I actually personally don’t consider Intermittent Fasting to be a “diet.”
It’s a meal timing. One that can be used with a variety of dietary preferences and macro breakdowns.
You can be Keto and use it. Or high carb and use it.
And it’s actually personally a meal timing strategy I’ve found not only useful but freeing over the years.
But as much as I personally enjoy it and find it to be a useful learning experience for many of my clients even if they don’t stick with it long-term, I don’t believe that Intermittent Fasting is right for everyone.
That’s why I want to discuss what Intermittent Fasting is and when and who may benefit from it so you can decide if it is right for you.
Because from our meal timing to our calorie intakes to our macro breakdown, the systems all have to work together to get us results.
And we have to be willing to adjust and change as our needs and goals change over time.
You may even find that things like Intermittent Fasting work for you to reach certain goals but fight against you when your goals or lifestyle change.
And we can’t be so married to something we aren’t open to shifting!
So before I dive into whether IF is right for you, I want to give a bit of background on what it is…
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
There are a few different types of Intermittent Fasting:
– Time Restricted Eating – A daily set eating window
– The 5:2 Method – Two days of a 500 calorie cap
– 24 Hour Fasts – Once to twice a week of a full 24 hour fast.
Basically Intermittent Fasting is restricting when you eat.
While there are different length fasts you can include, a very common form of IF is the 16/8 time restricted fast.
You will fast for 16 hours and then have an 8 hour eating window.
For many, this is really just skipping breakfast.
While technically you can skip any meal, the key is that you’re keeping all your meals into a specific shortened window each and every day.
If you do one of the other set ups, you may have a calorie allotment or full day you aren’t eating over just skipping a meal.
So Why Is Intermittent Fasting So Popular? What Are The Benefits?
Intermittent Fasting has gained mainstream attention over the years as not only a great thing to do for your health but also for fat loss.
And part of the reason why it became so popular is because people claimed you didn’t have to change what you were eating at all to see results.
You just had to ONLY eat within this set window and POOF magically the weight would melt off.
And having a set eating window does to some extent often help people get started losing weight – it creates a calorie deficit for many without them having to track just like cutting out a food group can often do with other forms of dieting.
It can help cut out mindless snacking and when you are restricted to only a set amount of time, it is easier to fill up when eating your daily calorie intake in a condensed period.
Plus for many it can feel more satisfying when in a calorie deficit to have this bigger meals over more frequent snacking. You can slightly get that “eat till you’re full” feeling.
Not to mention there simply isn’t as much meal planning to do which can make it easier to stick with the healthy habits.
So many find the simple lifestyle change sustainable while leading to the habits they need to lose weight.
From a more “scientific” perspective of why some believe IF to be so helpful for weight loss….
It is argued that it can promote stronger insulin sensitivity and increased growth hormone secretion – both of which also can help with gaining muscle, which in turn leads to better fat loss results.
The more we are able to focus on muscle mass retention, the less metabolic adaptations we suffer from as we lose weight. Muscle mass is metabolically costly, meaning it needs a lot of energy to be maintained.
In a deficit, we can often end up using muscle mass for fuel, especially if the deficit is too great.
So by promoting an anabolic environment we can prevent metabolic adaptations and burn more calorie at rest by promoting better muscle mass mention and growth!
It can also lead to better fat burning results, especially when at the end of a longer fast, part of why that 12-18 hours is recommended for IF. Some even argue it is especially helpful when you have that last little bit you want to lose off of stubborn areas.
The argument for this is that the low insulin levels reached during a fast, and the more time spent in this low insulin state, equates to a great time spent where fat can be mobilized from stubborn areas. And this state is different than the one seen with a low carb diet because triglycerides inhibit HSL or hormone sensitive lipase in a similar manner to insulin. HSL is basically activated to shuttle the fat out of the cell to be burned off.
But because of this fatty acid mobilization and the fact that some studies have shown fasting to increase specifically abdominal subcutaneous blood flow, the argument has been made that IF can promote better stubborn belly fat loss as well. Which may be a reason for women especially during menopause to consider trying IF while dialing in their macros as estrogen levels decreasing during menopause can lead to more stubborn belly fat accumulating.
And while many turn to fasting for the weight loss benefits, other benefits people tout with fasting include….
* Reduces your risk for cancer.
* Decreases triglycerides and LDL as well as cholesterol and inflammation markers.
* Reduces blood pressure.
* Improves cardiovascular function.
* Improves your brain functioning and can even help prevent conditions such as Parkinson’s, Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
But as we know, nothing is a magic pill.
And part of the benefits often associated with fasting studies have shown may be achieved by simply creating a deficit and then maintaining a healthy weight overall regardless of your meal timing.
We have to remember that one size doesn’t fit all….
So….What Are The Downsides?
Now a downside is NOT that your muscle will melt off if you miss a meal.
And you do NOT need to eat every two hours and 6 small meals a day to keep your metabolism humming.
And no, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day and you’re doomed if you skip it.
So in terms of huge negative consequences from fasting, I just don’t really see that there are any, especially when it comes to weight loss.
But that still does NOT mean it is a magic pill or right for you.
You can’t just eat whatever you want in whatever quantity you want just because you are only eating in a set window.
Macros and calories still matter.
If you dial those in, any meal timing that fits your lifestyle is going to work.
Forcing a meal timing that doesn’t fit your schedule or lifestyle will backfire no matter how magical it is even touted to be.
And that’s all too often the main reason why Intermittent Fasting doesn’t work for people.
They’re forcing a meal timing that isn’t realistic or sustainable for them and then they don’t know how to truly dial in their nutrition to match their needs and goals when they take out the restriction of an eating window.
If you train first thing in the morning, trying to fast until the afternoon probably won’t work out. And while you can make your eating window earlier, many don’t find that lifestyle sustainable as it means you’re eating dinner earlier than you’d like to maintain.
For others fasting ultimately results in overeating. They become so hungry they end up overeating even though it’s during a set window. And they find that their cravings increase.
So if you aren’t finding that fasting makes your life EASIER, there is no point in doing it. Especially because you can simply achieve the same benefits through a calorie deficit and by dialing in your macros.
And if fat loss isn’t your goal, fasting may NOT be the ideal meal schedule, especially if you aren’t training late enough in the day to break your fast before your workout.
While fasted training can potentially help our fat loss efforts, it may backfire when we are trying to gain muscle.
Having full glycogen stores to create that anabolic environment and help your body repair and rebuild can be key, especially if you’re a hard gainer or advanced lifter who won’t see those newbie gains. Gaining muscle is a slow process and for many of us it requires really creating the right environment and having fuel readily available.
Not to mention fasting may mean your energy levels are lower than ideal so you can’t push your training in the gym as hard as you’d like to create that progressive overload.
Now that being said, many will still love IF even while trying to build muscle.
So now the question is….
Should You Do Intermittent Fasting?
There are two main reasons I most often use it with clients:
1. To help them better understand their true hunger cues because so often we just get USED to eating at set times over really understanding what our body is telling us.
2. To work around their schedule to make hitting their macros and feeling full and satisfied easier.
If this meal timing feels right for you, great. Use it.
Everything we include in our lifestyle should be focused on our needs and goals.
And for many of us, fasting allows us to eat when we are hungry and maintain the macros and calories we need to feel fueled while seeing results.
It gives us a freedom to adjust our meals around whatever works even that day.
But whatever your fitness goal, no meal schedule is going to get you results if your calories and macros aren’t in line with your needs and goals.
You still need to focus on overall macros and calories for the day. If those aren’t in line, you’re not going to see results PERIOD.
You can still overeat eating within a small window.
So it isn’t some magic fat loss fix.
Not to mention, if your goal is gaining muscle, and you’ve found you’re really struggling, sticking with IF no matter how much you loved it for fat loss, may work against you.
Change requires change and you may find you need to adjust your meal timing to help make sure you’re creating that anabolic environment.
While this could just mean a pre-workout meal to break your fast instead of eating first thing after, you may find you do need to swap to a longer eating window and more meals.
The key is finding what works for your current needs and goals!
And ladies, you may find you respond differently to IF than you men do.
Studies have shown potentially fewer benefits from IF for women, and even more adverse effects in terms of adrenal stress and even muscle mass loss in pre-menopausal women.
So it may be good, if you aren’t naturally a meal skipper, to start with a shorter fast and only build up to a longer length if it feels right.
However, for females, because of the changes we go through in menopause, Intermittent Fasting may become a more useful tool as we get older. Because we can develop insulin resistance during menopause and lower estrogen levels can lead to more belly fat being gained, IF may be a nice complement to changes in our macros to help us avoid that dreaded menopausal weight gain.
The key with IF is to realize that our meal timing needs to match our needs and goals. Experiment to find what feels best for you. But realize results come from all systems being dialed in focused on what you need. And that meals your meal timing, calories and macros all need to work together and you need to be willing to adjust over time!
Ready to create the perfect lifestyle for YOUR needs and goals?