Gut health expert Tim Spector reveals key to long-term intermittent fasting

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 11: Tim Spector during day 2 of Good Housekeeping Live, in partnership with Dyson, on November 11, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/Getty Images for Hearst UK)
Professor Tim Spector has revealed his intermittent fasting routine. (Getty Images)

‘Intermittent fasting’ has become extremely popular in recent months, with celebrities and public figures like Coldplay’s Chris Martin and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak talking about the health benefits of the diet.

Epidemiologist and gut health expert Professor Tim Spector has revealed that he also practises intermittent fasting and revealed his routine in a new interview on the ZOE Science and Nutrition podcast.

Prof Spector, who is a co-founder of nutrition platform ZOE, said he believes that in order to sustain the diet in the long-term, being too "rigid" with it could actually lead to failure.

He commented on a recent study that suggested intermittent fasting could be linked to an increased risk of death from fatal heart disease. In a large-scale study tracking about 20,000 adults in the US, scientists found that people who ate within an eight-hour window and fasted the rest of the time were nearly twice as likely to die from heart attacks or strokes.

However, the study found better results among people who said they spread their eating across 12 to 16 hours in a day.

"It looks like the sweet spot for when the results start sort of turning significant is around at this 10-hour eating window," Prof Spector said. "I tend to start eating at 10.30am or 11am in the morning.

"If I’m doing any exercise or workouts, I do those in the morning. And then I would finish eating or drinking anything other than black tea or black coffee at 9pm at night. I do that for probably five or six days a week."

He continued: "I’m not absolutely rigid on it because I realise that I want to sustain this long-term, and I don’t want to feel like a failure if I’m given this general rule, if you can do things five days out of seven, you’re doing pretty well."

The scientist also revealed that he doesn’t restrict himself while on holiday and he wants to eat. "Occasionally, you know, I might be in France and there’s an incredible breakfast buffet and I’m saying, ‘Oh, really? Am I going to miss all that?’

"Sometimes I just do it and life is too short not to take rare opportunities as well."

Close-up of slim waist of young woman in big jeans showing successful weight loss, isolated on light gray background, diet concept.
Intermittent fasting usually involves eating within a specific window of time during the day, and fasting for the rest of the time. (Getty Images)

Stephens, who is the author of the 28-Day Fast Start Day-by-Day and Fast. Feast. Repeat, added that the idea you need to restrict food and deny yourself things you enjoy is what puts many people off intermittent fasting.

She countered this idea and said: "Words sound so scary. The word ‘fasting’ makes you think that you’re doing to [go] 40 days and 40 nights wandering in the desert.

"But intermittent fasting, the word ‘intermittent’ is key. You are having periods of fasting and periods of eating, which every single person who is listening or watching already does.

"That is just changing the balance of that. You know, you go to bed, you sleep, you wake up in a fasted state. Probably everyone listening has had fasted [for] blood work before.

“"o our bodies are already fasted every single day. If you live an intermittent fasting lifestyle, the difference is you just extend that period instead of most people having this much for your feeding time and this much for fasting, we just switch it. And so you’re fasting for a longer period of the day intentionally."

Dr Michael Mosley, founder of personalised diet programme The Fast 800, says that anyone starting intermittent fasting should first determine whether it’s the right diet for them. Such diets or weight loss programmes are not suitable for people who have a history of eating disorders, people on certain medications or who have recently had surgery, or people who are planning to get pregnant.

He adds that, if intermittent fasting is something you’d like to try, it’s important to ensure you’re eating healthy calories.

"You want them to be packed full of protein and other nutrients, so you need to make sure you’re following healthy recipes that meet your nutritional needs," he tells Yahoo UK.

Dr Mosley also advises that telling your friends and family that you plan to start intermittent fasting can help you ensure you get proper support, as "in the early days, it can be quite tough".

"The good news is that people say that they are surprised how quickly they get into the pattern and they very quickly stop feeling hungry,” he says. "I think it is also important to clear out your cupboards and get rid of the junk food because unfortunately, if your cupboards are still full of junk food, it's very tempting when you’re feeling a little bit peckish in the middle of the night!

"I know that if I have chocolate and biscuits in the house, I will eat them, despite everything that I know, so my advice is to remove temptation. There's a fair amount of pre-planning that needs to go into it if you're going to be successful.

"Rather just jump into it, do read about it first. Have a plan, work out what you're going to do, inform your friends and family and then get going."

Watch: What Is Intermittent Fasting and Is It Right for You?

Read more about diet and gut health: