You’ve probably heard wellness gurus, Instagram celebs and maybe even a few health professionals touting the supposed benefits of intermittent fasting. But is it worth the hype? And how does it compare to plain old snacking? Listen up for your dietitian-approved answer.
Is fasting worth it?
Let’s take a step back and define what fasting actually is, first.
Rather than a long list of strict food rules defining what you can and can’t eat, fasting is more about the timing of your meals. There’s a couple of different regimes – with the main ones being 5:2, where you have a very low energy intake two days a week but eat normally the rest of the time, and 16:8, where you only have an eight-hour window to eat each day.
A range of health benefits have been associated with these fasting protocols. Weight loss is one of them – but this is expected when your overall energy intake is reduced. Fasting has also been linked to improvements in diabetes and brain health, and it may even benefit your ticker, too.
But, while it seems promising, it can be rather hard to stick to! Going without food for long periods of time can lead to lower energy levels and impact your mood, so it’s important to consider the impact on your day-to-day life, too. What’s more, there simply isn’t sufficient evidence to know the impact of fasting in the long term. So, watch this space!
Is it okay to snack?
On the flip side of fasting is snacking, which a lot of people in the world of diets assume is a bad thing – but I’ve got a different opinion.
As a dietitian, I actually see snacking as an opportunity for extra nutrition. Of course, choosing muffins, chocolate bars and decadent slices for morning or afternoon tea isn’t the best thing for your health, but something like a fresh piece of fruit, a tub of reduced-fat yoghurt or a couple of veggie sticks and hummus can do you a world of good. I often encourage my clients to think of their between-meal bites as a way to top up on nutrients they might be lacking, like calcium for strong bones and teeth or fibre for a healthy gut.
Having a well-timed snack in the morning or afternoon can also help to keep hunger pangs at bay. This can be beneficial for weight loss in particular, as arriving at lunch or dinner absolutely ravenous is likely to lead to over-eating. What’s more, if you’re hungry all the time, you’ll probably end up reaching for energy-dense foods (think: the office biscuit jar).
If weight loss is your aim, success can be achieved with both fasting and snacking. So, if fasting works for you, go for it. But if you’re a snacker, that’s okay, too. Keep in mind that regardless of your preference, the overall quality of your diet is paramount – just like the saying goes, you can’t outrun a bad diet!
Fasting is not suitable for some people. If you’re considering fasting, you should check in with your GP, first.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au, or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.
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