Life in the fast lane: Intermittent Fasting, Part 1.
(scroll down to “Intermittent Fasting” section if you didn’t come for the previews)
Every time I start gathering my thoughts so I can chose a topic to write about, my mind sifts through to all of my favorite things regarding the intersection of science and fitness.
"Pretty laser pointers and chemical reactions,
PowerPoint presentations and biology classes,
Heavy new dumbells that make my arms screeaaammm
These are a few of my favorite thiiinnngsss"
Julie Andrews, if you're reading this, you're the queen.
Okay back to writing. The point of my lyrical musings is to say that while there are things I struggle with regarding confidence, nerdiness is NOT one of those things. 100% certified Urkel and loving it. That being said, I know that the things that interest me aren't necessarily the things that interest YOU, so I really enjoy and am happy to write about things that many of our JB community ask about. The recurring questions. The things that confuse us regarding diets and workouts. The things that can take us down emotional rabbit holes before we know it.
Back in November, I did a series on Ketogenic diets. I'll be honest, I was super amped to write the series because I got to spend a sufficient amount of time talking about the biochemistry and breakdown of macronutrients. Wait, did you just fall asleep on me?
OKAY FINE moving on. The point is that I was surprised to see how much feedback and further questions we got on that series. So, I put out some feelers regarding the idea of routinely reviewing popular trends regarding diet and exercise, and wowzers are you guys hungry for information. Do you understand what that makes you? 100% certified URKEL. I love you. Never stop wanting to learn. You're intelligent, capable, and curious. Wanting to make informed decisions regarding your health is always a great thing!
Intermittent Fasting (IF) diets are like the cat videos of the fitness world right now. They're everywhere and they may annoy you, but at the same time you still wanna see a little more of that cat-playing-the-synthesizer goodness because darnit, you're just curious. Or, you may be a person who shares them left and right with all your friends and family because you just can't stop preachin' dat cat gospel. Those would be my IF and Keto friends who love the lifestyle and food associated with those dieting strategies.
While IF is currently being explored as way to potentially manage the symptoms of chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease, as well as cancer, this research is still in its infancy. This means that while news linking IF to prevention of cancer and heart disease is gaining traction, these results are based on studies that still have large caveats to consider and confounding factors that make a lot of conclusions “iffy”, especially regarding human studies. This is very common in science and unfortunately the media gets hold of these early studies and before you know it everything is overstated, overconcluded, and causes chaos (speaking of which-if any of these reports on the news or internet use any phrasing to cause you to fear life or food, run away). Just because you saw that a group of researchers found that IF might decrease the risk of colon cancer does not mean that you are going to decrease your risk of colon cancer by IF. What I will say is that if you DO suffer from a chronic pathological condition, have implemented IF (or any other diet strategy), and feel BETTER in your body and mind, GOOD. FOR. YOU. I don't suffer from a chronic disease, but I can tell you that if I did and I wasn't getting any relief, and found that removing white bread alleviated my symptoms, you bet I'd give up Sister Schubert's.
The following is focused on utilizing IF strictly as an approach to fat loss. First we'll focus on what IF is, and in part 2 (later post this week) we’ll focus on things to consider and myths regarding IF.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an approach to eating that involves cycling through periods of fasting followed by a "feeding window" that lasts for a much shorter period of time. Obviously this description is super vague, but that’s because there are lots of different timing approaches that can be utilized for IF. Let's explore!
So how long is a "fasting period" on an IF diet?
Fasting periods of the most popular IF timing strategies range anywhere from 14-20 hours, allowing 4-10 hours for you to consume all of your calories for the day. This cycle of fasting and feeding can be repeated daily, every other day, two days in a row followed by one day of breakfast, lunch and dinner....there's really no single way to do it. I've seen some IF strategies that cycle between fasting for a full 24 hours followed by a day with no fasting (fasting every other day). There's really no single way to do it, but most fasts with popular IF strategies last at least 14 hours.
So let's say that you determine your fat loss calories to be 1500 per day, and you want to take an IF approach to eating with a 16 hour fasting window. This means that you would have 8 hours a day (24 minus 16) to consume 1500 calories. So, if you have your last meal at 8 p.m., you wouldn't eat anything until 12 p.m. the next day. Then you'd have between 12-8 p.m. to consume 1500 calories before fasting again.
IF itself is really not too complicated in terms of what the timing strategy is for fasting and feeding. What IS more complicated is whether or not you are attempting to incorporate exercise into your routine at the same time you are fasting, what you are consuming during your feeding window, and how your eating patterns on an IF diet can impact your social schedule. All of these things will be covered in part 2.
Can I consume anything, solid or liquid, during my fasting phase?
Water and black coffee are allowed. Jury's still out on artificially sweetened drinks like diet soda and sugar-free gum. Some IF'ers nix the sugar free soda and gum, some don't. The point is that when using IF solely for fat loss, chewing on a piece of sugar free gum during your fast isn't going to impede fat loss in comparison to your friend who is adamantly opposed to it during his fast. Why? Because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is calories, which brings us to the closing statements of tonight's post.
How does an IF diet lead to fat loss?
Fasting works like any other diet by having you cut calories. I said it in the Keto series and I'll say it again, if fat loss is your only goal, all that matters is that you are in a calorie deficit. Now, if you have GI issues, athletic performance concerns, want to be a bodybuilder, etc., obviously WHAT you’re eating is much more important than what time of day you choose to eat it. But back to fat loss: if you need to eat 1500 calories a day in order to lose fat, it doesn't matter if you divide those calories between 6 small meals a day or only eat them between the hours of 6-10 p.m. Your result in terms of fat loss will be the same either way. There is nothing magical about an IF diet that leads to more fat loss than any other diet. If you need to consume 1500 calories on your IF diet to lose fat and wind up eating 2000 calories instead after fasting, you will not lose fat. Tracking your calorie intake is the most significant factor regarding fat loss, regardless of whether you're fasting, keto-ing, whole 30 ing, whatever (I will do a later post on the effects of calorie restriction on metabolism). IF diets work for fat loss because at the end of the day, you wind up eating less calories than you expend. That's it.
The only reason you MAY lose fat a little more quickly on an IF diet versus other options has nothing to do with the fast, but more so because of time restraints of when you're allowed to eat. It’s easier for me to eat 1500 calories of healthy foods in 8 hours than it is to do in only 4. So it's completely possible that while you may have every intention of eating 1500 "good for you" calories (think whole foods, harder to digest) during your 4 hour feeding window, you may find that your stomach just can't handle that much volume in such a short time. As a result of stomach revolt, you may wind up eating only 1200 calories total, creating an even bigger calorie deficit than you had originally intended. This could result in a faster rate of fat loss.
Now that we know what IF is, in the next post we will cover some things to consider when choosing IF as a method for fat loss along with myths regarding an IF lifestyle. Teaser: fasting isn’t the worst thing in the world and it won’t destroy your metabolism. For now, it's time to park this baby in the garage for the night. All this talking about fasting has made me realize that I haven’t eaten anything in 2 hours. That means I totally should eat some dessert, yah?
**slowly backs away from computer as she heads to the refrigerator for some pie...end scene**