Friday, 15 February 2013

Fasting, part 3 - Sustainability

Fasting - From Now Until..?

I've done a fair bit of reading about fasting diets. Both from research literature, popular texts (there are a few in the bookshops at the moment!), and also online. 

Lots of people have things to say about fasting, and it tends to take one of two forms. Fasting is either the best thing since sliced bread - take that Atkins! Or it's yet another example of a terrible fad diet, with claims that it can cause anything from bad breath to disordered eating. 

But there's something that, in general, is missing from all of these commentaries. And that's the focus of this post. 

In my first post on the topic, I hope I gave you a reasoned explanation of what the diet is and how it works. But there is one more thing I'd like you to consider before embarking on this, or indeed any other 'diet'. 

My question is this - how sustainable is intermittent fasting/calorie restriction? Can you honestly say that it's something you can keep up for life? Or, in fact, do you need to?

If you undertake a fasting diet as a means of weight loss, what happens once you've lost the desired amount of weight?

At the moment, there is a distinct lack of evidence on how these diets work in the long-term. Particularly so with regard to human studies. So anything you read about long-term sustainability and maintenance of weight loss is likely to be based on speculation.

And sustainability and maintenance of your new weight are rather important.

As with all diets, there is a fundamental issue that rears its ugly head: here’s the scenario – it may well be familiar.

You follow the plan, you obey the rules and lose the weight. Congratulations! But now what? You can stop following the diet, right? Go back to eating ‘normal’ food, every day?

And watch the weight pile back on.

This problem is common to an awful lot of diets. People in general are quite good at losing weight, but not so accomplished at keeping it off. This isn’t an issue specific to fasting diets, indeed we’ve already recognised a lack of long-term studies. But there’s a fairly logical thought progression that says fasting diets, as with other diet plans, if discontinued, will cease to be effective.

So how can you maintain the lost weight?

At the risk of sounding rather dull - it comes back to the fundamental concept that you need to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

The Eatwell Plate

That’s not to say don’t follow a diet, by all means, try it if you will and if it’s safe for you to do so. But learn from it.

Fasting diets can teach you several things.

Firstly, hunger is a natural sensation – it lets us know when we are actually in need of food. There’s nothing wrong with feeling hungry now and again. Embrace it, and learn to listen to the cues from your body.  

Secondly – and perhaps most importantly – the fasting days might put portion sizes into perspective. Portion sizes, more often than not, are the culprit in weight gain. Eating anything in excess, including fruit and vegetables, can lead to weight gain. By fasting you may come to realise that you don’t need to eat quite as much as you think you do, or are accustomed to.

Thirdly, be mindful when you are eating. It’s very easy to pop things into your mouth without thinking about it, or eat whilst distracted. And mindless eating is a guaranteed way of exceeding your energy requirements, thus leading to weight gain. Fasting days demand attention to your diet if you are to stay within your strict calorie allowance. If you are able to apply that same mindfulness to your eating behaviour in general, you are more likely to remain in control of your diet and with it, your weight.

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