Intermittent fasting: A better way to eat, or just a fad?
January is that time of the year that many of the consistent gym goers know they will most likely have to wait for the treadmill a bit longer because there will be a plethora of new members anxious to get going on their new year’s resolutions. For many people, the perpetual cycle of trying to get their beach body back when spring comes around, often leads to trying the latest fad diet. Getting a new gym membership that will most likely not be used much after January. Is there any truth to any of these new diets? It’s likely that some of it is true, but why do many people struggle so much and have such a hard time staying on track? Intermittent fasting is not something new. It's not a fad diet and it may actually have many health benefits besides being easier to follow.
Fitness and nutrition is one of the most misunderstood and over complicated things that I see keeping people from becoming who or what they want themselves to be. Some people see it as a never ending battle and struggle with the “why” can’t I lose this weight or “why” can’t I meet my goals. Intermittent fasting may be a viable option to try if you are having problems with staying on track not to mention some studied health benefits to changing the way you eat.
First of all, Intermittent fasting is not new and can be argued that prior to the modern era that it is the way people would eat normally. The hunter gatherer generations didn’t wake up to a large carb loaded breakfast before starting their day. They also didn’t have easy access to large amounts of food as we do now. Most so-called diets are all spin offs of the same concepts but (IF) isn’t really even a diet so much as an eating pattern. Dr. Ted Naiman defines (IF) like this:
In the fed state, insulin is elevated, and this signals your body to store excess calories in your fat cells. In the presence of insulin, the burning of fat is halted, while the body burns glucose (from your last meal) instead. In the fasted state, insulin is low (while glucagon and growth hormone, opposing hormones to insulin, are elevated). The body starts mobilizing stored body fat from your fat cells and burning this fat for energy (instead of glucose). (Ted Naiman, 2016)
Intermittent Fasting is a widely known eating pattern that has some promising studies recently showing many health benefits for men especially like increased testosterone and growth hormone while keeping insulin levels low. Brad Pilon’s book “Eat Stop Eat” showed that a short term fasts of 24 hours induced growth hormone levels by a staggering 2000% in humans. (Pilon, 2013). On the other end, increased growth hormones a study published by the Journal of Metabolism showed that post prandial testosterone was decreased throughout the day and after every meal (RC & MJ, 2001). Eating all day may actually suppress your free testosterone; a key component for protein synthesis.
Besides increased testosterone and growth hormones the ability to burn fat can be very elusive for many people. The body is always in one of two states. You are either in the “Fed” state or “Fasted state.” When you are fed your body is producing insulin to store the excess calories not burned during the day; also during this process the body turns off the fat burning process and uses the glucose reserves as fuel. This is undesirable for anyone looking to lose weight. While in the fasted state the body turns on the fat burning process and insulin is kept to a minimum. If you keep you eating to a “window,” you can still get what you need without being in the FED state all the time Dr. Eenfelt, also known as the Diet Doctor says: “This tends to cause you to want to consume fewer calories than you expend – without hunger – and lose weight.” (Eenfeldt, 2013). To be clear, you still need to eat the required calories for you goals, but we are just going to consume all of them in our window of eating. We are all usually told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. My research has not shown this to be true and that meal timing has very little to do with actual weight loss. In a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they were able to prove that meal timing had no effect on weight loss (Dhurandhar, et al., 2014).
Fig 1. Showing the crossover point where the body stops using Glucose for energy and starts using fat. (Andrews, 1986)
We all live very busy lives these days while working jobs, raising kids, or trying to go back to school. If you stop to think about how much or your day is revolving around “what is for my next meal,” I started to think about how much time and energy I spent thinking about this. I have found in my journey that it is personally satisfying to be able to spend my time other ways then trying to keep up with my next meal. No I love to eat as much as the next person, but for me—this works!
There are some powerful arguments against intermittent fast and the biggest would be the loss of lean muscle mass due to the fasted state. I was unable to find any proof of this and instead found multiple studies showing the opposite including one from The university of Chicago that didn’t see any loss of mean mass in the participants. (Varady, 2013) The old saying that there is “More than one way to skin a cat,” I believe this to be true for weight loss and diet as well.
In the end calories are what matter, but this (IF) type of eating may not be for everyone. Some data gets a bit screwy with trying to build lean muscle mass while on a caloric deficit and or fasted. There is no “one size fits all method,’ and you should evaluate your own body and health before pursuing a lifestyle like this. Restricting calories can also lead to binge eating and ultimately over eating in the long run. You need to be able to make the best decisions for yourself and this might worth looking into if you are having trouble with weight loss or fitness goals.
Andrews, R. (1986). Precision Nutrition. Retrieved from All about intermittent fasting: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-intermittent-fasting
Dhurandhar, E. J., Dawson, J., Alcorn, A., Larsen, L. H., Thomas, E. A., Carde, M., . . . Allison, D. B. (2014). The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Conclusions.
Eenfeldt, D. (2013, March 13). Lose Weight by Achieving Optimal Ketosis. Retrieved from Diet Doctor: http://www.dietdoctor.com/lose-weight-by-achieving-optimal-ketosis
Pilon, B. (2013, Jun 11). Intermittent Fasting: five quick questions with fasting expert Brad Pilon. (R. Collier, Interviewer)
RC, H., & MJ, B. (2001). Postprandial changes in sex hormones after meals of different composition. Journal of Metabolism , Abstract.
Ted Naiman, M. (2016, July 16). Intermittent Fasting for Beginners. Retrieved from Diet Doctor: http://www.dietdoctor.com/intermittent-fasting
Varady, D. K. (2013, January 1). Metabolism, pp. 137-143.