Dietitian Jaime Rose Chambers looks at the “sliding scale” of intermittent fasting and reveals the key to its success in this edited extract from her new book, The 16:8 Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle Plan.
I like to think of 16:8 intermittent fasting (16 hours of fasting with an eight-hour window for meals) as a sliding scale. Finding the level of intermittent fasting (IF) that works for you is a great start – how many days will you do it and which timings will you follow? Once you know what your baseline is, you can start to think about how you play with it in the long term in order to reap the health and weight-management benefits.
For something to work over a long period of time, it may not always be realistic to follow the same intensity of fasting. With many weight-loss protocols and eating patterns, there is usually an ‘on and off’ nature to them, and this usually includes a cycle of weight loss and weight regain or health improvement and health decline.
This is where fasting can be approached differently. By using a sliding-scale approach, you’re always doing some level of IF; you’re just sliding up or down the scale as you need to.
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Let’s say you’re on holidays or you have a big project going on at work with long hours. By reducing your intake and just fasting on the days that you have a free morning or widening your eating window to 10 hours rather than eight hours, you are still fasting, just at a lighter intensity.
You feel good, you are at your healthy weight and following your regular routine. During these phases, the baseline that works best for you is five IF days a week. You (more or less) stick to an eating window of eight hours on weekdays and enjoy fast-free days on the weekends.
You’re back from holiday or finished that work project and you’ve noticed that you aren’t feeling your best or your pants are feeling a little too tight. This is when you slide up the scale and ramp up your fasting routine. This may involve tightening your eating window, exercising more often and fasting for more days a week until you’re back to your healthy weight. Once there, you can lower the intensity again.
It’s important to remember that when people feel too restricted, they are more likely to overeat. Research shows that some IF methods can have a high drop-out rate, so if a fasting regime is too restrictive or too rigid, there is a high likelihood of it not being sustainable. If fasting causes you to want to overeat or to binge, or you approach it in a ‘restrict-then-binge’ fashion, it may not be for you.
On the other hand, research has shown that time-restricted feeding on weekdays (Monday to Friday) can help with weight management. To me, this suggests that it’s really important to listen to your body and give it what it needs at various times, and be okay with sliding up and down the scale as you need. This is the foundation of making 16:8 IF a long-term health strategy and lifestyle. It’s really important to listen to your body and give it what it needs at various times.
Top tips for intermittent fasting
- Begin with a 12 hour overnight fast. Fasting for 12 hours of the day can be a challenge for some people, so starting small can help ease you into a part-day fasting regime in the long term.
- Only start eating in the morning once you’re genuinely hungry, but not so hungry that you overeat.
- Try to avoid eating at least two or three hours before bedtime.
- Cut out excess sugars and processed snack foods. A study found that people who ate more highly processed foods ended up eating 500 calories more per day!
- Reduce your alcohol intake, and eat more fruit and vegetables.
- Enjoy more movement and exercise to help build lean muscle, which burns more energy while you rest.
This is an edited extract from 16:8 Intermittent FastingLifestyle Plan by Jamie Rose Chambers (Pan Macmillan, $34.99), available March 2.