, diabetic issues and other health related problems.
It seems like a miracle cure, although in practice living to 1400 calories rigidly every day is extremely difficult. Just ask any woman who has tried a 1500 a day calorie diet and they will tell you that the struggle to keep to that diet day in and day out is impossible. You have good days and bad days, but ultimately you fall off the wagon. There are however alternative, fasting on alternate days or 5:2 fasting.
Alternate Day Fasting does just what is says on the tin. One day you fast, sticking to 500 calorie if you are female and 600 calories if you are male. The next day you feast- or eat pretty much what you want withing reason. It means effectively that within the first week starting on a Monday you would have 3 fasting days one week and 4 the next week, but on the other days of each week you do not stick to a calorie controlled diet. The idea is that it is easier to stick to the 500/600 calories for 1 day and then eat normally. Researchers in America found that people monitored on this diet typically only overate by about 10 – 20% on the feed days and this still brought their overall calories for the week down to around or below the 1400 calories a day required to help the body kick into repair mode. Also on the 500/600 calorie days it significantly lowered the ILGF1 production. It was also found that it made no difference whether the intake on fast days was 500 calories or 0 calories!! Some people find this easy to follow, however others still struggle (including me).
For those that cannot follow alternate day fasting then the easier option of 5:2 Fasting is easier to follow. This involves having 2 fasting days in any 7 day period, which do not have to be consecutive. The only rule is to stick to the 500/600 calories on those days. This also has the same effect of bringing down the overall weekly calorie intake and creating the reduction in ILGF1. I have tried it and I can follow it. I have have hiccups and over indulge on some fast days, but this happens on any diet. The trick is not to beat yourself up about it and if you can schedule in the next day to be the fast day or if you can’t, make sure that you stick to it the next week.
There have not been enough studies so far to proove this one way or the other, however it does seem to work for some people, me included. I tried it for 6 weeks and lost 7 lbs. There are some caveats that go with is and they are as follows:-
1 Try to select the days you find it easiest to follow the 500/600 calorie regime.
2 Track all your food, everything, because everything except water has a calorific value.
3 Check with you doctor that it is ok for you to follow this diet. It does not suit all and may even be dangerous, especially if you suffer from diabetes.
4 Be sensible and schedule days out and treats for the feast days. For example if someone asks you to come over for dinner and it is supposed to be a fast day then alter you schedule that week and move the fast day, otherwise you will find it impossible to dine out or at a friends and stick to the calorie intake.
The anomalies of this diet are that the advice is contrary to what a lot of dieticians say about not eating two few calories and always eat a good breakfast. On any of the variations of the Fasting diets you will ultimately have to choose how to eat your calories and you may find that not eating breakfast, but eating at team time suits you. I would say that whilst it I don’t want to disagree with many diet experts, people are all different and it is very difficult to apply a one rule for all approach. If we go back to Cave man times I am sure that they did not eat 3 square meals a day, let alone placing higher value on any one meal time in a day. Breakfast, dinner and lunch have all arisen through history as fashionable ways to take in the calories we need, just as changes in the way houses and rooms have developed over the ages. The same rule can be applied to our living arrangements too, some people suit open plan and others need defined living spaces. It is all really down to what suits you. If you like a large breakfast, a smaller lunch and nothing in the evening and it works for you then follow it. If not, experiment and find the way that suits you best.
I checked with my own doctor before embarking on this and her opinion is that it does not do the body any harm to occasionally fast and in fact it can help kickstart the body when trying for weight loss. This “diet” (and I do not like the work diet really as it is always linked with faddy eating habits) is not primarily about losing weight, but helping your body be healthier and trying to eliminate some of the diseases that can shorten our lives, like cancer and heart disease, but in the early stages if you are overweight then it will work towards regulating your weight down to what is correct for your height and frame type. Once the body reaches that optimum weight then it should be happy to stay at that weight and not continue to lose weight. The followers of the 1400 calorie a day regime initially lost weight, but then stabalised at the right weight for them.
If anyone reads this and has any more info so supply then please do and if you have any experiences please share them. I will post more on the 5:2 Fast later.