What is Intermittent Fasting? Should I try it? Is it the right diet for me?
- Intermittent fasting is nothing new, all diets go through “cycles” where their theories pop up again under a different name 20 years later.
- There may be benefits to Intermittent Fasting for short periods of time, but this depends on the persons individual physiology and activity level.
- No single diet, training program, or supplement is a foolproof way to health or fat loss.
- Every single diet ever created, no matter how unscientific it is, works for at least ONE person in the world.
- ANY diet plan will work for fat loss if you adhere to the key principals:
- Consume less calories than you are expending
- Be consistent with whatever plan it is
- Base your diet on clean, healthy, natural foods and a lot of fresh water
- Your body is made to adapt to its current situation. You WILL reach a sticking point, at that point you have to either adjust the plan, or change directions in order to continue to make progress.
Intermittent Fasting (I.F.)
It’s been called the “hidden secret” of dieting. Foolproof. The “only way to diet”. Some “experts” even claim that it can reduce disease and even increase lifespan.
Fasting itself is the oldest form of dieting via calorie restriction, and is also one of the most ancient and widespread healing traditions in the world. Hippocrates (who is widely considered the father of modern medicine) prescribed and championed the practice of fasting, and the consumption of apple cider vinegar. Hippocrates wrote, “To eat when you are sick, is to feed your illness”. The ancient Greek writer and historian Plutarch agreed with Hippocrates. He wrote, “Instead of using medicine, better fast today”. Ancient Greek thinkers Plato and his student Aristotle were also staunch supporters of fasting. Since the beginning of the written word, there has been record that man has used fasting both to lose weight and to heal the human body.
How do I do it:
I.F. is a very simple technique, if you want to learn how to do it read below:
Fast during a certain period (i.e. Don’t eat, only drink water), one or more days of the week, or during a specific window every day while eating normally during another period. One version of this diet says that you should fast for two days out of the week and eat “normally” for five days out of the week. Another version is where you fast for 18 hours (i.e. from 6pm to 12pm the next day) and feast for 6 hours (i.e. from 12pm to 6pm). That’s it. Continue with your normal life, just stop eating for a period of time, and eat a lot for a shorter period of time. (I bet you thought this would be difficult, in theory no. In practice, yes.)
Benefits to I.F.:
One benefit, fasting itself may help a person get in touch with their natural sense of hunger (homeostatic hunger). When you fast, you feel what is known as “hunger pangs”, a feeling a person wouldn’t ordinarily feel if they were eating “normally” according to them. This “heightens” your sense of your own hunger. When a person becomes more aware of true hunger, they become less sensitive to emotional and social cues that stimulate eating (also known as hedonic or external hunger). One good example of this, mild thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger. By going through this process of intermittent fasting one can determine if they are actually hungry, or if they are thirsty and their brain is sending off false “hunger” signal to the rest of your body. Social cues are also a HUGE factor causing social hunger. (Has anyone ever watched a Carls Jr ad on TV and not felt your appetite start to bite away at your stomach?)
Another benefit to I.F. is the theory of change in the function of cells, genes and hormones. When you don’t eat for a longer period than your body is used to, your body initiates cellular repair processes and changes hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible (You may be familiar with the Ketogenic diet, the Adkins diet or the Smallman diet):
- Insulin levels: Blood levels of insulin drop significantly due to lack of blood sugar, which facilitates fat burning (your body switches from burning carbs to burning itself for energy, or “running off of ketones”).
- Human growth hormone: The blood levels of growth hormone have been reported to increase as much as 5-fold. Higher levels of this hormone facilitate fat burning and muscle gain, and have numerous other benefits.
- Cellular repair: The body induces important cellular repair processes, such as removing waste material such as ammonia from cells.
- Gene expression: There are reported beneficial changes in several genes and molecules related to longevity and protection against disease.
It must be noted that all positive I.F. research lacks a randomized population and control groups. In fact, not one randomized controlled trial has been published to date (2017), according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Again, that doesn’t mean the diet isn’t effective, it just means the typical gold standard form of research hasn’t been done yet. What has been done is referred to as “repeated observation under similar circumstance”. Basically, you see 10 guys at the gym doing the exact same thing and they all have the same result. This is also known as “bro science”
Cautions when fasting:
- Some I.F. diets encourage regular physical activity on fasting days. Keeping up with regular activity, despite the lowered calorie intake, may put you at risk for low blood sugar, dehydration, injury, and compromised immune function. You have to make sure to pay attention to your body and adjust your overall calorie intact and activity as needed. Also you should NEVER drive or operate heavy machinery without testing out a day of fasting in the safety of your own home.
- Fasting can be inappropriate for certain populations with medical or physiological issues. These include women (who are more sensitive to negative energy balances), people with type 1 diabetes, those with a history of eating disorders, people who take prescription medication, and anyone pregnant or breast feeding.
- In contrast, fasting can be beneficial for certain medical conditions or when following a plan such as the “Master Cleanse” (which has been in existence for 50 years). However, this kind of fasting should be closely monitored by a physician especially if medication is involved.
- It is very possible that some peoples metabolism simply cannot handle fasting, and will therefore crash before being able to reach the benefits of the diet. If this is the case, another option may be to focus on optimizing the fasting during sleep. One technique is developing a “closed refrigerator” rule, where you take your last bite of food about two hours before bedtime. This is important for two reasons.
- First, you are inactive towards the later evening. This means you will likely not immediately burn off the calories you consume then.
- Second, you may feel more refreshed and alert the next morning. This is because your body didn’t have to overwork itself by digesting the snack overnight.
The other tricky part with fasting is to make sure you eat enough quality, nutrient-dense food during the feasting period. Mind you, most diets recommend avoiding ALL vitamins, minerals, protein powders etc. This means your diet must consist of very nutrient and calorie dense foods to avoid a vitamin/mineral deficiency. This most certainly comes into play if you are a vegetarian who decides to try intermittent fasting.
When attempting I.F. it is very important to remain hydrated. You should be drinking enough water to keep all of your vital processes running properly. A good goal is at least 0.6oz of water per lb of bodyweight for the average person. If the person is athletic, regular table salt should be added to all foods to insure electrolyte balance.
Finally, and with all diets, it is important to get a full night’s sleep every night. This will not only keep you alert during the day but will also help keep your vital processes working properly. Anyone that has ever pulled an all-nighter in college knows the less sleep you get, the more you tend to eat to make up for it.
In conclusion, intermittent fasting may or may not be the right diet for you. The best approach may be to experiment and find what works best for you, your individual needs, genetics, body type, and goals. I personally do not agree with I.F. for athletic performance or general health, but I whole heartedly agree with yearly or even monthly brief fasting periods (Master Cleanse, Juice fast, Detox Tea) to improve metabolism and align your mind and body to work together and more efficiently.
Please remember, there has been some successful research to support safety and efficiency of intermittent fasting, but just like with any diet there are pros and cons. Whatever diet you choose, if it works for you continue to do so… more power to you! If you have, or are, currently seeing results with intermittent fasting by all means continue! If you are happy, feel great, and are experiencing benefits… keep doing what you’re doing. At its essence, the reason we all diet is to feel better about ourselves in one way or another. If it works, it works… don’t fix what’s not broken.
Kris Gunnars, BSc – Healthline.com, 8/16/2016
Kate Morin – DailyBurn.com, 6/10/2017
Roger Collier – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 7/11/2013