Intermittent fasting is one of the oldest and cheapest ways to restrict calories. You sidetrack expensive diet clubs, nutrition programs and complicated diet plans. However, every time I bring up the subject of fasting with clients, they look back in complete horror that I dare suggest such a thing. Immediately, the myths surrounding fasting are hurled back in my direction. It’s like people are appalled at the idea, and that restricting food for short periods of time will create immediate death!
The 5:2 diet created some intrigue around the idea of fasting for short periods and is used very successfully for a lot of people. The idea behind it is that they eat normally for 5 days of the week and fast for 2, eating only 500 calories on fasting days. On average, over the period of a week this creates a calorie deficit which enables people to lose weight.
Let me run through some of the myths surrounding Intermittent Fasting:
Starvation makes the body hold onto excess body fat
By skipping meals it’s commonly thought that your metabolism slows down, and your body is not burning calories like it should. Therefore, when you start eating again your body stores away more fat than usual resulting in more weight gain.
Actually, research was carried out using doubly labelled water which can assess how many calories a person is eating. When studies use “doubly labelled water to assess total 24 h energy expenditure (they) find that no difference between nibbling and gorging”. Bellisle et al. (1997)
Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that skipping meals increases your body chances of storing extra body fat.
Breakfast is really important to kickstart your metabolism
We have been conditioned to believe that you have to eat breakfast like a “King”. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you eat your calories, it’s the total amount of calories that will ascertain calorie surplus or deficit. If you are not hungry in the morning – do not eat. Eat when you are hungry.
The research says “A recommendation to eat (or skip) breakfast had no discernible effect on weight loss in free-living adults who were attempting to lose weight”. Dhurandhar et al. (2014)
Therefore, skipping breakfast won’t make you fat.
It’s better for your metabolism to eat smaller and often
Another commonly held myth is that meals broken into smaller and more frequent sittings encourage the body to burn more fat.
The research when comparing 3 meals a day to 6 meals says “We conclude that increasing meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss”. Cameron et al. (2010)
Therefore, meal frequency won’t affect your fat loss.
Fasting makes your body eat into muscle tissue
Within the fitness industry we work hard to gain the precious muscle which protects our metabolism and helps keeps us lean. The very thought of compromising this leaves some people aghast at the thought of fasting.
Research however says, “Less fat free mass was lost in response to intermittent calorie restriction versus daily calorie restriction. These findings suggest that these diets are equally as effective in decreasing body weight and fat mass although intermittent calorie restriction may be more effective for the retention of lean mass”. Varady (2011)
Therefore, intermittent fasting is better for retaining muscle than restricting calories on a day to day basis.
Fasting causes the body stress hormones to increase, which increases fat storage
We hear all too often that keeping cortisol levels low will help keep you leaner. Low calorie diets and restricting meals fall into this category.
Comparing 1 meals vs 3 meals, research says “1 meal per day led to a significant modification in body composition (fat mass decreased) and a significant decrease in cortisol concentrations”. State et al. (2007)
Therefore, 1 meal per day actually lowered fat mass and cortisol.
There are many different protocols that can be used with intermittent fasting. It can be used primarily as a way to restrict calories, and I use it with a lot of clients. Furthermore, it can be used as a flexible way to maintain your weight based on your unique lifestyle – you do what suits you. Fast on alternate days, 12 hour fasts, 16 hour fasts, 5:2, etc. There are many healthy way to fast which can all be designed safely around the individual client lifestyle and client body composition goals.
- It allows a guilt free way of enjoying social occasions and socially accepted meals.
- It’s perfect if you prefer larger sized meals less often.
- Perfect if you are not a breakfast/dinner eater.
- Suits busy individuals who are time pressured.
- Helps clients struggling with appetite as it takes pressure away from thoughts of food making it easier to lose weight.
I wouldn’t recommend fasting for pregnant women and if you are on medication it’s important to check with your doctor before embarking on this journey. Make sure that when you are setting up your intermittent fasting protocol that it is in line with your goals.