Rishi Sunak fasts for 36 hours in a week: Is it a healthy practice?

Rishi Sunak fasts for 36 hours in a week: Is it a healthy practice?
06.02.2024

British PM Rishi Sunak fasts for 36 hours at the start of each week, surviving on a diet of water, tea, or black coffee from 5 pm on Sunday to 5 am on Tuesday. The 43-year-old believes this is part of a ‘balanced lifestyle’. What do experts say?

For many, Monday comes with an excuse to be less than perfect.

But that’s not the case with British prime minister Rishi Sunak, who can get through the start of the work week without all three meals.

The 43-year-old has undertaken a 36-hour fast at the beginning of every week, consuming only water, tea or black coffee – all this while running the country.

According to experts, this stringent diet might bring some health benefits.

Let’s take a closer look.

Rishi Sunak’s 36-hour fasting rule

Indian-origin British PM Rishi Sunak fasts for 36 hours at the start of each week. The protocol for this type of diet involves abstaining from all food and calorie-containing beverages for straight 36-hours, according to Marathon Handbook.

The PM survives on a diet of water, tea, or black coffee from 5 pm on Sunday to 5 am on Tuesday, a source close to Sunak told The Sunday Times. One of his friends told the outlet, “He is incredibly disciplined.”

“It’s remarkable really given that he is often on visits or doing PMQ prep on Monday. It’s a real testament to the discipline, focus, and determination that he shows in all aspects of his life and work,” a source said.

UK PM Rishi Sunak. Reuters File

Intermittent fasting is a type of diet that involves consuming meals at certain times and then restricting or avoiding food during other times. There are various versions or patterns for this type of fasting, such as 5:2 or 16:8 diet.

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Fasting allows the body to use stored body fat for energy, which can lead to weight loss.

‘An important discipline’

According to BBC News, Sunak believes fasting once a week is “an important discipline for me” as part of a “balanced lifestyle.” He tells the news channel, “I tend to try and do some fasting at the beginning of every week as part of a general balanced lifestyle but everyone will do this differently.”

The Prime Minister, who is also a famous teetotaller and enjoys his Peloton classes, admitted that he favours one session that is done to singer Britney Spears’ hits.

Sunak, who wakes up at 6 am, revealed that generally he prefers no breakfast at all or a small one which includes Greek yoghurt and blueberries.

However, the father-of-two is not without his vices. While speaking to the BBC, he admitted to having a “weakness for sugary things,” adding, “It means that I can then indulge myself in all the sugary treats I life for the rest of the week.”

Earlier, Sunday’s Times carried an article quoting his friend as saying that Sunak relies on the odd pastry to get him through the morning on other days.

Experts’ opinion

Though it may sound like a type of extreme routine, experts believe Rishi Sunak’s diet approach is “more stringent version of 5:2 diet,” in which people consume only 500 to 600 calories twice a week.

“In essence, what you’re doing is shifting the body from using fundamental carbohydrates for fuel towards using fat as a fuel over that 36-hour period,” The Guardian quoted Adam Collins, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Surrey, as saying.

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One of the top benefits of 36-hour fasting is weight loss. Marathon Handbook cited a review of 27 intermittent fasting dietary interventions found that all 27 studies resulted in weight loss of 0.8 per cent to 13.0 per cent with no serious consequences.

The BBC also quoted Clare Thornton-Wood, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, as saying intermittent fasting could help people lose weight but “it needs to go hand-in-hand with eating a healthy, balanced diet for the rest of the time.”

“If you then make up those calories by eating more on other days and eat whatever you like for the rest of the week, you actually won’t lose weight overall,” she added.

According to James Betts, professor of metabolic physiology at the University of Bath, while fasting could help with weight loss, it could also have less palatable effects, such as losing muscle.

“And you can tend to be a little physically inactive during the fast as well because you just don’t have the energy levels for that,” he told The Guardian.

According to Collins, 36-hour fasting could bring “metabolic flexibility” – the ability for the body to switch between fuels. He believes it can lead to “metabolic resilience,” helping to build the ability to cope with the pressures of modern diet and lifestyle.

Speaking about cognitive benefits, Betts told The Guardian, “What you’re waiting for is for ketones to kick in. Thirty-six hours [of fasting] is prolonged, but you’re just about to get to the bit where you might start to feel more alert and energised.”

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However, experts do believe this type of regime is not suitable for everyone, especially groups including children, teenagers, anyone with a history of eating disorders, with diabetes, or who is breastfeeding or pregnant.

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