Intermittent Fasting: The Myths & The Facts
First it was a low-fat diet, then it was Paleo, then I.I.F.Y.M. (If It Fits Your Macros). There’s always a new eating regimen or diet gaining momentum in the world of health and wellness. One that’s been gaining a lot of steam as of late is intermittent fasting.
It’s become a buzzword in a community of people trying to lose weight, get in shape, or just live a healthier lifestyle in general. What’s difficult about any trend is finding truth in the wave of information that comes our way. Anyone with a blog, podcast, or social platform who feels like talking about intermittent fasting can do so without people challenging them on the facts. This leads to an onslaught of partially true, partially false information, and it can be overwhelming if you’re genuinely interested in the topic.
We’re here to help. After looking through information from articles, sources, and other research, we’ve nailed down some of the most important facts and biggest myths about intermittent fasting. By the time we’re through, you should have a much better understanding of what intermittent fasting is and what it can do for you.
WHAT INTERMITTENT FASTING IS & ISN’T
Intermittent fasting is NOT a diet; not in the traditional sense anyway. A diet, by definition, is simply the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eat. Paleo is a diet because it restricts you to meat, fruit, and veggies for the most part. I.I.F.Y.M. is a diet because, true to it’s title, you are trying to fit your food within certain macronutrient budgets.
Intermittent fasting, however, is just putting a time-frame on when you eat. There are several models of intermittent fasting, but in every case, there are certain windows of time when you do eat and other stretches of time when you don’t. The actual food that you eat isn’t the focus of an intermittent fasting regimen; it’s only your schedule of nutritional consumption that matters.
DIFFERENT MODELS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
• 16/8 Method: Famously called the Leangains method, in this model developed by Martin Berkhan, you fast for 16 hours, then feast for 8. It’s probably easiest to work your fasting around your sleep schedule since you’ll be sleeping for 8 hours anyway.
• 5/2 Method: In this model, you eat as you regularly would 5 out of the 7 days of the week, then fast on the other 2 days. Now, your “fasting” days aren’t true to the fasting definition, because you can eat up to 500-600 calories of food, rather than cutting off consumption completely.
• Eat-Stop-Eat Method: Popularized by fitness expert Brad Pilon, this model has you fasting for a full 24-hour cycle once or twice a week. For instance, if you ate dinner tonight, then waited to eat again until dinner time tomorrow, this would be your 24-hour fast.
There are even more variations of these methods, but these three should give you enough background to get a feel for how fasting works. In general, if you are letting yourself go 16+ hours without solid food, you can consider that a fast. If you do it regularly, you can consider yourself an intermittent faster.
BENEFITS OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
The truth is, there’s not a ton of research that has been done with humans, but with it’s increasing popularity, more studies should reveal more and more about what it can do for your body. Let’s take some time to highlight the things that we know based on the research that has occurred already.
• Fact: Insulin Levels Drop and Human Growth Hormone Increases
As your body enters a fasted state, the blood levels of insulin drop a ton and allow your body to burn fat more easily. Along with this fun fact, it could spike your levels of human growth hormone by as much as 3-14%—not a bad combo of fat-burning and muscle-building power!
• Myth: If You Fast, You Will Lose Weight
It doesn’t matter how long you fast for; if you’re breaking your fast (which is why the first meal of the day is called breakfast) by throwing down burgers, fries, and pieces of pizza, you’re probably not going to experience much progress. You still need to be a conscious eater once the fast ends. If you treat each feasting period like a cheat day, you’re canceling out any benefits your body gets from fasting. You still need to create a calorie deficit in your diet in order to lose weight.
• Fact: Intermittent Fasting Can Decrease Inflammation
Staying on an intermittent fasting regimen can actually decrease inflammation within your body, which can be a great long-term health benefit, preventing you from potential arthritis, GERD, and even some allergies. This may not be a show-stopping fact to focus on as you do your bicep curls, but it can be a game changer for the longevity of your health.
• Myth: Fasting Is Better than Snacking Throughout the Day, in Terms of Weight Loss
There are multiple studies that suggest that intermittent fasting has very little to do with weight loss over time. Weight loss comes down to having a consistent calorie deficit, so it doesn’t matter if you’re eating those calories all day long or just in a 4 to 8-hour window.
From the research that is out there, it looks like intermittent fasting does, in fact, have some benefits and advantages over other diet or eating regimens. But if you’re looking to use it as a tool to lose weight, this may not be for you. The benefits described above are more on a molecular level: lowering insulin, improving human growth hormone, and decreasing inflammation.
These won’t do much for your six pack, but it could be well worth the effort 5, 10, or 20 years from now. If you’re planning on playing the long game, intermittent fasting seems like a good bet. For some, this style of food consumption fits naturally into their lives. For others, it’s just too hard to make it work. Weigh the pros, cons, facts, and myths, and make the best decision for you and your health goals.
1) Heilbronn, L. K. (2005, January). Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15640462
2) Johnson, J. B. (2007, March). Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17291990/
3) Nuckols, G. (2016, October 16). The “Leangains” Intermittent Fasting Study Is Finally Here • Stronger by Science. Retrieved June 06, 2017, from https://www.strongerbyscience.com/intermittent-fasting-study/