Intermittent fasting and diets such as 5:2 are great ways to improve health, lose stubborn weight and turn on ‘autophagy’ (programmed cell death), if done correctly. Fasting has been used in various forms, for thousands of years across the globe, by individuals seeking health restoration or spiritual enlightenment. It can help to support the body in the elimination of stored toxins, that we are all exposed to in our food supply, water, household products and air pollution.
Simply put, intermittent fasting is a diet that alternates periods of eating with periods of not eating. I like to recommend 12 hour overnight fasts as a simple introduction to fasting. You may actually be doing this already, without realising! If you finish your evening meal at 7pm, you should wait until 7am before eating breakfast. When you get comfortable with that, you can try the ‘8 hour feeding window’ of 10am-6pm. Between those times you will consume your food for the day, then fast for 16 hours between dinner and breakfast. See what works for you, everyone is different!
I advise individuals who are pregnant, underweight, nutrient depleted, suffering with hormone imbalances, eating disorders, thyroid disorders or any other health condition, to speak to a health practitioner before fasting.
A big mistake I see in practice is that people tend to under eat when fasting. Instead of consuming their daily calories in the shorter ‘feeding’ window, they just cut out whole meals and snacks from their day, leading to negative symptoms from not fuelling their body correctly. Symptoms to watch out for are fatigue, hunger, feeling cold, hair shedding, weakness, irritability, anxiety and obsessing over food.
To overcome this, you should make sure your diet is nutrient dense and packed with enough healthy protein, fat, fibre, vitamins, minerals and superfoods for your body to function optimally. Here are some of the foods I recommend that you try to include:
Moringa has more nutrition in the leaf than any other known plant and is often given as lifesaving support to malnourished children in third world countries. It is rich in essential amino acids which helps the body to repair tissues and cells. . Moringa also contains extremely high amounts of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and phosphorus, all of which act as cofactors in the body, helping to activate different enzymes and processes. Our liver, which is the main organ of detoxification, uses a lot of amino acids and minerals for phase 2 detox, and this process is in higher demand when we fast.
Add 1 tablespoon of moringa powder to a superfood smoothie in the mornings to ‘break your fast’ in a great way.
Coconut is rich in healthy fats, specifically medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), which are saturated fatty acids that are absorbed more easily by the body and can permeate our cell membranes without requiring special enzymes in order for our bodies to utilize them. This is especially beneficial for those people who have digestive issues or difficulty absorbing nutrients. It is believed that MCT helps the body produce ketones, which may provide the same benefits as the ketogenic diet, without needing to drastically cut carbohydrates. Coconut products provide us with fuel so that we can fast more easily without feeling weak, hungry and craving sugar.
Try cooking with coconut oil and add coconut milk to your smoothies or curries.
Cacao is rich in zinc, which is important for tissue repair, hormone balance and the production of neurotransmitters (our brain signals). It is also a great source of magnesium which is depleted during times of stress. This is why many of us crave chocolate when we are stressed out or during the PMS phase. The high antioxidant effects of cacao may directly improve insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce risk for diabetes. It may also stimulate changes in signalling pathways involved in gene expression and the immune response. Cacao can be slightly stimulating due to the small amounts of caffeine present, so it may help give your energy levels a boost, without need to reach for the energy drinks, sugar and coffee during your fasting period! Raw chocolate is another source of healthy fat that we can consume, in moderation, during the ‘feeding window’, to help keep our blood sugar levels stable (but don’t overdo it!).
Consuming 1-2 portions of nuts and seeds per day, is a great way to contribute to your protein and healthy fat needs for the day. They are also rich in minerals such as zinc, selenium and magnesium, which act as co-factors in the body, supporting different enzymes in the body which can be up regulated during times of fasting. People tend to avoid calorie rich foods, such as nuts, when trying to lose weight, however the benefits you get from eating nuts out ways the caloric intake. There have actually been studies that show that individuals who eat nuts regularly are often leaner than non-nut eaters! Calories are an important factor in weight loss and are something you should be aware of, but other things such as hormonal status, stress levels, nutrient intake and sleep have a greater influence on our weight. I recommend you count nutrients, not calories for this reason.
Try adding a couple teaspoons of nut butter to your breakfast porridge or yogurt, for an extra nutrient boost!
Medicinal mushrooms act as “immune modulators,” in the body. Reishi mushrooms can help restore hormonal balance, bring the body back to homeostasis and regulate activity of the immune system, including fighting tumours and cancerous cells. Including reishi into your lifestyle can therefore support the mechanisms of fasting and may actually provide an even greater benefit! Beta-glucans, found in mushrooms like Reishi, are natural cancer-fighters as they stop the growth and spread of cancer cells, whilst encouraging the immune system to become more active. High stress and blood sugar levels can cause our body to store weight as a protective mechanism. Reishi helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and makes our body more resilient to stress, therefore supporting healthy weight loss. Animal studies have also shown that reishi can help to prevent weight gain by positively altering gut bacteria and metabolism.
Try consuming a cup reishi tea during your fasting period, to help support your body’s regeneration and detoxification abilities.
Consuming a wide variety of foods will help you to access lots of different nutrients, preventing nutrient deficiencies. Think back to humans thousands of years ago. We wouldn’t have the constant access to food and snacks like we do now, and we would seek out lots of different types of food in order to cover our nutritional needs.
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