There are a slew of DNA diets on the market, all claiming to aid weight loss by understanding our genetic make-up. Launching this month is the What IF Plan, the first of its kind to couple DNA testing with Intermittent Fasting.
For those in the dark, Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the umbrella term for time-restricted, Whole Day or Alternate Day Fasting. Time-restricted fasting is a schedule of eating that focuses on when you eat, rather than the what (the DNA tests take care of that part), fasting from anywhere between 14-16 (even up to 20) hours, reducing the time frame in which you eat your meals. Alternate Day Fasting (or ADF) and Whole Day Fasting refer to the calorie-restricted kinds, heavily reducing your calorie intake to keep your body in a fasted state.
Here's everything you need to know:
Can our DNA tell us how to diet and exercise?
Created by genetic nutritionist Kate Llewellyn-Waters MSc who works with clients worldwide, The What IF Plan is a unique, bespoke programme that aims to help you achieve your weight- and fat-loss goals safely. Having spent the last few years researching the proven scientific versions of Intermittent Fasting (i.e. time-restricted) and Alternate-Day Fasting (calorie-restricted) and using her vast background of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics, this is the first personalised IF plan based on an individuals unique genetic results.
According to Llewellyn-Waters, such personalised tests are the future as they complement an individual's unique genetic profile. Potentially, this may enhance the overall health of the individual and additionally, at population level, help to prevent conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.
The theory is that essentially, by extending your overnight fast your body is forced to burn stored fat for energy. Our bodies spend so much time digesting that they can end up getting less time to spend on other important housework. Being in a fasted state maximises our health potential. On top of that, IF helps you achieve the physique you want and maintain it effortlessly, without feeling restricted. Any hunger pangs quickly subside as the hunger hormone, ghrelin, realigns, stored fat gets burned (it takes about eight hours for your body to break down glycogen stores and then switch to using stored fat as fuel) and energy levels rise. Specific genes, such as SIRT3, responsible for cell protection and repair, also switch on. In the long term, it is said to be cancer protective; lowers cholesterol; reduces inflammation, free-radical damage and insulin resistance; boosts cognitive function and longevity.
Knowing the foods that your body is actually meant to be eating, specific for its own individual needs coupled with the best times to eat could be the key to unlocking its potential. After all, not everyone is meant to be Paleo, vegan, HCLF (High Carb/Low Fat) or Keto (high fat and zero carbs). And as our genes are fixed at conception, if you carry the gene for obesity or caffeine sensitivity, for example, you always will but through the right lifestyle choices you can switch those genes on or off.
And if youre trying to shift unwanted pounds, the type of exercise you opt for is also crucial. Certain genotypes have to slog it out with high-intensity workouts to break down body fat, while others (smiling smugly) require only low to moderate intensity and get the bulk of their weight loss from a good diet. Wouldnt it be great to know biologically what works for you before applying a scatter-gun approach to health and fitness, so youre working with your body rather than against it?
A DNA-test kit is sent to you in the post, consisting of an easy-to-follow saliva swab, which you post back to them. Three weeks later you receive a detailed report, listing your key genes for weight management, your response to each and then the best diet and exercise plan (mainly resistance training). A comprehensive individual list of foods is included, as well as some recipes to get you started. All three phases focus on the foods you need individually while being aware of any genetic sensitivities (to carbs, fats, lactose etc) and eating behaviour.
The best diet type for you; your sensitivity to carbs and saturated fat, detoxification ability, anti-oxidant requirement, vitamin and micronutrient uptake (such as Vitamin D3 and B vitamins), salt, alcohol and caffeine sensitivity, lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity; eating behaviour (are you a snacker and/or a sugar junkie?); and your bodys response to exercise.
There are three phases to the plan, each lasting a week, with the third phase being the long-term, lifestyle part. Ideally, you are meant to repeat phases one to three until youve achieved your goal weight. For those not looking to lose anything, you jump straight into Phase 3
Phase 1: the 16-hour fast each day (no breakfast)
How it works: eating within an eight-hour window, finishing your last meal at 7 or 8pm each night and beginning your first meal the following day at 11 or midday, depending on the time you finished. You are essentially just delaying your first meal of the day by four hours, which is an easy transition for most people.
Symptoms to expect: possible headaches for the first few days, hunger pangs and irregular bowel movements while your body rejigs its natural rhythm. Combat this by drinking copious amounts of water and warm herbal tea.
Easy to stick to? Surprisingly yes, your body quickly adapts and two meals a day is plenty. You feel a lot less hungry than expected.
Phase 2: Alternate-day fasting (ADF)
How it works: three days of the week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday is easiest), reduce your daily calorie intake to 500-700, nothing more. You can break this down into two or three frugal meals or fast most of the day, saving the calories for one larger meal in the evening.
Symptoms to expect: initially, total confusion over what to actually eat and a possible knock-on obsession with counting calories. It helps to do a little planning, choosing the foods youll eat in advance so you can just get on with it. You might experience less energy on the low-cal days. Experiment a little with each ADF day (with the number of meals; whether you feel energised exercising in a fasted state or depleted etc) until you find a rhythm that works best for you. On the non-ADF days you are allowed to eat breakfast as normal, as youll most likely wake up starving, but some like to continue with the 16-hour fasting.
Easy to stick to? Not as enjoyable or effortless as Phase 1, perhaps, but a good reminder that nothing bad will happen if you experience hunger every so often. Also, finishing a meal with space left in your stomach is actually a good thing and preferable to eating until youre jean-popping full. This is the only phase that can feel restrictive and it may take a while to figure out the best way to structure everything - but fortunately its just a week.
Phase 3: Easy phase
How it works: here things become much easier. Simply stick to the foods from your allocated list; if you like you can go back to having breakfast (three meals a day) or stick to the 16-hour fasting window, which admittedly can quickly become a lifestyle choice. Leave four hours between meals (there is a snack option if needed). You can go off-piste and have a treat meal once a week but if so, eat protein first, cut out starch and fruit with the other two meals that day and try to keep everything else very simple in terms of sauces, dressings and snacks.
Symptoms to expect: nothing to fear here, youre pretty much in a groove by this point. The biggest decision is whether to continue IF each day, or decide that you miss breakfast too much. You have more space to enjoy cooking your way through some of the personalised recipes, spending more time getting to know the right foods for you genetically.
Easy to stick to? Yes. And your social life picks up again, too, although if youre continuing with the 16-hour fasting window then you need to be mindful of your 8pm curfew (and that includes alcohol).
The 16:8 intermittent fasting is very easy to do and is something you may want to continue with every day, or at least Monday to Friday with a bit of freedom on the weekend. Forgoing breakfast frees up so much space in the day, not to mention the way it aids mental clarity - not having to think about food is a nice break from guilt and obsessing. Energy levels increase and stubborn weight, especially around the middle, quickly whittles down. The second phase requires a touch more effort but its just a few days and is less of a hassle (and less depressing) with each attempt.
Getting your DNA tested is definitely worth it for the concrete personalised results, solely for you, and not a broad brush stroke for the majority. Youll no longer have to be swayed by one health fad after another because youll know exactly what your own body needs to function at its best. Keto diet? Not if youre highly sensitive to fats. Bulletproof coffee all morning? Steer clear if youre a slow metaboliser of fat, as well as caffeine. Having the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about whats best for your body, and living a longer, healthier life in the process - isnt that the ultimate goal for us all?
The What IF Plan, including the 31 SNP DNA test, client report and DNA results, food list and recipes costs 299. For more information visit: thewhatifplan.co.uk
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