If you haven’t tried intermittent fasting yet, you could be missing out. Now more popular than a ketogenic or high-fat diet, even the Prime Minister is a fan, fasting for 36 hours every week.
It’s not just the fat-burning, weight-shedding benefits that make it so popular. Hailed for boosting our “metabolic resilience”, hardly a day goes by without a new study showing the multiple health benefits of time-restricted eating, leading to improvements in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancers and neurological disorders.
The latest study, by Cambridge scientists, claims that fasting for 24 hours may protect us against dementia and Parkinson’s by reducing inflammation. There are many different ways of incorporating fasting into your week: here, five health experts reveal how they make it work for them.
‘I eat three meals a day between 8 and 8’
Clare Mosley, 62, GP
My husband, Dr Michael Mosley created the 5:2 diet 12 years ago – where you eat normally on five days a week, and reduce to 800 calories on the other two. Following that, he lost 9kg in 8 weeks and reversed his type 2 diabetes, and he still regularly does an 800-calorie fast day on a Monday to prevent weight creeping back on.
I follow a daily 12:12 pattern, eating breakfast at 8am and finishing my evening meal by around 8pm, and then not eating until the following morning.
Breakfast might be kippers with tomatoes, or sometimes rolled oats porridge, or granola with nuts or seeds, to stay full until lunchtime.
For lunch we have a filling home-made soup, such as a spicy tomato and lentil soup with pita bread. For supper, we will often have oily fish, like salmon, cooked in the air fryer with a simple sauce, plenty of veg and brown rice or quinoa.
We have a big glass of water with every meal, which is vital when fasting to prevent headaches, light-headedness and constipation.
‘I gave up big breakfasts and have more steady energy levels’
James Davis, 51 midlife health coach and personal trainer
I’ll start the day with a HIIT workout, and then breakfast around 8.30am is a power smoothie of frozen berries, oats, chocolate-flavoured protein powder, super green powder, linseeds, chia seeds and good-quality peanut butter.
Lunch around 1pm is two scrambled eggs with mushrooms or tuna with sweetcorn and salad, both with sourdough toast – I have my carbs early in the day.
Dessert is low-fat low-sugar Greek yogurt with protein powder, and I’ll have a couple of protein shakes throughout the day, as I work out a lot and it helps keep hunger at bay.
I follow a 10:14 eating pattern, so dinner is at 6.30pm, and I have grilled fish or meat with oven-roast veg or a stir-fry, and I allow myself one square of high-cocoa content dark chocolate.
I used to love a big breakfast early in the day so I found it hard at first, but I’m glad I persevered as intermittent fasting leaves my energy levels more constant – I don’t get carb slumps and sugar spikes any more. I’ve been doing it so long now that I find it easy to fit into my lifestyle and it helps manage my body composition.
‘An early dinner is much better than missing breakfast’
Natalie Burrows, 34, Type 2 diabetes nutritionist
At least two days a week I just eat two meals. I follow a 7:17 pattern, with breakfast at 9am – a 5-egg omelette with kimchi and sauerkraut, feta and rocket, then lunch at 4pm, which is salmon with a green salad or marinated roasted chicken with a mixed salad, and I don’t eat again that day.
Finishing dinner earlier is much more beneficial than missing breakfast. On non-fasting days I have lunch at 1pm and dinner at 6pm, and make sure I eat lots of protein and fibre, so I feel full.
I have a genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes, which my grandfather had. I was insulin resistant through my teens, always exhausted, but nowadays I have more energy, feel mentally sharper and sleep like a baby.
For years my weight fluctuated, but since I started intermittent fasting, I haven’t had to get on the scales – I’m slim and happy and it’s improved my relationship with food.
’24-hour fasts make me mentally sharper and more focused’
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli, 43, clinical psychologist
A few years ago, I tried intermittent fasting following a recommendation from my personal trainer. Delving into the research, I was intrigued by its potential for brain and psychological health benefits.
Now I fast three times a week, having my last meal around 6pm and then only have a coffee and water for the next 24 hours. I’m not overly strict with this routine, sometimes breaking my fast around 1pm with something light, like nuts or soup. But on the whole, I quite enjoy 24-hour fasting as it makes me feel more in control and simplifies the decisions of when and what to eat. I even find myself less hungry than on the days when I have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I love good food, and this makes the process of fasting a well-invested tactic for delayed gratification!
On my non-fasting days I have a coffee with a muffin for breakfast, then lunch around 12 noon of chicken, rice and salad or pork with roasted veg, then dinner’s around 6pm and I’ll have something like beef or fish with roasted or steamed veggies.
Fasting has enhanced my mental sharpness and focus, especially upon waking. I feel more alert and ready to engage with my day’s tasks. It also boosts my overall energy levels, helping me stay active and attentive throughout the day.
‘Fasting on intermittent days stops me eating mindlessly’
Helen Bond, 50, registered dietician
I dabble in time-restricted eating on intermittent days throughout the week and always do it on a Monday because it helps me reset after the weekend. On fasting days a morning trip to the gym leaves me needing lots of protein to feel full and balance out the hunger, so at 12pm I’ll have my first meal of the day – two eggs with avocado on sourdough bread with nuts and seeds, or a chicken dish with a baked potato.
I’ll often have snacks in the afternoon like peanut butter on oatcakes or Greek yogurt and berries to top up on nutrients, especially if I’m feeling hungry because of the exercise earlier in the day. These will get me through to my evening meal of stew with lots of pulses and whole grain rice around 5pm. That’s the last thing I eat until breakfast. I go to bed early so I don’t feel too hungry.
As well as helping me maintain a healthy weight, following this 5:19 pattern on alternate days makes me become more in tune with my hunger signals. It acts as a reset, so I don’t just eat mindlessly.