Fast track to fitness

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The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Have you ever thought that it seems harder to lose weight as you’ve got a bit older than it was when you were younger?


Well I can reassure you that you’re not imagining it.


Unfortunately, our metabolism slows down as we age and by the time we reach our fifties, we need about 100 calories fewer per day that we did when we were twenty, and that’s just to maintain a steady weight.


That’s why you can find your weight drifting upwards even though you eat roughly the same as you always have.


Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this.


One popular method is intermittent fasting. So, let’s look at what that entails and what the health benefits are.


You might already be familiar with the 5:2 diet which was made popular a number of years ago in a TV documentary presented by Michael Mosley. A flurry of books and magazine articles were published following that programme which were filled with low calorie recipes to help on the two fasting days.


The basic premise of the 5:2 diet is that you eat normally for five days but restrict yourself to 600 calories for two days a week.


Advocates of this way of eating say it helps with weight loss, improves cognitive function, promotes longevity and may prevent lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.


If you decide to give this type of diet a try, type “600 calorie recipes” into Google and you will come up with a whole host of tasty meals that you can cook on your fasting days.


This is definitely a weight loss strategy that works for many people although you have to be careful not to overcompensate on the five days of normal eating.


But aside from the 5:2 diet, there are other forms of fasting that have some pretty impressive health benefits. Simply by postponing your breakfast for a few hours, you could be losing weight, lowering your blood pressure and slowing down the aging process.


For years, health experts said that you should never skip breakfast. They said that breakfast was the best meal of the day and that it kicked off your metabolism.


For some people this is fine. They wake up hungry and are ready to eat their first meal or to “break” their overnight “fast”.


For others, eating on waking is positively nauseating. Some people just can’t face food first thing in the morning. If you’re like this, then extending your overnight fast could be just the thing. In recent years, attitudes have changed towards the timing of breakfast and the realisation is, that there is no “one size fits all” diet. For some people, skipping breakfast can be a smart health move as long as it’s done properly.


There is no point skipping breakfast but then snacking on unhealthy foods mid-morning. A healthy meal, following your fast is still essential. Ideally it will be one the contains healthy fats such as avocado. A green smoothie with avocado and spinach, for instance, would be ideal. It doesn’t really matter when you choose to “break-fast” so long as it’s with healthy food.


This type of intermittent fasting means that you restrict yourself to eating during a certain window of time. So, you might fast for eight or nine hours overnight and eat normally for the rest of the day. If you begin like this you can gradually build up to 12 hours, so if you stopped eating at 8pm you would have breakfast at 8am the following morning and eat normally for the rest of the day.

Words and pictures by Sam Bentall

Health Coach.

Many people report succeeding with this type of diet and have found it reduced their belly fat and improved their energy levels.


Taking things further, there are many health benefits from longer fasts, so once you’ve adjusted to the 12:12 fast, you could increase to a 16:8 whereby you fast for sixteen hours and eat during the remaining eight hours of the day. Research has shown that these longer fasts can:


  • Lower insulin levels - which helps with weight-loss and helps to prevent type two diabetes.

  • Increases growth hormone – which naturally decreases as we age, so increasing this for men over 50 is a great idea as it helps to burn fat, build muscle and slow the aging process.

  • Switches the body into ketosis – which is healing state and one in which the body burns fat instead of glucose.

  • Regulates leptin and ghrelin – which are the hunger and fullness hormones.


Another major benefit to fasting is that it triggers autophagy in the body which is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells so that it can build newer, healthier cells.

 Autophagy literally means “self-eating” which may not sound all that healthy, but it is actually the best way for our cells to detox.


One of the biggest benefits to this recycling and renewal process is that our cells are replaced by younger, newer cells, which is why autophagy is linked to anti-aging. Along with anti-aging, autophagy is believed to prevent Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and may prevent certain cancers.

The autophagy process declines as we age so intermittent fasting is an excellent way to keep your cells in tip top condition so that you can feel and look younger for longer. The best way to make your fast successful is to ensure that you don’t ingest any calories at all during your fast. That means limiting your drinks to water, herbal tea and black coffee.


Intermittent fasting is also said to help overcome anxiety and depression for some people as it can increase levels of serotonin.


Of course, there’s nothing new about intermittent fasting. Many ancient cultures and religions have used some form of fasting. These were mainly believed to be for spiritual purposes. The difference now is that due to the latest innovations of science we are able to discover the health benefits too.


As with all things, intermittent fasting is not for everyone, but it you do decide to give it a go, please ensure that you consult your doctor first, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions or are currently taking medication.


Sam Bentall is a health and weight-coach. If you would like a find out more about her work, visit her website or email her at and she’ll be happy to tell you more.


600 Calorie Recipe - Baked Cod in Puttanesca Sauce



  • 2 skinless and boneless cod fillets

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 1 garlic clove, sliced

  • a small pinch of chilli flakes

  • 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

  • 1 x courgette

  • 2 tbsp capers, rinsed

  • 40g pitted black olives, halved

  • 3 rosemary sprigs, leaves finely chopped


  • Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and garlic together until softened. Add the courgette and cook for a further 2 mins then add the chilli flakes.

  • Add the tomatoes, capers, olives and rosemary and simmer for a few minutes.

  • Transfer the sauce to an ovenproof dish and place the cod in the sauce.

  • Bake at 200 for 10 to 15 minutes until the fish is opaque and flaky.


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