Intermittent Fasting Is Not Magical
I've been in the health and fitness game for while now and I've pretty much seen it all. Diets. Training programmes. Pseudo-science claims. The lot.
With this have proceeded a number of popular ideas that everybody has heard before; but not necessarily in complete understanding of what they actually do. This is pretty dangerous when you think about it, as not knowing the ins and outs of an area such as nutrition and blindly following something can lead to bigger problems down the road.
No doubt you probably see it all of the time too.
People quite easily give up gluten but don’t actually know what gluten is or why it is deemed ‘bad for their health and progress’. Some people 'quit' gluten when they don't actually need to but result in a lower vitamin or fibre intake.
Or people jump onto a plant based diet without any education on nutrition and open themselves up to massive nutrient deficiencies. Just because they saw a documentary or follow a friend and became attached to an idea even if they don't truly believe in it.
People tend to fall into the trap of following a diet protocol because a) it sounds cool or b) their mate from the other end of the office did it without having the foggiest understanding or background knowledge to support their claims.
This brings me nicely on to one of the most popular diets to date - intermittent fasting (IF). You may have even heard the supposed health claims banded around at one point or another:
“Intermittent fasting stops insulin levels rising too high. It boosts your metabolism and it burns fat quicker than traditional dieting.”
Ohhhhhhh boy. Time to get into it and destroy some myths.
IF is not a mythical formula for fat-burning or health
For those who are unfamiliar with IF, the simplest way to describe it is by simply alternating windows of time that you are allowed to eat or drink.
The most common approaches are:
Feeding windows (e.g. you can only eat from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm)
Random meal skipping (skip breakfast Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Skip dinner Tuesday and Thursday.)
Alternate-day fasting (eat over a 24 hour period and then fast over a 24 hour period.)
So will IF stop insulin rising too high? Well if you have already read my post on insulin you’ll know that this doesn’t really matter in the grand context of dieting or fat-loss.
Will it boost your metabolism? Nope. Sorry.
Will IF burn fat quicker…? Here’s the facts. IF will work for you. As will any other diet that controls your calorie intake.
That means IF is just as effective as Slimming World or low carb dieting or low fat dieting.
So why would, should, could you do it?
As with every single diet strategy in existence it should be used if it can fit with your lifestyle, preferences and used as a tool to help you reach your goals.
You don’t feel hungry in the morning? Cool skip breakfast.
You don’t feel as hungry on the weekend? Cool. Skip a meal and eat when you feel hungry.
You don’t have the urge to eat after a training session? Cool, wait until later on to eat something or wait until the next day.
IF makes sense. Absolutely perfect sense if you think about it logically.
Take the most commonly used approach which is Martin Berkham’s Lean Gains method. For those unfamiliar with the process, you simply close your eating window to 8 hours per day. Thus it is commonly referred to as the 16/8 window.
An eating window of 12:00 pm until 8:00 pm.
Or 2:00 pm until 10:00 pm.
Also 9:00 am until 5:00 pm.
What you have done (possibly without even realising it) is that you have decreased the chances of consuming more calories than you expend.
That’s it. In essence you’ve skipped breakfast. Or dinner/dessert.
Which brings me on nicely to why I DO like it – it destroys typical paradigms of eating.
It re-programmes you to stop thinking that if you miss a meal you are going to die. As most of us have been raised on the notion that you must eat breakfast, lunch and dinner it educates you to challenge the traditional view on meal frequency.
I could list so many more ways that traditional views on eating keep you misinformed and ill-educated but I want to stay on topic. But for now, rest assured that you don’t have to eat breakfast even if its claimed to be the ‘most important meal of the day'. That is if you don't want to.
So I can change the way I eat if I wanted to?
Absolutely you can yes.
Total overall caloric intake is more important than meal timing and frequency. Technically you could eat a single meal per day and still gain weight if you ate too many calories.
Many of my clients have used IF to great effect in their mid-term dieting strategy and have lost a lot of fat.
On the flip-side I’ve also had clients who eat meals from 6:00 am right up until 8:00 pm and also lose a lot of body fat.
So the choice is up to you. Figure out your day and what will work best for you. Again:
IF should be used if it can fit with your lifestyle, preferences and used as a tool to help you reach your goals.
Remember the major point we just looked at and never forget overall energy balance.
The problem with IF is that if you skip say, breakfast, but then over-consume in the proceeding meals or days after the fact then you’ve completely wasted your time. You can't just skip a meal and say you are doing IF for fat-loss without actually accounting for overall energy balance. Sorry but it doesn’t work like that.
Oh and one last thing. You still need to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and an ample amount of protein. IF is not an excuse just to help you control how much you eat. You should always be consuming quality calories, especially when you are dieting and you are in desperate need of all the nutrients you can get. Because with a reduced calorie intake will result in a reduced nutrient intake.
IF is not magic. But if it works for you, then do it!
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