What is intuitive fasting and why does Gwyneth Paltrow do it?

Would you trust yourself to eat only when you need to? This dietitian chats us through how to pull it off. 

What is intuitive fasting and why does Gwyneth Paltrow do it?

Would you trust yourself to eat only when you need to? This dietitian chats us through how to pull it off. 

Intuitive eating + intermittent fasting = intuitive fasting. It’s a method outlined in a new book by Dr Will Cole, in which none other than Gwyneth Paltrow wrote the foreword.

Coined as ‘yoga for your metabolism’, intuitive fasting claims to do everything from reset your body and reduce inflammation to boost your metabolism and even balance your hormones. And while you might be thinking ‘sign me up!’, I’ve got a few words of warning before you join in...

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What is intuitive eating?

I’m all on board with intuitive eating. In a nut shell, it’s about tuning into your body’s hunger and satiety cues instead of eating for the sake of routine or out of boredom.

Over time, it’ll help you to develop a healthy, positive relationship with food. Intuitive eating can also help you to avoid occasions of non-hungry or overeating and ultimately, get greater enjoyment and satisfaction out of food, too.

What is intermittent fasting?

Traditional intermittent fasting is not about what you eat, but when. The main types are 5: 2, where you eat ‘normally’ for five days a week and survive on just 500 calories a day for the remaining two, and 16: 8, where you have a 16-hour fasting window every single day.

Not only can intermittent fasting help you to lose weight, but emerging science is linking it to everything from better gut health to cognitive benefits and even improved metabolic outcomes.

Intermittent fasting an exciting space, but the science is still in its infancy, so the long term consequences are largely unknown. What’s more, intermittent fasting is not safe for a lot of different people (think: pregnant women, older people, people with a history of disordered eating habits), so caution should be exercised.

What happens when you cross intuitive eating with intermittent fasting?

Supposedly a way to magnify the health benefits of intermittent fasting, intuitive fasting is a four week program that cycles through different fasting windows. In week one, you fast for 12 hours a day and have a 12 hour eating window.

Week two sees that fasting window bump up to 14 to 18 hours a day, and in week three, it increases again to 20 to 22 hours every second day. In week four, you drop back down to the 12: 12 protocol. The end game is something labelled ‘metabolic flexibility’ – a state in which you’re supposedly able to switch from carb to fat burning.

In contrast to standard intermittent fasting regimes, intuitive fasting encourages you to adopt a keto-ish eating pattern – one that entails lots of colourful veggies and plant foods, olive oil, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and fatty fish. Reportedly, the diet alternates between higher carb and lower carb days as to avoid some of the unpleasant side effects of a true ketogenic diet.

The verdict of intuitive fasting

A diet in which Gwyneth Paltrow profits off is not one I’d encourage you to try. Yes, there are some good elements to intuitive fasting that I can appreciate – it promotes eating lots of plants, listening to your body, drinking plenty of water, cutting back on booze and forgetting about calorie counting... but as a whole, intuitive fasting is not what I envisage when it comes to long term health.

The very fact that intuitive fasting is a four week program is one of my pet peeves, because you can’t turn your health around in a single month. It’s something that takes a whole lot of time, effort and persistence... not a short term fad diet.

What’s more, the idea that you can combine intuitive eating with intermittent fasting is just nonsense, because you can’t possibly listen to and act on your hunger cues when you’re starving yourself for up to 22 hours a day.

The program also fosters fear around food, explaining that eating that three meals a day plus snacks can cause inflammation, fatigue and even chronic health problems – which is just not true if you’re eating the right foods. All in all, I’d suggest a firm ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to intuitive fasting... it’s just more unnecessary noise in the world of wellness wankery.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.