Could a new form of intermittent fasting deliver some serious changes in time for Ibiza, with very little effort? Sharon Walker investigates.
I’ve been in health journalism long enough to know diets don’t work. They screw with your mood, they screw with your metabolism they make you hangry. Not only that, they’re too bloody difficult. Who has time to scrutinise every label, or weigh every last morsel?
And anyway, who can resist picking over the kids’ left-over breakfast, certainly not me. Yes, I am that human dustbin. And as a result, despite a lifetime of aerobics (yes, I was there when Jane kicked the whole thing off) and gym visits and even one Tough Mudder, I am a healthy weight but not what you could call lean.
Of all the ways to get lean and toned intermittent fasting is hands down the best
‘You don’t need to lose weight,’ the doctor at the Mayr health clinic tells me when I visit for a review before Christmas. ‘I know,’ I say, ‘but try telling that to my bikini.’ I’d already booked a summer beach holiday, the first with my new partner, who is built like a whippet.
That was close to six months ago and I am still no closer to losing the proverbial 5 kilos and I need to see some serious changes by Ibiza which is now less than six weeks away. I want to saunter down the beach in an itsy bitsy bikini, not hide in a tent, or the big T-shirt I’ve started wearing in bed to hide that extra roll of midriff.
Of all the ways to get lean and toned intermittent fasting is hands down the best. It’s rare, in the world wellbeing, for all the experts to be singing from the same song sheet, but right across the board from the medical doctors in the Austrian health clinics through to naturopaths and even the serious scientists, everyone agrees it works.
And the benefits aren’t just for weight loss, intermittent fasting is also brilliant for mental clarity, it can help you sleep, it can help you live longer, it’s great for your gut biome, that ever-changing bunch of microbes that keeps us healthy, as Professor Tim Spector who leads the British Gut Project attests. It can even help with muscle gain as it helps boost growth hormone.
There are countless celebrities who swear by this method, from Beyonce and Christy Turlington to Liv Tyler, Hugh Jackman and Ben Affleck.
So what is Intermittent fasting exactly?
Just to be clear by intermittent fasting is really intermittent eating. So that you ‘fast’ between the hours of 7pm and 9am or 11am between 3 and 7 days a week.
You’re eating in the way our ancestors typically ate, exposing yourself to intermittent cycles of famine, but without waiting days for hubby to drag home a wild boar, as science now tells us that 14 and 16 hours is best ‘fast’ window for burning body fat.
Why 14-16 hours? Because after 12 hours all the glucose has been cleared from your blood stream and that’s when your body switches to using your own body fat for energy. Yes, you’ll be burning though your body fat without dieting.That’s the good news.
The bad news? You can’t eat anything in that fasting window – not even the tiniest wafer-thin crust left on your kid’s breakfast plate – as any food (except certain fats, more of this later) will kick off your insulin and you’ll switch to using your blood sugar for energy, instead of body fat.
So, you’ll need discipline and to have a pretty zen disposition. I tried it once and ‘hangry’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. By the time I’d made it to work I stormed into Café Nero, ready to annihilate the poor barista, and inhaled a chocolate muffin and a latte before you could say, ‘make mine a skinny’. And that was the end of that.
The method that makes Intermittent Fasting easier
But then, a month ago, I heard about a new method of intermittent fasting: The Brave Method, devised by the founders of Ancient + Brave, a former stunt girl turned naturopath and herbalist, Annelie Whitfield and her business partner Kate Prince, which promises I can fast, three to five days a week without, despite the vaguely warlike name, any bloodshed.
The key difference between this method and other types of intermittent fasting is the nifty little addition of medium chain fatty acids, in the form of high quality coconut oil made from sustainable coconuts, or MCT oil, and grass-fed collagen, which is mixed in their drinks. The collagen is full of amino acids which stave off hunger pangs and they trigger the hormone glycogen to release extra body fat, so that you can use it for fuel.
But I stuck with it as I immediately had this incredible mental clarity and pretty soon – within ten days – I was getting into the best shape of my life
The MCT oil, meanwhile, is made up of medium chain fatty acids which can be used by your muscles and brain cells much faster than long chain fats, without raising your blood sugar, so that you can carry on burning through body fat without any hangry outbursts.
‘It helps you burn through your fat, especially fat around the middle,’ Whitfield says handing me a bottle of her rather chic looking MCT oil – the brilliant logo designs are inspired by Mayan drawings and sacred geometry – as we sit down to discuss her programme over lunch.
‘When I was a stunt girl I’d take a little bottle of this stuff and swing it like vodka.’ Like vodka? I love this woman immediately and with her lean arms and slender, long, jean-clad, legs you can see why Nicole Kidman wanted her as her stunt girl. Whitfield is the real deal.
This fasting method was something Whitfield first learnt about as a stunt girl for the cream of the Hollywood A-List, from Cate Blanchet through to Cameron Diaz, through a personal trainer, who helped her prep for a role in a movie.
It took all my intense sugars craving away
‘I had a really hard film coming up where I had to get my abs out,’ she tells me. ‘I was doing two hours training a day and eating tuna out of a can – I had to be that lean – and doing tons of cardio, but I was tired and couldn’t focus on set.
I was lucky I didn’t fall off a building,’ she says raising an eyebrow. ‘He told me: “This is insane, you’re going to kill yourself.” He cut my training right back to 25 minutes a day and told me to stop eating at 7pm and delay eating breakfast until 9am. ‘After everything I had been doing, I thought: “That will never work, it’s too easy.”
But I stuck with it as I immediately had this incredible mental clarity and pretty soon – within ten days – I was getting into the best shape of my life.’ What she says next really catches my attention. ‘Usually, as soon as I’d finish a film, I’d start polishing of packs of digestives,’ she says, not looking for a moment like someone who has so much as even sniffed a biscuit. ‘But it took all my intense sugars craving away.’
The experience proved to be a pivotal moment that was to take her on a new life path, first training as a naturopath and herbalist, living in the Costa Rican jungle, where she studied the health benefits of cacao and coffee experiencing traditional cacao ceremonies. Both cacao and coffee are great ‘envoys’, meaning they can carry other nutrients into your cells more efficiently.
‘Everything works better with them, it’s a nutritional love story,’ she says with a little sigh. And both high quality coffee and cacao are full of polyphenols a high class anti-oxidant, which reduce inflammation – another driver for weight gain – which is why they incorporate them into their nutrient-dense drinks.
After five years Whitfield returned to England and now lives in Sussex with her partner and kids, where she forages for wild foods, keeps chickens – they’re brilliant because they eat all the leftovers – treats clients and somehow finds time to run her new company Ancient + Brave, with business partner Kate Prince.
By the time we’ve finished lunch I am certain that I can crack this thing, not only that I am vaguely wondering if I can get a chicken and keep it on my tiny London balcony, or forage for hawthorns and dandelions on the Edgware Road.
It didn’t matter how hungry I was, four tiny teaspoons – just four tiny teaspoons – and I was good to go all morning.
So what happened when I tried the new Intermittent Fasting?
At the start of the experiment I weighed 65 kilos and my waist measured 31.5 inches.
My goal was to ‘fast’ 3-5 days a week, eating all my food within an eight-hour window. And to stop eating at 7pm.
I’ll admit the first week was a challenge. First, I had to train myself out of hoovering up the eggs my kids had left at breakfast and second I had to stop snacking at night. It took a while, and I mean three weeks, before I could get my head around eating dinner by 7pm, then crucially, stopping and even then, I only managed it three days a week. Not because I was suddenly starving late at night, but because I’m rarely home from work before 7pm and I generally lack discipline.
I did try eating at work, at 4pm or 5pm a couple of times, but then I’d cook for the kids and my willpower would crumble. So, I’d have a double dinner. Not great.
Extending the fasting window into morning proved much easier. This really surprised me as I’m a morning person. I write in the morning, I run in the morning and most of all I like to EAT in the morning. And since I cook breakfast for my kids at 7am, I usually eat with them. If you’d told me I’d have to wait until 11 or 12 for food three weeks ago, I would probably have bitten your head off, but the MCT oil – combined with the Ancient+Brave drinks – was a complete game changer.
It didn’t matter how hungry I was, four tiny teaspoons – just four tiny teaspoons – plus one a cup of their collagen-laced coffee and I was good to go all morning. I managed a 5k run (on Sundays), walked to work (40 minutes) during the week and hit the computer without the slightest brain fog. OR any hangry outbursts.
So, while it’s better for your body – growth hormone is produced at night and eating late suppresses it – to eat before 7pm, if it’s not possible, this programme is flexible.
It was all pretty painless. And yet…it worked. The fat dropped off.
But what happened to breakfasting like a king? That’s old hat. When you analyse the studies championing the importance of breakfast, they’re mostly sponsored by the breakfast cereal manufacturers, according to Oxford scientist Professor Kealey, author of Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal, a diabetic who found his glucose levels were particularly high after eating breakfast. If you don’t eat breakfast nothing bad is going to happen.
And do you know what nothing did. I didn’t even feel hungry. Fuelled by the delicious Ancient +Brave cacao and coffee (you choose one or the other or mix and match) and MCT oil, making it to 11am or even 1pm was a doddle.
Other than consuming all my food within an eight-hour window, which I built up to gradually, I ate pretty much as I always do (lots of veg, fish, chicken, rye bread, cottage cheese, the odd slice of pizza). I still drank wine at the weekends – well OK, once or twice during the week, which was slightly against the rules. Once a week I swapped dinner for a protein shake with lots of veg, from a recipe Annelie gave me. You’re meant to do this three times a week, but it didn’t quite get around to it. So I wasn’t really a model student.
On top of my usual walk to work and back (40 mins each way) and the odd weekend run, I did squats once or twice a week holding some hefty kitchen pans (Le Creuset) as weights at Annelie’s recommendation. Annelie insists this is enough, ‘for now’.
It was all pretty painless. And yet…it worked. The fat dropped off. Within two weeks I’d lost two kilos and an inch from my waist. After four weeks my weight had dropped a further two kilos to 61Kg and my waist was down by three inches. This is good news as it means the weight is mostly belly fat rather than muscle.
I plan to keep going and it’s not even about the bikini anymore, I just feel better for it all round.
So 4Kg in four weeks, with very little effort and absolutely no cravings. I’m back into my old summer wardrobe, which makes me very happy, not to mention saving me a fortune. And, people have started to notice. Last weekend I met some friends I haven’t seen since February and one of them immediately commented that I’d lost weight, ‘In a nice way.’
And there have been other benefits. I’m sleeping better and the IBS crampy pains I’ve had on and off for years – GONE.
I plan to keep going and it’s not even about the bikini anymore, I just feel better for it all round. Though, I am pretty happy I’ve got my body confidence back. Ibiza here I come.
Brave Method – Intermittent Fasting Outline
• Fast 14-16 hours overnight and eat everything in an eight – ten hour window 3-5 days a week
• In your fasting window enjoy a fat burning and brain boosting delicious Ancient + Brave brew – coffee + collagen or cacao + collagen blended with True MCT oil, and, for a creamer brew a little grass fed butter
• Do high intensity workouts for 15 -25 minutes 3 x days week whilst fasted – this significantly increases human growth hormone which keeps you lean and anti ageing.
• Eat mostly whole minimally processed foods, instead of ‘healthy’ processed foods. Eat as seasonally as possible and choose your preferred sources of unprocessed protein and healthy fats.
• Eat a rainbow diet to ensure you’re saturating your cells in deep seated nutrients to help ward off belly fat, inflammation + increase energy. (A&B ’s cacao and coffee blends are packed full of a special class antioxidants called polyphenols, which are hugely cell protective)
• On your exercise days, eat 2-3 bigger meals of protein veggies, and carbs.
• Eat most of your carbohydrates at night rather than in the morning – this supports serotonin production which coverts to melatonn for a good nights sleep.
• Have sweet treats such as 80 per cent cacao dark chocolate (2-4 squares x day), berries with organic plain yoghurt.
For more information see the Ancient + Brave website: ancientandbrave.earth
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