Overhauling your diet in pursuit of better health is never easy. Swapping microwave dinners for meal prep requires time and effort – and to cap it all off, there’s a risk that your body might not be ready to reap the benefits of your hard work. Specifically, your gut microbiome might not be ready.
The billions of health-promoting organisms in your digestive tract multiply or decrease according to what you feed them, but this change is often slow. If your diet has been less than optimal for a while, you might not have enough good bacteria to extract all of the benefits from a nutritious meal. Unless, that is, you fast first.
In a recent study at the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine, researchers divided overweight people who were about to embark on a new healthy-eating regimen into
two groups. One group followed a liquid-only diet for five days before the plan started; the
other ate as normal.
Among those who fasted, scientists noted a rapid increase in healthy, immunity-supporting and blood pressure-balancing bacteria. Surprisingly, benefits were detected even three months later. Both groups had spent those months prioritising a diet of fruit, veg, wholegrains, pulses and fish; yet the fasters still maintained lower bodyweights and healthier blood markers.
Embarking on a five-day fast without medical supervision is inadvisable – frankly, it’s a bit extreme. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to boost your health with a shorter food-free period. Hungry for evidence? Consult our list of science-backed controlled-eating protocols. The benefits are worth working up an appetite for.
Less is More
Done right, fasting offers an effective short cut to better health. Chew over these strategies.
Eat all of your calories in an eight-hour window, while fasting for the other 16. Studies show that this helps you shed fat while holding onto muscle.
Eat normally for five days per week, then restrict yourself to about 800kcal on the other two. A study found that this helps to improve insulin sensitivity.
Fast for a 24-hour period twice a week – for example, stop after breakfast at 8am one day, then fast until breakfast the following day, so you still get to eat at least once every day.
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