ust when we thought we’d nailed the 16:8, Gwyneth Paltrow has moved onto a new way of eating. The 5:2? Old news! The 14:10? So 2020. This year it’s all about “intuitive fasting”, according to the Goop founder. She’s been raving about it so much, she’s even written a foreword for her new guru Dr Will Cole’s book Intuitive Fasting. It is quickly becoming Hollywood’s buzziest new tome; Elle Macpherson is also an acolyte.
Dr Cole — a functional medicine practitioner whose book is published in the UK this week — describes his diet as a flexible approach to fasting, or a “proverbial yoga class for your metabolism”. His regime is a four-week plan, which asks followers to alternate between expanding and contracting fasting windows to gain what he describes as “metabolic flexibility”, or the body’s ability to switch from burning glucose (the sugar that’s in your blood) to burning fat (apparently).
In week one, the protocol starts with a 12:12 approach, in which you fast for 12 hours followed by a 12-hour eating window. In the second week, the fasting window is extended to between 14 and 18 hours. Week three is when you enter a “deeper fast”, fasting for between 20 and 22 hours every other day, which he says is aimed at promoting “cellular renewal” and likens it to holding the warrior II pose. In the final week you revert back to the 12:12, or the “savasana”.
The idea is that fasting works as a reset, “to use it as a mindfulness tool to check in with your energy levels and digestion”. “Most people are not connected to how food or fasting makes them feel,” Dr Cole says. You can then use this information to work out a pattern that suits you — eating only when you actually feel hungry, for example.
Fasting cycles work in tandem with a “ketotarian” diet plan, a “mostly plant-based high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein diet which mimics fasting.” Cole’s ketotarian plan differs to the conventional keto diet in, which he says has a “hyperfocus on macronutrients over food quality,” meaning there’s a tendency to avoid vegetables because of their carb content and load up on processed meat. The ketotarian incorporates plenty of Mediterranean foods like olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, avocados and dark leafy greens, but also quality fish sources (for non-vegans who are following the diet) like wild caught salmon, tuna and anchovies.
Paltrow hit headlines last month when she was criticised by Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, after she suggested that she was using the new fasting regime and elements of the keto diet to tackle her symptoms of long-Covid. Still, Dr Cole maintains the purported benefits work — and fasting proponents also claim it can help regulate your blood sugar levels, reduce cravings and leave you with greater energy levels.
So, how long does it take to achieve metabolic flexibility? “I want people to make great strides in four weeks, but to really build metabolic flexibility for the average person it takes around three to six months,” he says, adding that people are free to repeat the first week if they feel they need to. He says it’s less restrictive than fad diets or other fasting regimes. He adds: “Sometimes with fasting the context can get lost, people can become obsessive and use it in a way that’s very unhealthy. Intuitive fasting is melding the amazing benefits of intermittent fasting and mindfulness — learning you can be gentle with your body and still get amazing results.”
Dr Will Cole’s intuitive fasting rules
It’s essential to stay hydrated with plenty of water, tea (he’s a particular fan of earl grey) and black coffee throughout both eating and feasting periods. In deeper fasts replenish electrolytes by sipping on water with added sea salt.
Do not fast your way out of a poor diet
“This can turn into disordered eating,” says Dr Cole. Focus on nourishing foods, primarily healthy plant-based fats, moderate protein, and “rich, vibrant colours of nutrient-rich vegetables”.
Do not restrict your calories
“Real intermittent fasting isn’t about punishment, calorie restriction, or restriction at all,”Cole writes, describing calorie restriction as the “antithesis” of the concept of intuitive fasting.
“If you truly want to invest in this plan and shift from being a sugar-burner to a fat-burner, cutting out alcohol is a must,” he writes.