By: Dr. Keith Kantor
Some areas of the fitness and diet industry have misguided us into thinking that eating small meals throughout the day is the best way to lose weight and “keep our metabolism burning.” This type of eating can provide short-term weight loss, but typically ends up in weight gain if the diet protocol is broken. Eating all throughout the day causes fluctuations in insulin levels and it does not give the body a chance to learn how to use its own stored fat for fuel and energy. People who graze on mini meals may suffer from headaches, feelings of low blood sugar and intense hunger cravings, these symptoms are a result of training the body to use the food as a fuel source as opposed to fat stores.
Intermittent fasting has gained popularity due to its clinical success rates of long term weight reduction and its ability to improve and control the symptoms of chronic diseases like hypothyroid and type 2 diabetes. Those who train their body to use its own fat for fuel through intermittent fasting are also regulating hormone levels including insulin, and thyroid hormones.
Benefits of intermittent fasting include
Increased longevity, improved brain function, increased insulin regulation, stronger resistance to stress, improved satiety, benefits of endogenous hormone production and increased mental clarity. In addition to these benefits, The NeuroChem Journal released a study that linked intermittent fasting to improving the success rate of those in substance abuse rehabilitation programs, due to its ability to suppress the opiate receptors.
Concerns associated with Intermittent Fasting and Fitness
A popular yet dated statement that you may hear often is that you should never exercise on an empty stomach. They will go on to say that training on an empty stomach will cause muscle wasting, defeating the purpose of working out and performance will decline. None of these statements are necessarily true and they are even less so if you are well adapted to a healthy eating strategy, that includes high quality all natural proteins, healthy fats and fibrous carbohydrates.
Fasted exercise can actually result in better metabolic adaptations (which mean better performance down the line), improved muscle protein synthesis, and a higher anabolic response to post-workout feeding. This means your post workout meals will be used more efficiently to develop lean muscle then if you were not in a fasted state.
Studies on Muslim athletes during Ramadan show no effect on performance while fasting, as well as improved lipid values in those who exercise and fast rather than just fast. When you train in a fasted state, glycogen breakdown is blunted and more fat is burnt, leaving you more glycogen stores of energy in the tank for when you really need it and less body fat because you have trained your body to use that as its primary fuel source.
Improved Mental Clarity with Fasting
Some health experts recommend keeping a “healthy” high carbohydrate snack such as a granola bar or crackers with you in case you feel like you are experiencing sluggishness or mental fog, typically related to a drop in blood sugar. This snacking mentality is a band-aid and only trains your body to rely on re-feeding carbohydrates, instead of training your body to operate more efficiently and use its own fat for fuel, rather than constantly depending on re-feeding it with carbohydrates from snacking. One of the most common differences people report about fasting compared to grazing is the improvement of mental clarity and their ability to focus better.
We were originally made to hunt and gather, eating one time or no times per day simply due to less availability of food. It makes sense that our body thrives when intermittent fasting is practiced.
Getting started with intermittent fasting
Like any new program ease your way into fasting especially if you are very sensitive to having low blood sugar spells of hypoglycemia. Start out with a 16-hour fast and allow yourself to only consume food within an 8-hour window throughout the day. This typically means you either skip breakfast or dinner. To experience all of the hormonal benefits of intermittent fasting work your way into a 5-6 hour window of eating. Some programs recommend a 24-hour fast one time per week to reset the hormones, each person is individual and this may or may not be possible it is best to work into this protocol under the supervision of a health professional. It is especially important to notify your doctor about your plans if you are on any medications. Improvements can happen fairly quickly and your doctor may even need to cut back on the milligrams of your medications after you experience improvements.
Fasting works best with a reduced carbohydrate diet that is rich in fibrous carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits in addition to heart healthy fats from oils, nuts, seeds, quality meats, and avocados. All natural meats that do not contain any preservatives or chemicals are very important.
Meals should be hearty containing at least 4-6 ounces of all natural protein for women and 6-8 ounces for men, good sources include certified all natural steak, cold-water fish, all natural poultry, eggs, and all natural pork. Heart healthy fats from avocado, coconut oil, real butter, nuts, seeds or nut butters will improve satiety. In addition the high fiber and water content in the copious amounts of non starchy vegetables, including greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts and high fiber fruits like berries will further improve satiety. You should feel satisfied after eating not wanting more. All natural proteins and healthy fats are essential to feeling good on this type of program.
Intermittent Fasting and Women
Women may not see the same results as men with fasting and some experts recommend adding in non-intermittent fasting days to their program 2-4 days per month to avoiding plateaus and progress forward with results.
It is no coincidences that after you go off of a “mini meal or grazing diet plan” you gain weight or feel hungry all of the time. Instead, adopt a new way of eating by experimenting with intermittent fasting. This will train your body to use it’s own fat stores as its primary fuel source, resulting in less effort and more weight loss.