Banish all thoughts of a Lough Derg-type starvation diet. Intermittent fasting is no more drastic than delaying or skipping breakfast altogether. “One form of intermittent fasting is ‘time-restricted eating’, which essentially involves eating within a relatively contained window each day,” explains Dr John Briffa. “So if you were to eat breakfast at 8am, you’d be finished by eight in the evening. The rest of the time all that is being consumed is water and perhaps some black coffee or tea. Some people then gradually extend the fast to 14 or 16 hours, usually by delaying breakfast or skipping it altogether.”
For those packing children off to school or rushing to get out themselves in the morning, it has other benefits. “On a practical point, skipping breakfast is often not socially disruptive as many individuals eat breakfast on their own, certainly during the week.”
Why is intermittent fasting helpful? “It ultimately stimulates the body to break down fat which forms a fuel source called ketones,” says Briffa. “This is the origin of the word ‘ ketosis’. Ketones provide ready fuel for the body and brain. But the level of ketones in so-called ‘nutritional ketosis’ is much lower than those seen in what is known as ‘ ketoacidosis’, which occurs in uncontrolled Type 1 diabetes.
It appears to bring body-wide advantages. “Intermittent fasting has other benefits too like improving insulin function and increasing ‘autophagy’ which is like an internal clean-up process, including in the brain.
“Clinically it tends to works like a charm,” says Dr Briffa. “Not everyone can do it but the majority can, and when they do they usually feel energised, stable and ‘with it’. The reality is while it’s usually said that ‘ breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, this is actually nonsense for many people. There is nothing wrong with someone subsisting off their own fat stores through the morning. In fact, it’s a good state to be in. People generally do much better this way than with a traditional breakfast of cereal or toast which can destabilise blood sugar levels and tends to be inflammatory in nature.”