Intermittent Fasting…. ahhhh! It’s one of the hottest topics out there along with so many other diets but I would say intermittent fasting is something I am so regularly asked about.
So, as we start to talk about intermittent fasting I think we need to come back to that whole idea and understanding of diets just in general. Remember what diets do to our body. Now, diets teach you so much about how to lose weight but they don’t look at the whole individual you and that’s a big problem.
People will often say “well yeah, intermittent fasting works because you end up losing weight” …or they’ll say “you know what, Jenny Craig diet that works” or “this diet works because you end up losing weight”, but at the end of the day, weight should not be our only thing that we’re looking at to measure our health.
We want to look at the big picture here of overall metabolism. You’ve heard me talk about metabolism being the sum total of all chemical reactions in our body, and that affects everything. So, everything we do and all of our experiences in life affect our overall metabolism.
A lot of diets and restrictive programs focus entirely on getting you to a restricted level and not really focusing on how it’s going to play out on your emotions, how’s this going to play out on your personal life. They don’t care if you’re angry all the time because your mood is thrown all over the place, it’s all about just losing weight.
I care about your energy. I care about how it’s affecting your work… or, how it’s affecting your relationship and understanding how everything we’re doing really affects your whole life.
Now, weight loss is a very good side consequence- you’re going to feel better whenever you’re at a healthier weight – of course! However, you don’t need to have that as your main focus.
What is Intermittent Fasting and History
Well, there’s a lot of different ways that people go about this fasting. And quite frankly, you can take fasting all the way back to the Romans; we can blame it on them! The Romans would only eat one big meal every 24hours. They were really caught up on their whole digestive system. They felt that if you ate too often that was gluttony so they would eat one time a day. As time went and we got into the 17th century, people had to go to work during the day and they didn’t have the energy they needed during the day. So breakfast really busted on to the scene and it wasn’t this long fasting time. Then as time evolved we saw that we needed to eat a little bit more frequently.
I have seen with clients that whenever there is too frequent of fasting going on that’s out of the normal fasting your body needs ( and I’ll tell you what at the end of this as we get into the practical recommendations) it doesn’t sustain and over time there is more negative than positive gain.
When people get into all these intermittent fasting ideas, it really does harm the body long term. When I say the body, I’m not just talking about, “well, you can’t keep a healthy weight”, maybe some people can. A lot of people struggle to keep a healthy weight because it’s just like any other diet, it has to do with restriction and that’s very hard to sustain. In fact, less than 8 percent of people can actually sustain restrictive diets and programs. Intermittent Fasting falls into that same category because that’s what intermittent fasting is…restriction. You’re not being taught what to do. It’s teaching you what not to do…that’s not an overall healthy lifestyle.
Now, I’m not going to completely bag on Intermittent fasting the whole time and say it’s all thumbs down, there is some great stuff . I want to discuss two main types of intermittent fasting that maybe you have heard of.
2 Main Type of Intermittent Fasting
One of them is the 5 and 2. This is when for two consecutive days of the week you restrict your calories to under 500 calories and then the other 5 days you eat what is called a healthy calorie intake or caloric range (according to the diet), which for females is 2000 calories and males is 2500 calories. That’s the big overview, it gets a lot more detailed than that with the 5 and 2.
Another type of intermittent fasting is where they want you to get all of your nutrition and all of your calories in during an 8 hour period. And, then you fast for 16 hours and you continue to do this day after day, essentially.
The whole idea with this is they kind of go into ketosis. In other words, your body really is burning the fat and not just the glycogen that it’s typically running off from carbohydrates.
So, long term with both the 5 and 2 and then the 16 hour fast strategy…it really is about restriction. You’re going beyond what your body really needs.
Now, I do know that there are religions that do endorse different types of fasting and I want to be careful there to not step on anybody’s spiritual/religious beliefs. I’m talking about these main two types of intermittent fasting. I don’t want to make anyone mad, I just want you to be educated 🙂
So, in regards to these diets there is some good research. Let’s look at 3 different research articles:
1 Johns Hopkins link: Are There Any Proven Benefits to Fasting
2 Weight loss no different in restriction compared to fasting: Fasting vs. Other Restrictive Diet
3 Give your stomach a rest: Your Stomach Needs a Break
Ok. The first one comes from Johns Hopkins, Dr Mark Mattson, it’s a good article. He actually is saying that well, “maybe I’m for this” because “fasting is a challenge to your brain and we think that your brain reacts by activating adaptive stress responses that help it cope with disease.” In other words, it kind of gets the brain rocking and rolling and it’s that variation that’s good for the brain. Again, this is only looking at short term, not long term consideration.
Now, if you go down to the bottom of Mattson’s comments he makes the statement of “I hope it’s not a fad”. So, really, he’s saying yeah it looks like it can have some benefits but we really don’t know enough about it long term.
What I’ve seen long term is it will go really really well for a first few months, maybe six months and then it starts to create problems as just like any other restrictive diet taking that weight back.
Now the second article (Fasting vs. Other Restrictive Diet ) talks about how fasting and calorie control diets have no difference. Basically, they’re showing that it does the same thing, hence why I always say intermittent fasting is just another restrictive diet. It can have some good short-term benefits; you can lose some weight… for a little bit!
HUGE TAKEAWAY … One thing they noted in this second research article is the lack of adherence with the intermittent fasting. This means that people who were supposed to be strict with intermittent fasting actually really struggled to stay on track in their study. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT… it goes to show how unrealistic this is to maintain long term! Lack of adherence was what made the research questionable and maybe not so reliable/valid. This is typically what I see ALL THE TIME in diet/program research …whenever you’re trying to get fancy and only focus on restriction/calorie burning while trying to lose weight as fast as you can- that’s not a healthy lifestyle! This is why Intermittent Fasting can be dangerous.
To be totally fair…intermittent fasting can be effective if you use it for a short period of time and you have a very specific plan. The problem is that people will try to make this their new eating habits for the long term. That is very stressful on the body as it disrupts your circadian rhythm. In other words, your hormones are going to be way off. It’s going to throw off your energy levels throughout the day, your neural chemicals are going to be shifted.
Since we are talking hormones and physiological shift… let’s talk cortisol for a minute. Cortisol isn’t bad short term, it’s a stress response hormone, but long term in your body it’s not good. Cortisol tells your body you’re in survival mode, and so continued fasting like this longer than what your body really needs is essentially telling your body you’re in survival mode. Now, when your body feels like it’s in survival mode, your mood is going to shift. I hear that idea being “hangry” all the time – you’re hungry and you’re angry.
It goes beyond hangry. I’ve actually seen people who might be predisposed to depression or anxiety or other mental health issues really start to have problems whenever they’re doing intermittent fasting and that’s one of the bigger problems.
I’ll see them be able to lose some weight but then all of a sudden, they’re make comments like, “man, it was good for the first month or two and I felt great but now I’m feeling some depression coming on, now I’m feeling some anxiety coming on”. No, I’m not saying it’s going to happen with everyone but I have seen that happen far too often. I see this happen with a lot of diets for people. Far too often it ends up causing more overall problems in your life than it does solve many problems for you. So, when we’re talking intermittent fasting…we have to be careful!
Focus on Natural Fasting
I want to talk about this last article (Your Stomach Needs a Break). We are going to focus on giving your stomach rest. This is where I introduce you to the ” natural fast” that our bodies really do need in order to help a good circadian rhythm, and metabolism. A fast at night really does help and this is what I call the natural fast. If you think about the word breakfast, it means ‘break the night’s fast’, OK, and breakfast really did start , coming on the scene in the 17th century when people needed to have energy to go to work. Breakfast then really started to pick up and became in some areas a huge elaborate thing. But breakfast – of breaking the night’s fast – is telling us we do need to have that fast at night.
So what is the recommendation of how long we are naturally fasting at night?This third article it makes the point that you should go 12 hours every night without consuming any food. ….what I have found and what I propose in a Healthy Made Easy method in the research that I continue to do is about 10 hours, your gut really does need a break.
It’s not just about your gut, your whole body just needs that rest because your whole body is trying to revitalize and recover while you’re sleeping. If you eat later at night, which that’s why I do a whole conquer night eating course – it’s ramping up your thermic efficiency and your whole metabolism in your gut going or your blood flow is going down there and your whole body is not really able to recover because your blood flow is sent to one area of the body. This totally messes up sleep for so many people!
The most natural and sustainable recommendation… Get rid of intermittent fasting and let’s go with natural fasting. Give yourself 10-12 hours without eating at night. This is natural and will help your body truly revitalize!
Truth is, I went into studying intermittent fasting a few years ago with the idea that I really was wanting to believe it. Thinking that fasting has been around for hundreds of year it should be something that’s helpful…. is what I thought to myself. I’ve heard it in religion, I’ve heard it in history, there’s got to be something to it. And so, the more I looked into it though and the more and more I saw people coming to me having done intermittent fasting for quite a while, and it was always that same story of “Dr Drew, you know, I felt really good at first and then I started noticed my mood shifting, I started to notice weight coming back on. I started thinking I needed to restrict more and it caused all kinds of problems and it ended up causing more problems than not”. Objectively speaking, I don’t have any reason to “hate on it” because I’m not trying to sell you a pill or a supplement or something that goes against intermittent fasting.
I’m really trying to sell you on you. I’m trying to sell you on you in the sense of if you eat good food, you get in good movement, you take care of yourself you don’t need all these crazy things that people are trying to get you to go on. I think people do it with good intentions.
The big problem here is that all of this is really causing metabolic deficiency for a lot of people, which means it’s going to be harder later on for their thermic efficiency, or your body’s ability to burn calories to work. You want to be very careful, it can mess up your mood. This can cause problems in relationships.
I’ve really driven this point home, go with the natural fast!