Is Fasting Right For Me? How to Choose the Right Kind of Fast in Midlife

Is Fasting Right For Me? How to Choose the Right Kind of Fast in Midlife

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The Midst – The gateway drug for the modern

midlife experience.

From Time Restricted Feeding to the 5:2 Diet, fasting is big news right now.

Fans of fasting say it aids weight loss, supports cognitive function, and boosts energy levels — but is it safe and effective when we’re juggling hormones, menopause, careers, family life, and other major midlife shifts?

Let’s explore the potential benefits and pitfalls of different types of fasting and answer the burning question – is fasting right for me?


What is fasting?

Fasting is simply the practice of not eating food (and occasionally no drinks either) for a set amount of time. Fasts have been practiced in cultures all over the world for thousands of years for religious, ethical, and health reasons. The famous Greek physician Hippocrates recommended therapeutic fasting as far back as the 5th century BCE, and many medical systems rooted in traditional wisdom still incorporate fasting as part of treatment plans today.


What are the pros and cons of fasting?

Good cellular housekeeping

Modern-day science has been catching up with traditional wisdom around fasting to investigate exactly what happens in the body when we abstain from food for long periods.

One of the key discoveries is the way fasting acts like a switch for a process called autophagy – a form of cellular housekeeping. When switched on, autophagy allows cells to clear out misshapen proteins, deal with damaged bits of DNA, and remove harmful toxins. In this way, autophagy helps keep our cells functioning efficiently and may be associated with healthful aging.

Fat-burning and Weight Loss

Fasting for more than 12 hours pushes your body to start using substances called ketones for fuel, rather than glucose. Ketones are produced when fats are broken down. A study of obese women following a 16:8 fasting protocol (a 16-hour fast followed by an 8-hour eating window) for 3 months showed this was effective for reducing weight, Body Mass Index, waist circumference, and cardiovascular risk, even when food intake was not closely monitored.

Better blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity

Hormone changes during perimenopause and menopause can affect how well our cells respond to insulin, the hormone that carries sugars out of the bloodstream into cells. If we become insulin resistant, we end up with higher amounts of glucose in our blood which then gets stored as fat.

Fasting for 14 hours overnight and eating within a 10-hour eating window is effective at improving insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels within 12 weeks.

Reducing inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a major factor in nearly all chronic health conditions including arthritis, obesity, auto-immune conditions, and heart disease. Inflammation levels in the body are measured by tracking levels of certain biomarkers like C-reactive protein (CRP). A meta-analysis of human studies investigating the effects of fasting found that fasting can significantly lower CRP levels, particularly in overweight and obese individuals.

Boost brain health

There isn’t a huge amount of research in this area done on humans, but animal studies show promising effects of fasting for cognitive function and possible prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.


Possible side effects of fasting

Fasting certainly isn’t suitable for everyone, and we each have our capacity for managing fasts based on our health and what kind of lifestyle we live.

If we are under a lot of stress then fasting can make this worse as it adds additional physical stress. Equally, if we are handling stress well and don’t have any underlying health conditions, fasting can be a useful tool to use for weight balance, brain health, and healthy aging.

If you are new to fasting, start slowly and build up gradually – don’t jump straight in with a 14-hour fast! And if you start to experience unpleasant side effects, ease back on the length and frequency of your fasts.

Possible side effects of fasting include:

  • Hunger – this is the obvious one!
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Irritability and low mood
  • Dehydration
  • Insomnia
  • Bad breath

The risk of side effects can be minimized by staying hydrated with water and herbal teas and resting as much as possible during your fast.


5 Types of Fasting and How to Choose The Right One!

There are lots of different ways to approach fasting, depending on how often you want to do it and what kind of lifestyle you have. The benefits of fasting will be even greater if you can make healthful food choices on non-fast days, and always be mindful of how you are feeling day-to-day. If your menstrual cycle is giving you cramps and low energy, don’t fast that day. If menopausal insomnia is driving you nuts, don’t do anything longer than a 12-hour overnight fast. Always adapt the fasts to suit you and not the other way around.

Here’s our easy guide to different types of fasting.


Time Restricted Eating / Time Restricted Feeding

What is it? This is the most common type of fasting and involves eating regular meals within a specific time window. Versions include:

12:12 – fast overnight for 12 hours then eat meals within a 12-hour window.

14:10 – fast for 14 hours, eat meals within a 10-hour window.

16:8 – fast for 16 hours, eat meals within an 8-hour window.

Who is it good for? If you’re new to fasting a 12:12 fast is the easiest one to start with and can gradually be adapted to suit the longer fasting times. Because you are asleep for the majority of the fast and eating normal meals in the eating window, this type of fast is good for people who want all the benefits of fasting with simple, no-fuss fasting protocols.


Circadian Fasting

What is it? Circadian fasting involves aligning your meals with your natural 24-hour internal body clock. Typically, this means eating larger meals earlier in the day, and fasting during the evening and overnight when digestion is less active.

Who is it good for? People who are in tune with their daily rhythms and can adapt meals to suit the fast.


Alternate Day Fasting

What is it? Rather than fasting every day for a set amount of time, Alternate Day Fasting involves alternating between eating normally for one day and then reducing food intake to around 500 calories or abstaining from food completely on the next.

Who is it good for? People who have the discipline to stick to the protocol! It can be harder to fit in with social occasions or a busy work diary than Time-Restricted Feeding and may be too extreme for people who have busy and demanding lifestyles.


The 5:2 Diet

What is it? The 5:2 diet allows you to eat normally for 5 days a week and then fast or have a small meal of around 500 calories on 2 other days.

Who is it good for? People who want more flexibility than the Alternate Day Fasting.


Who shouldn’t fast?

Most healthy adults can safely practice a simple 12-hour overnight fast without any difficulties so long as they are eating normally during the day. However, longer fasts and intermittent fasts are not recommended for:

  • Diabetics and those at risk of hypoglycemia
  • Children and teenagers
  • Frail older adults
  • People recovering from illness or exhaustion
  • People with thyroid conditions, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, or immunodeficiency
  • During pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Anyone with or at risk of an eating disorder or binge eating
  • Those who are underweight or at risk of becoming underweight
  • People taking medications that require consistent and regular food intake

Managed carefully, fasting can be safe and effective but if you have any doubts about whether fasting is suitable for you, speak to your healthcare provider about it first.


5 Clever Tips to Help Your Good Food Habits Grow!

5 Clever Tips to Help Your Good Food Habits Grow!

Starting a Nutrition Plan, giving up caffeine or sugar, or even just quitting chocolate for Lent requires changing your habits around food. 

You have to think about meals in advance and be prepared to say no to foods you previously relied upon.


It can take up to 6 weeks for new habits to become firmly established in your life so it’s useful to have a few tricks up your sleeve to help those habits get a hold.

Get organised

As school teachers like to remind us, “failure to prepare is preparing to fail!” Plan your meals for the week ahead and only buy in what you need to make them. 

Keep healthy snack options like nuts, seeds and dried fruit in your car and desk drawer, carry a re-usable water bottle and keep a couple of herbal teabags with you ready for any unplanned brews.

Only change 1 thing at a time

It’s tempting to try and completely overhaul your meals because you want to feel better – now!  But this can lead to confusion and overwhelm.  Choose 1 thing (what you have for breakfast or what you drink each day) and stick with it for 7 days.  Then add something else to the mix.  This gives you chance to get used to each small change and helps them develop into regular habits.


Deal with Food Pushers

There is always someone saying “go on, just have a couple of biscuits, it won’t kill you!” and they’re right, it probably won’t. 

But it will derail all your good work and keep you trapped in the unhelpful old habits. 

So how to respond to these people?

Simply say: “no thank you, if I eat that I won’t feel well”.  Food pushers are often envious of your willpower and motivation and secretly wish they had the drive to make powerful positive changes to their wellbeing too.

Go off menu

Don’t be afraid to order off menu when eating out.  If you want to have grilled chicken, steamed vegetables and a baked potato but that exact combination is not on the menu, but chicken, side orders of veg and jacket potatoes are, ask if they can put it together for you.  If a dish comes with a creamy sauce and you’re dairy free, ask for no sauce.  Most restaurants are more than happy to help with reasonable requests like this.

Open sandwiches with colourful vegetables for good food habits.

Failsafe Meals

Keep a supply of frozen homemade soups, frozen vegetables and storecupboard staples like eggs, pesto, pasta, lentils, and tinned fish for when you’re too tired to cook anything complicated. 

You can soon put together a mackerel & pasta salad, soup and oatcakes or vegetable omelette to keep your energy levels up.

With a bit of forward planning and preparation you can help your new good food habits settle in and become part of your daily routine. And don’t worry if you have a bad day – this happens to us all, and it doesn’t mean your habits are broken completely. Just start again the next day. Positive change comes from repeated practise, so keep on keeping on and your habits will flourish.

Need more help? 

Click the link below to find out more about my 1-1 support plans tailored to your specific nutrition needs.

Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered

Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered


Perimenopause is a different experience for each of us, yet there are several common themes and questions.

Fortunately, nutrition and lifestyle medicine can be a big help at this time of transition.

From hot flushes and anxiety to low mood and vaginal dryness, making changes to what we eat and how we live can make a powerful difference during perimenopause.

This blog answers some common perimenopause questions, and you can find out more in my new book ‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause – What to eat to feel good and stay sane’ available from Amazon, YPD Books, Waterstones online, and Tullivers in York.


Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause - What to eat to feel good and stay sane book cover by Sally Duffin Perimenopause Nutritionist

Heavy Periods

Q. My periods are getting heavier and I’m starting to experience a lot more irritability and anxiety. I’ve just turned 41 – could this be perimenopause?

A. Yes. Some of the first signs of perimenopause are changes to moods, period frequency, and/or period flow. These can start happening in your mid to late 30s. However, many women don’t notice this if they’re taking the Pill or using hormonal implants.
Fluctuating oestrogen levels affect our brain just as much as the ovaries and womb lining. There are oestrogen receptors throughout the brain, and each area responds differently to changes in oestrogen levels. For example, if the amygdala doesn’t receive enough oestrogen we can feel more anxious and fearful. If the hypothalamus (our central temperature regulator) is affected we can experience hot flushes.

Try keeping track of your symptoms to see if they fit into any kind of monthly pattern. To help manage the anxiety. follow the tips below in the Q&A for Anxiety & Low Mood.

Heavy periods can increase your iron loss, so be mindful of regularly including iron-rich foods throughout your cycle:

– Haem iron (animal source) is the most bioavailable form for us to absorb and use, and is found in red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
– Non-haem iron is found in animal foods too, and also in vegetables – especially dark green leafy veg; pulses, dried fruits, nuts, wholegrains, and Blackstrap molasses. Combine vitamin C rich foods with non-haem iron sources to aid absorption.

Q. My periods are incredibly painful and heavy and I don’t want to take the Pill or have a coil fitted. Do I have to put up with this until after menopause?

A. Symptoms like this can be a sign of fibroids or endometriosis. Both conditions are influenced by oestrogen and hormone fluctuations. During the early stages of perimenopause we can be in a temporary state of oestrogen dominance. Because we stop ovulating every month, there’s very little progesterone produced to counter-balance oestrogen. Unfortunately it can take months, even years, for fibroids or endometriosis to be diagnosed as many doctors fail to recognise how serious the symptoms are. Ask for a referral to a gynaecologist who will be able to offer the right support and testing. It will also be helpful to get your iron levels checked to make sure the heavy periods aren’t depleting your iron stores.

Hot flushes

Q. Hot flushes are keeping me awake every night. I’m feeling exhausted all day, and having difficulty concentrating at work. What can I do?

A. Hot flushes are one of the most distressing perimenopausal symptoms. I can’t promise these tips will get rid of them completely but they can certainly reduce the severity and frequency:

– Minimise caffeine as much as possible. Avoid it altogether if you can! This means tea, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate. And decaff versions too – sensitive people can react to the trace amounts of caffeine left in decaffeinated drinks.

– Keep your blood sugar levels balanced by eating within 2 hours of waking, replacing refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, cakes, sweets, biscuits etc) with smaller portions of wholegrain versions, and only snacking if there’s a gap of more than 5hrs between meals.

– Try drinking sage tea or taking sage tablets or tincture. The A.Vogel ‘Menosan’ tablets and tincture are a licensed herbal remedy for managing hot flushes and sweats and can help with temperature regulation.

– Relax! Stress is a big trigger for hot flushes. We can’t always make stress go away but we can change how we respond to it. We can do this by building daily downtime into our schedules. This might mean going for a mindful walk, listening to music, following a guided meditation, doing crafts or creative writing, or simply soaking in a bath with essential oils. Mindful relaxation (as opposed to flopping in front of Netflix) is a great way to build our resilience to stress.

Anxiety & low mood

Q. Since starting perimenopause my moods have been really low. I feel anxious and depressed a lot of the time. I’m also really tired. Is this normal?

A. Mood swings and anxiety can be symptoms of perimenopause, but they can also be linked to other conditions. Have you had your thyroid checked? Depression and fatigue can be signs of an underactive thyroid. Many women start to experience thyroid issues around the time of menopause so it’s worth getting your thyroid hormome levels checked with your GP. Ask them to check your levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T4 and T3 (thyroid hormones) and thyroid antibodies. The thyroid antibodies are important because an underactive thyroid may be due to auto-immunity.

If your thyroid is OK, look at ways to manage the anxiety and depression and low energy:

– Follow the blood sugar balancing tips (see previous Q&A) as poor blood sugar balance can worsen mood swings.

– Include at least 3 servings each day of foods rich in magnesium and B-vitamins such as avocado, sweet potato, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, poultry, and eggs. These nutrients are vital for mood balance and energy levels.

– Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Our brains need 7-9hrs each night, with at least 1 hr of that before midnight. Aim to be in bed by 10.30pm-11pm to give yourself the opportunity for a good rest.

– Include mindful relaxation time each day. Yoga, journalling, mediation, spending time outdoors in natural surroundings, and crafts are all known to be beneficial for managing depression and anxiety.

– Swap regular tea and coffee for herbal teas that soothe and support the nervous system. Lemon balm, chamomile, oat straw, valerian, and lavendar are good options.


Q. I’ve been told to eat phytoestrogens. What are they and where can I find them?

A. Phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) are naturally occurring substances found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. They have a similar effect to human oestrogen, but are hundreds and hundreds of times weaker. They’re not a hormone replacement therapy by any means.  Instead, they have a modulating effect on our fluctuating oestrogen levels and may help reduce hot flushes and offer protection to our bones.

There are 3 types of phytoestrogens. The top food sources include:

  • Isoflavones found mainly in soybeans (edamame) and fermented soy products like tofu and miso. You can also find them in chickpeas, aduki beans, kidney beans, and red clover. Red clover seeds can be sprouted – try sprouting them alongside mung beans and alfalfa seeds.
  • Lignans flax seed is by far the richest source, followed by sesame seeds, broccoli, and cashew nuts.
  • Coumestans found in mung bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts.

Q. Is soy safe to eat? I’ve read so many conflicting things about it!

A. Soy foods certainly are a controversial subject! Unfortunately a lot of the research done on soy uses raw soy extract – not the natural wholefoods recommended for perimenopausal women. The soy foods suggested for perimenopause are the fermented soy products like tofu and miso, and whole cooked soy beans. These foods are part of the traditional diet in Far Eastern countries where women have far fewer menopausal issues. Having said that, no food is entirely suitable for everyone, and some people find soy difficult to digest. If you have any concerns about soy, give yourself peace of mind and enjoy other phytoestrogen foods instead.

Book Review – ‘Nutrition Brought to Life’ by Kirsten Chick

Book Review – ‘Nutrition Brought to Life’ by Kirsten Chick

Nutrition Brought to Life is the first book from holistic nutritional therapist Kirsten Chick – and it’s fantastic!

Written in Kirsten’s trademark accessible style, the book provides a firm grounding in natural nutrition, and how we can truly nourish ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Part 1 begins with the digestive system – the foundation of all health and wellbeing.  Kirsten then skillfully guides us through energy production, the highs and lows of sugar, managing our stress response, adrenal support, the gut microbiome, inflammation, immunity, “liver whispering” (brilliant!), hormone balancing, and creating our own personal action plan for health. Part 2 provides 50 different recipes; from soups and main meals, to nourishing smoothies, salads, and warming drinks, all designed to support optimum health and vitality.


Contents list for Nutrition Brought to Life

Each chapter includes a few reflective questions to help readers think about what they’ve just learnt, and how they can start making manageable changes for better health.

This isn’t just a book to flick through and put down; it’s a book that can help you transform how you nourish yourself, on every level, and get back in touch with what your body is telling you.

Kirsten has been working as a nutritional therapist since 2003, and combines private nutrition practice with teaching, writing, public speaking, and whizzing up recipes in her kitchen.  Her areas of expertise include fertility, pregnancy, cancer care, and general nutrition. She’s kindly agreed to let me include an excerpt of the book here so you can get a taster of what to expect…


Chapter 4

Sugar – the highs and lowdown

When life is sweet I don’t seem to crave so much sugar. I may enjoy sweet foods from time to time, but I don’t actively seek it out. When my mood or zest for life drop, when I feel let down, or when I feel like the ground has fallen away beneath me, my thoughts turn to sugar. It’s a pattern I learnt when I was very small, and reinforced with abandon as I grew up. It’s one I now smile at like an old friend I have drifted away from. We sometimes hang out for a brief while, but I spend more time with my other friends these days. They don’t challenge my insulin pathways so much.

Insulin and glucagon – balancing blood sugar

When you eat, your pancreas releases hormones that directly affect your energy pathways and fat levels. Remember that your pancreas sits near your stomach, and most of it is busy producing digestive enzymes to squirt into your small intestine.  A small section of it, however, has a specialist role in balancing blood sugar.

About 2-3% of your pancreas, an exotic resort called the Islets of Langerhans, releases blood sugar regulating hormones called insulin and glucagon, plus a moderating hormone called somatostatin.  These hormones then course through your bloodstream, with instructions for what to do with glucose, the sugar released from your latest meal or snack.

When you have high levels of glucose in your blood:

– insulin can trigger some of it to be sent into your cells to make ATP ‘energy batteries’

– any excess with be converted to a substance called glycogen in your liver, where you can keep a store cupboard of about a day’s supply

– if there’s still more glucose left over, insulin will turn it into fats, which are sent to your fat cells (aka adipose cells) for more long-term storage – this is how sugar can make you fat. 

Nutrition Brought to Life podcast


To carry on reading Nutrition Brought to Life order your copy today from one of the stockists listed on Kirsten’s website, or Amazon.  And listen along to the Nutrition Brought to Life podcast too!

You can find our more about Kirsten’s work at Connect with Nutrition and follow her on Twitter – @kirstenchick1

Oat & Apricot Fingers

Oat & Apricot Fingers

Oat & Apricot Fingers

These oaty bars are unbelievably easy to make and perfect for pack-ups or snacks.

The oats provide fibre and B-vitamins, while the apricots are a valuable source of plant-based iron and beta-carotene.  Nuts and seeds are packed with vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, and fibre; and if you opt for good quality dark chocolate you’ll be getting a bit more magnesium and some antioxidant polyphenols!


Oat and apricot fingers drizzled with chocolate

You will need:

8-10 dried apricots (opt for unsulphured apricots if you have sulphite sensitivities)

50g oats / gluten-free oats

30g of chopped mixed nuts and seeds

50ml water

30g dark or white chocolate

A greased and lined baking sheet

Oven set to 180*c

Here’s how to make them…

Soak the apricots in water for at least 3hrs until soft.  Drain, and puree them in a blender.

Put the oats in a saucepan with the apricot puree, 50ml water, and the chopped mixed nuts and seeds, mix them well and gently heat for a few minutes until the mixture is soft and mushy.

Grease and line a baking sheet.  Press the mixture evenly onto the sheet – it shouldn’t be too thick, about 1-1.5cms is about right.

Bake in the oven at 180*c for around 15mins, or until firmly set.

Remove from the oven and carve into fingers before it cools. One cooled, remove from the tray and set onto a cooling rack.

Melt the chocolate and drizzle it over the oat & apricot fingers.  Allow the chocolate to set (pop the fingers in the fridge to speed this bit up), then store them in an airtight tin.


For more recipe ideas and friendly nutrition chat follow me on Twitter and Facebook or hop over to the Facebook Group at