Diet & Nutrition

How a dietitian uses intermittent fasting for the best possible weight loss results


Chances are that even if you have not yet tried it yourself, you’ve heard about intermittent fasting. But how does a dietitian incorporate these popular programs for their clients? Dietitian Susie Burrell explains.

Intermittent fasting is the term given to a range of diets based on the principles of intermittent fasting and translates into either incorporating low calorie days into your weekly schedule or not eating for especially long periods of time.

Intermittent fasting programs are among the most popular diets of recent years, largely as they are associated with a range of health benefits and slow but sustainable weight loss over time.

Anecdotally, fasting programs are popular compared to more rigid programs that require constant caloric restriction because fasting regimes can be relatively flexible, allowing dieters to choose the best option for them, and opt for either occasional strict caloric restriction or time based (as opposed to calorie based) eating.

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As a dietitian in private practice, I too utilise fasting programs with my own clients, although it should be said that fasting is not for everyone, nor is it always forever.

Rather, for many of my clients, I suggest different types of fasting, at different times for specific reasons, rather than adopting it as a long term approach. So, here are some of the reasons I use fasting with my own clients, and how I utilise it to help them reach their health and weight loss goals.

To ignite hunger

When was the last time you felt hungry? With frequent meals and excessive calorie intake the norm, it is surprisingly rare for people to allow themselves to experience real hunger at regular time intervals throughout the day. In this instance, for individuals who are struggling to lose weight, becoming reunited with hunger (and feeling of fullness) is an important component of any weight loss intervention.

Here committing, to a time-restricted fasting regime, in which followers are encouraged to eat 14-16 hours after their last meal, or when they again feel genuinely hungry, can be extremely effective in inducing an initial 1-2kg weight loss over a week or two.

To kick start a plateau

The body likes to keep weight stable, which means any weight loss regime tends to lose its effectiveness over time.

In order to shake things up, changing the way we eat, either via a change in calorie load, mealtime or macronutrient make up can be an effective way to get the body burning calories efficiently again. In such instances, adopting a 5:2 regime, or a couple of exceptionally low-calorie days, or extending the overnight fast are two strategies that can be utilised to shift a weight loss plateau.

To support hormonal disturbance

Of all the evidence available to show the health benefits that are associated with fasting, it is the metabolic variables including cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose and insulin levels that have been shown to benefit when regular fasting is adopted.

As such, for individuals with a range of hormonal weight issues including PCOS, insulin resistance and fatty liver, fasting can be indicated as an intervention that will support improvements in these blood and hormone levels.

To buffer overeating

At times we will all overeat (especially with Christmas almost here!), and one of the easiest strategies that can help buffer excessive calorie intakes is to utilise fasting.

Here, a day or two of low-calorie eating following especially large intakes, or simply waiting 16 hours or more before eating again can be the difference between weight stability and weight gain when caloric overconsumption is a regular occurrence. Indeed this even works well after a big Saturday night.

To make dieting easier

Diets can be specific and difficult, requiring calculation, macronutrient balance, portion control and rather in-depth food knowledge. In many cases the relative ease of fasting programs – either 16 hours without food or a low-calorie day or two takes a lot of guesswork and strictness out of dieting, and while weight loss can be slower, in many cases it is sustainable, making it a long term diet solution for busy people who have limited time, energy and interest in following a strict diet for any length of time.

Susie Burrell holds two honours degrees in Nutrition & Dietetics and Psychology. She is especially known for her practical, easy to understand approach to diet, nutrition and wellbeing.