What is Intermittent Fasting?
Ever heard Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the cure to all evils? It will cure cancer. It will take inches off your waist. It will break cravings.
Well, not really. Certainly IF has some benefits for people’s nutritional practices but it’s not the cure of all evil and it still has to apply to some very important physiological laws.
First, let’s go over what IF actually is. The concept really isn’t that difficult. Fasting, simply means just not eating. The first thing that we should get out of the way is that it’s not a diet, it’s a pattern of eating--which depending on your definition of diet is exactly what a diet is anyways but we’ll let that slide.
Essentially, it’s a way of scheduling your eating into a smaller window of the day. It’s not fasting completely where we just don’t eat but fasting for a intermittent period of time to achieve certain benefits. The standard way of doing this is through a 16-fast followed by an eight hour eating window.
These benefits can be exhaustive. It can help you reduce caloric intake (lose weight), increase insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body and can help with blood sugar regulation.
The key with all of these benefits is putting the word ‘can’ before them. Yes, there can be some great benefits for sure but they aren’t always exclusive to IF. Let’s start with the most sexy of them--the idea that it can increase weight loss.
With IF, assuming you’re still going to be eating the same amount of food as you would be if you weren’t on IF, you would not be seeing any additional benefits for weight loss. Now if you did a quick Google search of this topic, I’m sure you might be questioning the validity of this article but hear me out. If weight loss occurs through being in a caloric deficit, (that is eating less calories than you are using through energy) where would the caloric deficit occur while eating on IF?
Sure, you might be losing or burning fat on the back end of your fast, but you would be gaining or storing fat during your eating window so how would that change.
The way that IF can help with fat loss however is by controlling the eating window so that when you are eating it feels more satiating than if you were to eat smaller meals throughout the day. Take myself for example. Dieting for a physique show, I’m in a caloric deficit. Eating 2,750 calories per day through a standard day, five square meals, I would likely not get as filling of meals I would typically be used to. I’d feel hungry...a lot. But what about if I fasted until say noon and stopped eating at 8 p.m. Then I would be able to eat the same amount of food in larger meals and potentially feel more full, right?
That’s how IF can work for dieting. Your eating window shrinks so feel more full and can diet easier. That’s why you might see articles on the internet claiming IF is the new cure for weight loss. If that person isn’t controlling calories, it’s likely they’re eating less calories through that eating window than they typically would and boom, weight loss!
This truthfully isn’t rocket science.
That being said, there are benefits such as increasing insulin sensitivity that can be extremely helpful. By being more insulin sensitive, we are able to better use what is the most powerful anabolic hormone in the human body. Sure, insulin can store some unwanted cells such as body fat in the form of excess glucose but if used properly, it can be great. When you lose that sensitivity though, it requires more and more carbohydrate to create an insulin response and then boom, you can become prediabetic or even diabetic.
Through IF though, you are able to reset or lower that insulin resistance through stretching long periods where your body is relying on glucose for energy. Through fasting for 16 hours or more, your body runs through its stored glucose as energy and then converts to using fat as energy which makes your body’s cells incredibly receptive to insulin once again, if presented the opportunity. It’s similar to not having ice cream for months on end before having a spoon full of vanilla ice cream and thinking it’s the greatest thing ever. Your body lost the taste for ice cream and then became incredibly receptive to the taste once again.
Similarly, IF can reduce inflammation within the body through once again the elimination of glucose within the body’s cells.
So is IF the best dietary practice for everyone and one everyone should follow?
No. Again, I’ll alway say that the best dietary practice is the one that works for you and that you can follow. If that means that you stop eating at 8 p.m and don’t eat again at noon because you’re working in the morning, then great IF works for you. But if you wake up in the morning and enjoy breakfast more than anything to get your day started and are busier throughout the day, it may not make sense to put off eating just for the sake of it.
There are plenty of different ideas you can implement for dieting and IF is just one. If it works for you, implement it. If not, just know it’s another tool in the tool box for the time you may want to use it.
A former journalist and sports blogger, I've turned my writing prowess and love of fitness and nutrition into a personal blog where you can find anything you are looking for on the world of health, nutrition and fitness.