WE DON’T EAT MONDAYS AND MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T EITHERGrant
A 3 Part Blog On The Growing Popularity Of Intermittent Fasting
In clinic conversation on Monday afternoons:
Client: “So what did you eat for lunch?”
TPA Practitioner: “Nothing.”
Client: “Too busy?”
TPA Practitioner: “Nope. I actually don’t eat on Mondays”
–long, awkward pause–
Client: “Are you crazy?”
If you have not yet heard of Intermittent Fasting (IF), we can assure you that you will. We exist in a society obsessed with weight loss, body image, and diet crazes. The difference here is, Intermittent Fasting is not a diet craze. It is a well researched approach to health that just happens to have weight loss (specifically fat loss) as one of its many benefits.
So what is intermittent fasting? The easiest definition is the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food for a pre-determined period of time.
I can read your mind. You are immediately saying “But I LOVE food. Why would I do that?” Or maybe you’re saying “Well that can’t possibly be healthy. I’ve always been taught to eat (insert number) of well balanced ‘healthy’ meals daily.” Or you’re finally saying “I can’t possibly not eat…I get hypoglycemic”. Well I will politely disagree with your negativity. Keep reading to find out why.
This blog is to show you that you absolutely CAN (and maybe should) try intermittent fasting, and the significant health benefits that we know so far trump any other ‘healthy eating’ methods you have previously tried.
Need to pique your interest more? Here is a short (and incomplete) list of some purported health benefits of IF:
- IF WILL help you lose body weight (specifically fat weight)
- IF will break down body fat as a preferential energy source
- IF has an effect on blood sugar and insulin levels and MAY impact Type 2 diabetes. It also decreases blood glucose levels.
- IF and eating lesser calories (a side effect of IF) helps extend lifespans in animal studies and may increase lifespans of humans as well
- IF may help with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases (see this excellent ted talk on this subject)
- IF increases autophagy – essentially the ‘garbage removal’ system of our cells
- IF can decrease whole body inflammation
- IF does NOT lower your metabolic rate provided it is not excessively long and not continuous
- IF has hormonal effects including increased growth hormone and glucoagon levels.
- IF will improve appetite control
- IF may impact effectiveness of chemotherapy positively
- IF may improve neurogenesis and neuronal plasticity (literally affecting your nerves positively)
- Again – it will make you more lean and decrease body fat.
Now you’re listening. This is part 1 of a 3 part blog on IF. This blog will explore some basics of IF and dispel some myths on the topic. Part 2 will delve deeper into the science of IF – those bored with this sort of thing can skip to blog 3 which will outline our personal experiences with IF and will include some tips on how to get started.
SO HOW EXACTLY DOES IT WORK: IF is really quite simple. You purposefully withhold food for a pre-determined amount of time. That’s it. Nothing else. No ‘diet’ or depriving yourself of your loved foods. For us, we stop eating Sunday night after dinner, then only drink net zero calorie items until dinner time Monday (this would include black coffee, green/herbal teas, lots of water).
WHY 24 HOURS?: There is some research suggesting that for the average person a 20-24 hour fast may have additional benefits to other forms of IF (more on this in blog 2). That said, other forms are great also. In reality we choose the once weekly 24 hour fast because it is simple, easy to remember, and surprisingly easy to perform after the initial few weeks of getting used to it. Further, as a method to decreased total lifetime calories, on average fasting a single 24 hour period will have a net decrease of roughly 10% of your weekly calories. You typically do eat more on your first meal when you start eating again, however that appears to be only about 400 calories, far less then the net loss from missing 24 hours of eating.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER FORMS? If you use Dr. Google and type in “Intermittent Fasting Regimen” you will find endless forms and advocates for each type saying theirs is the best. In truth, the one that is best is the one that works best for you. It’s really that simple. Common forms include:
- Alternate Day Fasting (ADF): 36 hour fast/12 hour feed window. So essentially you eat every other day.
- Leangains: Popularized by Martin Berkahn (known as a bit of a nutritional contrarian) in which you fast 16 hours, and eat within an 8 hour window. This DOES NOT MEAN JUST SKIP BREAKFAST. You are meant to exercise with high intensity a few times weekly often while fasted. He also utilizes some branch chain amino acids and promotes eating essentially as much as possible immediately post workout.
- Warrior Diet IF: This is a 20 hour fast/4 hour feed. You also workout in periods of under eating. In general you overeat purposefully at the end of the day.
- Eat/Stop/Eat: This is the method that Brad Pilon popularized in 2008 with his book (and also happens to be the method that we follow).
Is one far superior to the others? I don’t really think so. There are no good quality trials comparing one method to another. The average person will likely gain benefit from any of these methods provided they are followed appropriately.
Prior to starting IF I had a number of hesitations. Below are some important points to dispel the negative talk you likely have brewing intrinsically as you are saying “This sounds really interesting but there is no way that I could do this”.
PEOPLE CONFUSE FASTING WITH STARVATION/WASTING:
We ALL FAST EVERYDAY already. Do you sleep? Then you already intermittently fast. In fact breakfast literally means to break a fast! It just so happens that we have been conditioned that it should be first thing in the morning and that “it is the most important meal of the day!” There is little to support breakfast being more important than any other meal in healthy adults, and surprisingly that breakfast is even important at all!
Well how can that be? According to Brad Pilon (author of Eat. Stop. Eat), the food industry in the United States produces enough to provide each US citizen with 4000 calories/day! In a world of overconsumption, decreasing calories is not on the forefront of food industry marketing.
Further, a number of religions (Judaism with Yom Kippur, Muslims during Ramadan, Buddhists, and Baha’I as examples) have been fasting for centuries as part of their faith. THIS IS NOT NEW!!!
BUT I GET HUNGRY IF I DON’T EAT EVERY (INSERT NUMBER) OF HOURS:
For most, this is simply not true. People confuse psychological hunger with physical hunger. Humans exist in one of 2 states: the fed state (calorie positive) and the fasted state (calorie negative). After just 2-3 hours after eating when we get ‘hungry’ we are in fact still in a fed state. Many researchers view hunger as a learned reaction to a combination of different cues to eat (metabolic cues, social cues, environmental cues etc). We are literally addicted to eating! If we were not, we would only be hungry in a true fasted state with a physiologic need for greater calories. A large part of hunger is driven by hedonic hunger; pleasure based on food, taste, smell etc. Following this our entire lives, we are literally conditioned to eat regularly through learned habits. We ‘expect’ food. This is called ‘food entrainment’ where our bodies are trained to eat and more importantly we train ourselves when and where to be hungry. Does that mean this is the best practice for eating? I doubt it. Strip away all arguments pro and con and think of humans through an evolutionary lens. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors were not trained to eat 3 square meals a day with well spaced snacks in between. They likely went 24-72 hours at times between meals. I for one find it difficult to believe that because we are trained to eat pseudo-continuously that this method trumps centuries of human evolution. In fact, IF will help train your body to know the difference between true body hunger and head hunger.
NO REALLY……I GET THE SHAKES WHEN I DON’T EAT AND GET “HYPOGLYCEMIC”:
There is definitely a small portion of the population that fall into this category (diabetics as an obvious example). However, the proportion of the population that has diagnosed hypoglycemia is actually surprisingly small. The body is amazing at regulating blood sugar levels for the average person and as Brad Pilon notes throughout a typical fast up to 24 hours, your blood glucose is generally maintained within a healthy range of 70-140mg/dL (3.9-7.8mmol/L) provided you are otherwise healthy.
An interesting 2008 paper is of note in which researchers looked at young adults (medical students in fact) who claim to have a history of ‘shakiness’ or ‘irritability’ in the absence of food. The sample was small (8 subjects with self reported hypoglycemic episodes and 8 without as a comparison) but the researchers found that during a full 24 hour fast none of the subjects had actual documented hypoglycemia. The absolute lowest detected blood glucose level was 3.7mmol/L for any participant throughout the 24 hours. The group with self reported ‘hypoglycema’ actually had normal blood sugar levels throughout the fast when monitored, even when they stated they were feeling symptoms. Overall, provided there are no other co-morbid conditions (specifically metabolic condition) the majority of people are able to maintain their blood glucose in a normal range throughout a 24 hour fast. In fact, the conclusion of the paper states “Adults, despite subjective signs of hypoglycemia, can fast without any metabolic or endocrine derangement.” So what causes the ‘hypoglycemia?’ The researchers are unsure but suggest it could be due to anxiety and stress of not eating or in other words the fear of becoming hypoglycemic and not from low blood sugar at all!
BUT I’VE TRIED OTHER TYPES OF DIETS AND NONE SEEM TO WORK – I’LL JUST GIVE UP LIKE I HAVE IN THE PAST:
Again, IF is not meant to be viewed as a diet. We view it more as a health based intervention. What do you on the other days? You eat like you normally would! This is the best part of IF. We are HUGE advocates of healthy well balanced eating. IF is an addition to this, not a change to this. You are not going to ‘stop drinking lattes’, or ‘only eat carbs at such and such time’ or ‘carb cycle’ or ‘have a diet 50-70% protein’. We find these interventions intrusive! The best part of IF for us is that you never actually think about ‘dieting’ or restricting the things you enjoy. You simply happen to fast at certain times. You will even psychologically learn to enjoy the challenge!
So…..are you ready to jump into a prolonged period without food? I doubt it. And neither was I. In fact I LOVE food! As much or more then anyone I know. But I found the topic compelling enough to do a form of ‘self experiment’ on fasting and have been nothing but happy with the results (more in blog 3).
Like any other form of health related blog, this is not a prescription. Far from it. This is something that we do and we wanted to share with you some of the information to support it. There are obviously certain people who should not intermittently fast (more on that in blog 2 – specifically as it relates to some subgroups of women).
If you would like to learn more stay tuned for the next 2 blogs on IF. Or better yet, visit a naturopath or nutritionist with experience with IF to see how you can incorporate it into your life.