By Skyler Zarndt MS, ATC, CSCS
“Eat 6 small meals every day…It will speed up your metabolism!”
“Make sure to always eat a good breakfast…It will get your metabolism going!”
We’ve all heard these lines before. We’ve probably all spoken these words to someone before, as well. I know I have.
It makes sense, right? We go in a state of fasting (sleeping), so when we wake up, we need to “jump-start” our metabolism through a big breakfast. We haven’t eaten in 8 hours, I’m starving!
We usually don’t ever go 8 hours without eating. So it makes sense that we should eat when we wake up. And we should “graze” throughout the day. 5-6 small meals a day. Gotta keep the metabolic fire burning!!!
Plus, my personal trainer told me I should never skip breakfast. Oh, and I heard Oprah say it on her show once. Or maybe it was Ellen? Dr. Oz? Maury? (You are NOT the father!) I can’t remember…
But on second thought….
Do we really need to be eating 6 meals a day? Do we really need to eat a big breakfast every day? Well, some fairly recent research may be saying “no.”
Before we talk science, let’s think about this for a minute. Why do we eat so often? Why do we eat so much?
Well, a simple answer is “because we can.”
Food is everywhere. From a physiological standpoint, our body probably isn’t adjusted to the amount and type of food bombardment that we put it through everyday. From the standpoint of our ancestors, food hasn’t always been so prevalent and easy to obtain. We had to hunt. We had to gather. Eating 6 meals a day or eating breakfast everyday wasn’t an option.
So why do we need to eat like that now? The technology and abundance of our food has changed SO rapidly in the past 100 years, that there is no way that our physiology could possibly keep up. Our bodies are not adapted to eating like this.
But we do it because we can, and because it’s delicious. Food is awesome. Eating is amazing.
There may be some benefit to this whole INTERMITTENT FASTING trend.
So what is intermittent fasting? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s planned periods of not eating. Feasting at certain periods, and not eating during others. And there are multiple ways we can do this.
There is limited research at this time regarding fasting, and some of the research we DO have has been performed on animals, but we may still be able to draw some simple conclusions.
According to The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, as well as a paper published in Cell Metabolism, what we eat may not be as important as WHEN we eat. In my opinion, both are equally important, so don’t get too excited yet.
Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory and senior author of the paper states that “Our findings, however, suggest that regular eating times and fasting for a significant number of hours a day might be beneficial to our health.”
He also goes on to say “It’s a dogma that a high-fat diet leads to obesity and that we should eat frequently when we are awake.” This is ties in nicely with my position on high fat diets, and that eating fat isn’t the death sentence we were once told it was.
One of the main takeaways from this paper was that fasting can be beneficial because of its ability to help the body fight off the negative effects of eating unhealthy foods. Obviously this doesn’t mean we can eat whatever we want. However, it MAY help us live longer and healthier lives. And it’s as simple, as well, not eating…
But for many of us, we’re already on fairly regulated eating schedules. We wake up at a certain time and eat a certain food. Lunch is at 12 or 12:30. Snacks in between. Dinner at 6:30. We all know the hunger pangs that we encounter 30 minutes before we’re scheduled to eat. Our body assumes food is going to be presented into the system.
But something we need to remember is that TRUE hunger rarely occurs for most of us. And what we perceive as hunger ISN’T an emergency. We may feel ravenous, but from a medical standpoint, it’s not a cause for alarm. There is a difference between physical hunger and psychological hunger, and we often get these terms confused. Starving children in Africa experience physical hunger. You skipping breakfast isn’t quite the same. Remember that.
Also, eating is a privilege and a responsibility. I got this idea from Precision Nutrition. Just because WE CAN doesn’t mean that WE SHOULD. It’s the same as obtaining a driver’s license. It’s a privilege to drive. If you can’t pass the driving test and/or drive safely, that privilege gets revoked.
Eating should be viewed in a similar matter (I’m not saying we should take food away from fat people). But I am saying that having the ability to drive to the grocery store and get literally any type of food we want does NOT mean that we should eat whatever we want. Just because we CAN doesn’t mean we SHOULD. Take responsibility for what goes in your body. Not eating through fasting may actually help some of us understand this. When we actually are allowed to eat, we may be a little more thankful for the food, and we might also be a little more conscious about what put into our body.
So what are some proposed benefits to fasting?
- Normalizing INSULIN and LEPTIN sensitivity
- Normalizing GHRELIN levels – the hunger hormone
- Promoting HGH production
- Lowering triglyceride levels and improving other biomarkers of disease
- Reducing oxidative stress
There a few different options if you choose to try intermittent fasting. You obviously have to eat at some point, and research has shown that timing is important. So what are your options?
5:2 Intermittent Fasting Plan
- This is simply eating normally (but still healthy) for 5 days out of the week, and having 2, non-consecutive days for fasting. On fasting days, cut your total caloric intake to 1/4 of your normal calories.
Alternate Day Fasting
- This type of fast is exactly what it sounds like. You eat every other day. So essentially this could lead to fasting periods up to 36 hours (including sleep time) which may be difficult for some. This type of fasting is a little more extreme and may take much more of an “adjustment” period.
Fast and Feast Regularly
- This is a fairly simple diet pattern. Essentially, all you want to do is allow certain “windows” of time when you get all your calories. I like to simply skip breakfast (I’ll still have my coffee, possibly some Bulletproof coffee), and I won’t eat until lunch or late lunch. Then I just eat like I normally would for the rest of the day. I don’t do this everyday, but I feel great foregoing breakfast.
- This is probably the simplest of all. This is simply skipping a meal whenever you want or whenever it’s convenient. If you’re traveling, skip a meal. If you’re late to work in the morning, skip a meal. On a plane ride? Skip a meal. Simple stuff!
So now the question may arise, “is fasting for everyone?”
Well, probably not. For one, women and men WILL react differently to fasting. Women are much more sensitive from a hormonal standpoint than men. This is something to take into consideration.
Also, if you find that skipping meals makes you binge at other meals and you simply cannot control yourself, then you probably won’t do too well with fasting. If you need small meals throughout the day to stay on track and control your eating, then by all means, keep doing that.
Not all diets work for all people. Some people do very well with fasting. Some do well with ketogenic diets. Others can handle a higher amount of carbohydrates. Find out what works best for you.
Also, if you are trying to get massive and gain 50 pounds in 2 years, this diet probably won’t work well for your goals. If you want to get big, you have to eat big. Plain and simple.
But you need to experiment. You need to take responsibility for any results you’re trying to obtain. Nothing will work unless you do.
So if you’re looking to lose a little weight or maybe some lean mass, I would give intermittent fasting a shot. You might get a little hungry from time to time, but you also might find yourself getting some incredible results.
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4 thoughts on “What’s the Deal With Intermittent Fasting?”
We have seen first hand the potential benefits of intermittent fasting, but it’s also a double-edge sword, as it’ll backfire unless you coordinate your effort very carefully. If you consume food with little nutrient density, you will feel hungry all the time. If your sleep quality is bad, your metabolism won’t slow down properly. And if you work out more often, you will feel hungrier more often. Clearly, intermittent fasting is not just good or bad, and we haven’t got a hand to establish a safe protocol that one can follow yet.
Great article! However, I think you also missed a crucial point to raise. The inportance of contextualising our eating habbits with lifestyle. Whilst intermittent fasting has been proven to promote longevity this is under certain conditions. Namely that on the days of fasting the subject is not working obssessively, like so many of us do in the modern age. Therefore whilst diets like the 5:2 has convincing scientific evidence backing it- for the lay individual balancing the stresses that come with modern living- how successful would an approach be to obtaining optimum nutrition and longevity? My concern is that the body is unable to distinguish between different stressors. Thinking hypothetically- If individuals are fasting whilst also communting to work on busy public transport, whilst looking after children and working towards pressured work deadlines whats the added stress of fasting going to do to ones cortisol levels (as we know when under chronic stress, which i believe so many city dwellers are, cortisol is used to raise the blood glucose if insufficient food is consumed). I guess what I’m trying to say is, if one is going to fast, the fasting should not only be applied to what they’re eating, but also ‘fast’ with their activities too and take some time out.
Awesome insight! I totally agree with you. I did overlook lifestyle as a prerequisite for fasting diets. Every diet isn’t right for every person. Like I said, fasting works for some and doesn’t for others. Thanks for reading!