Intermittent Fasting: The Correct Way To Do It, Importance And Need


A busy lifestyle, stress, lack of exercise, and high sugar intake can lead to significant weight gain. If you're considering a diet but aren't sure where to start, how about trying intermittent fasting? Unlike other diets, intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat. While portion control is necessary, intermittent fasting involves alternating between fasting and eating on a regular schedule. Let's explore the benefits, potential risks, and other factors to consider before starting intermittent fasting.

What Is Intermittent Fasting 

Intermittent fasting is more a lifestyle change than a diet change. It involves eating only during certain times, which can have good effects on your body and mind in the long run. As mentioned, what you eat matters, but in intermittent fasting, when you eat matters the most. It's an eating pattern rather than a specific diet, focusing on when you eat. Popular methods include fasting for 16 hours daily with an eating window of 8 hours or fasting for 24 hours twice a week. 

Munawara Yahaya, DHA Licenced, Nabta Health Clinical Dietitian, adds, "It offers flexibility around your eating schedule, potentially fitting better into some lifestyles than traditional calorie-counting diets."

Types Of Intermittent Fasting 

Intermittent fasting involves various methods, all of which divide the day or week into periods of eating and fasting. During fasting periods, you eat very little or nothing at all. Some popular methods include:

  • The 16/8 method: Skipping breakfast and restricting eating to an 8-hour window daily. For example, you can have your last meal at 8pm, then the next day, you break your fast at noon; based on your schedule, you can fix the window. 
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: Fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week.
  • The 5:2 diet: Consuming 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days and eating normally the other five days.

On this, Mariam Al Shamsi, Senior Clinical Dietitian at Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, added, "Intermittent fasting can be integrated into a long-term dietary plan, but with caution. It's important to understand that the body might adapt over time, and the effectiveness may decrease if practised continuously. Therefore, I usually recommend intermittent fasting to be incorporated in cycles, such as four to six months on and then taking a break. This prevents the body from becoming immune to its benefits and allows for sustainable results." 

Mariam Al Shamsi, Senior Clinical Dietitian at Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, concluded: "It's important for individuals to approach intermittent fasting with knowledge and awareness to reap its benefits effectively."

Correct Way Of Doing It 

The right approach is to listen to your body and avoid pushing too hard from the start. Explaining this in detail, Munawara Yahaya, DHA Licenced, Nabta Health Clinical Dietitian, advises, "Don't jump into prolonged fasting immediately. Begin with shorter fasting periods and gradually increase duration as your body adjusts. During eating windows, prioritise whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein for optimal nutrition. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day, even during fasting windows, is crucial to avoid dehydration. Pay attention to hunger cues, and don't push yourself beyond comfortable limits. If you experience dizziness, fatigue, or other concerning symptoms, break your fast and consult a doctor."

What Can You Eat While Intermittent Fasting?

During your fasting period, you can have water, green tea, black coffee, and lemon water, but avoid beverages with sugar, milk, and other additions, as they are considered whole food and add to your calorie intake. When it's time to eat, 'eating normally' doesn't mean indulging excessively. Opt for nutritious foods like leafy greens, healthy fats, lean protein, and whole grains. Avoid high-calorie junk food and fried items. 

Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting has become a lifestyle for weight management and improving health. And explaining the benefits of intermittent fasting, Dr. Zemer Wang, Medical Director at DP World’s Aviv Clinics Dubai, shares a few pointers that one must note. As per Dr Zemer Wang, the potential benefits of intermittent fasting are: 

  1. Weight Loss and Fat Loss: By reducing the eating window, intermittent fasting can lead to a natural reduction in calorie intake, thus promoting weight loss. 
  2. Simplicity: Many find intermittent fasting simple and convenient, as it reduces meal planning and preparation time.
  3. Autophagy: This process, where cells remove toxins and repair themselves, is increased during fasting states, potentially reducing inflammation and the risk of several chronic diseases. Recent scientific reports hypothesise that this process may also play a role in contributing to longevity.
  4. Improved Insulin Sensitivity: Intermittent fasting improves the insulin sensitivity of the cells, which may lead to a reduction of the risk of type 2 diabetes and improve diabetic control for those suffering from the disease.
  5. Heart Health: Intermittent fasting may contribute to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease.
  6. Brain Health: It has been suggested that intermittent fasting can improve neuroplasticity and may also be a protective factor against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis; however more scientific data is needed for validation.

Adding to this, Mariam Al Shamsi, Senior Clinical Dietitian at Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, said, "Several studies suggest that intermittent fasting not only exhibits anti-aging effects but also contributes to enhanced cognitive functions, promoting improved thinking and memory. However, it's crucial to be mindful of improper fasting practices, such as breaking the fast with heavy meals, as they can trigger digestive discomfort like bloating, indigestion, and acid reflux."

Risk Of Intermittent Fasting And Who Should Avoid 

Before starting intermittent fasting, consult your doctor to assess your health and objectives. While some use it for weight management or to address health issues like high cholesterol, it's not suitable for everyone. Avoid intermittent fasting if you're under 18, pregnant or breastfeeding, have type 1 diabetes and take insulin, or have a history of eating disorders. Explaining this in detail, Dr. Zemer Wang, Medical Director at DP World’s Aviv Clinics Dubai, says, "Fasting may not be suitable for individuals with certain medical conditions or those taking specific medications. Changing eating patterns from three meals a day to one or two meals may be challenging for some. Intermittent fasting could potentially trigger disordered eating behaviours in sensitive individuals, such as binge eating. During fasting periods, some may experience fatigue, irritability, or mood swings, though this often improves over time. While there's limited evidence on its impact on fertility and pregnancy, radical dietary changes during pregnancy should be avoided without medical consultation."

Intermittent Fasting And Gut Health 

Beyond the simplicity of skipping meals, intermittent fasting delves into a realm where eating habits and nutrition intake link to one’s gut's tiny inhabitants. There is without a doubt, a connection between intermittent fasting, a well-nourished body, and the flourishing ecosystem within the gut microbiome (the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us.)

Dr. Pranab Gyawali, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Mubadala Health Dubai, emphasised the crucial role the microbiome plays in digestive well-being, shedding light on how intermittent fasting can influence it. He highlighted the microbiome's significance in supporting gut health, aiding digestion, fortifying the immune system, and preventing the entry of pathogens into the body. The microbiome, consisting of trillions of bacteria in the large bowel, undergoes notable changes during intermittent fasting. 

He said: “Intermittent fasting can significantly impact the gut microbiome by altering its composition and increasing bacterial diversity, essential for good gut health."

Research findings, as mentioned by Dr. Pranab Gyawali, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Mubadala Health Dubai, indicated that intermittent fasting promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. These bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties and role in strengthening the gut barrier. Dr. Gyawali said, "These changes can contribute to improving metabolism, enhancing metabolic health, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases."

Dr. Pranab Gyawali, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Mubadala Health Dubai, outlined several benefits, including improved gut motility, reduced inflammation, and enhanced gut barrier function. Fasting periods also provide an opportunity for repair and maintenance of the gut lining. 

How To Ensure That You Get Enough Nutrition While Intermittent Fasting?

Ensuring adequate nutrition while practising intermittent fasting is crucial for maintaining overall health, energy levels, and the effectiveness of the fasting method. And Dr. Zemer Wang, Medical Director at DP World’s Aviv Clinics Dubai, suggests these strategies: 

Plan Your Meals

  • Balanced Diet: Focus on a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from all the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein sources, and dairy or alternatives. This diversity ensures a wide range of essential nutrients.
  • Meal Planning: Plan your meals and snacks to ensure they are nutrient-dense and balanced. It helps in avoiding impulsive eating choices that may be less nutritious.

Prioritise Nutrient-Dense Foods

Prioritise whole foods rich in nutrients, including lean protein sources like meat, fish, dairy, legumes, and nuts. Incorporate high-fibre options like vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains to aid satiety and digestive health. Include healthy fats from sources such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil to support brain health and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Stay Hydrated

  • Water Intake: Drink plenty of water throughout the day, as hydration is crucial for overall health and helps absorb nutrients. Water intake should not be restricted during the fasting part of the day.

Dr. Pranab Gyawali, Consultant Gastroenterologist at Mubadala Health Dubai, highlighted the positive impact of intermittent fasting on digestive health, citing patient feedback indicating reduced bloating, improved regularity, and weight loss. However, cautioning against decreased fluid intake and fibre, he emphasised the need for gradual adoption of intermittent fasting and mindful eating habits for optimal results. Dr. Gyawali stressed the importance of staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water between fasting periods to support gut health."

Monitor Your Body's Response

  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body responds to intermittent fasting. If you experience signs of nutrient deficiency (e.g., fatigue, weakness, hair loss), reassess your diet or consult your physician.
  • Adjustments: Be willing to adjust your eating window, the frequency of your meals, and the composition of your diet based on your nutritional needs, lifestyle, and how you feel.

Educate Yourself

  • Nutritional Knowledge: Understanding the basics of nutrition can help you make informed choices about what to eat during your eating periods to ensure you're getting a balanced intake of nutrients.

Myths To Be Debunk

Intermittent fasting is often seen as the simplest method for weight loss, with many believing it's solely about fasting rather than controlling calorie intake through meals. And debunking some myths, Dr. Zemer Wang, Medical Director at DP World’s Aviv Clinics Dubai, adds, "When it comes to weight loss, the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for weight loss varies significantly among individuals, influenced by factors such as age, sex, baseline metabolic rate, lifestyle, and the specific type of fasting regime followed. Some people may experience significant weight loss and health benefits, while others may find little to no difference compared to other dietary approaches."

Debunking the misconception that you can consume anything during intermittent fasting,  Dr. Zemer Wang, Medical Director at DP World’s Aviv Clinics Dubai, said, "Despite the structured eating windows, the basic principle of calorie balance still applies. Intermittent fasting helps some people reduce their overall caloric intake by shortening the eating period, but it does not inherently negate the calories consumed. Overeating during the eating windows can offset the potential weight loss benefits."

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