According to standard health advice, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Also, we should never skip meals and instead regularly eat small meals every three hours to maintain our blood sugar stable.
Almost all of the diet advice we get seems to have to do around what to eat and not eat.
– Eat protein
– Don’t eat saturated fats
– Eat breakfast
– Don’t eat gluten
But few people talk about exactly when we should eat. Oh I forgot, according to the advice of most diet gurus, we should eat more often, and never skip any meals.
But maybe your own personal experience just doesn’t fit with this modern diet advice.
Maybe you’ve found, like I have, that some time the best thing to eat is… nothing.
Maybe sometimes you are just not hungry in the morning. But yet, you’re told that skipping breakfast is one of the worst things you can do.
Maybe you feel better eating less often as opposed to following the standard advice of eating small meals every 2-3 hours.
Enter: Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is gaining popularity, even though it goes against standard dietary advice. The idea being that extending the daily fast, or occasionally skipping more than one meal in a row, can lead to some extraordinary health benefits.
IF is popular is some paleo and bodybuilding circles, where many people have found it useful to achieve the body of their dreams: low body fat with increased muscle growth.
Some of the researched benefits of IF include:
– Reduced blood lipids (decreased triglycerides and LDL cholesterol)
– Decreased body fat (and overall weight)
– Reduced blood pressure
– Reduced chronic inflammation (CRP, IL-6, TNF, BDNF, and more)
– Reduced oxidative stress
– Reduced risk of cancer
– Increased fat burning
– Increased growth hormone (in later stages of the fast)
– Improved appetite control
– Increased insulin sensitivity and decreased insulin levels
– Improved cardiovascular function
– Improved effectiveness of chemotherapy in cancer treatment
– Improved memory and cognitive function
All over the world, researchers are finding more and more benefits to calorie reduction and intermittent fasting. I will cover exactly why those benefits occur and describe them in more detail in future articles. But for now, let’s focus on the basics of IF.
Some of these benefits only occur after 20 hours of fasting, while others can be reached in as little as 12 hours of fasting. The more active you are in your fasting state, the more you are burning calories and therefore the fewer fasting hours you need to reach the same “fasted” stated.
But Isn’t Skipping Meals Unhealthy?
The type of fasting that counts as intermittent fasting essentially has to do with skipping meals rather than going on long, extended fasts.
Skipping breakfast even just a few times a week or fasting for 20 hours once a week all count as IF methods.
It may sound totally counterintuitive to think that skipping meals could give you more energy, help you lose weight, and prevent heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but because fasting appears to be so effective, more and more researchers are studying its benefits today.
One easy way to realize that IF can work starts by admitting that the standard advice given by nutritionists doesn’t work.
For decades now, nutritionists in America have been recommending to eat more frequent meals. In fact, it’s clear that Americans eat many of those small meals, judging by the ubiquity of protein bars, snack dispensers, smoothie bars, eating in the car, eating while walking, and other elements of the snacking habit.
But how is it working?
Many nations have traditionally looked down on snacking as a unhealthy habit. For example, in France, children are not encouraged to snack and traditionally, only three meals a day are consumed, with breakfast being more of a tiny snack (coffee and some bread or fruit) rather than a real sustaining meal. Yet, and in spite of eating rich food full of butter, obesity rates in France have always been much lower than in America.
Throughout history, eating two meals a day rather than three was the norm. In fact, one of the reasons why IF works is because our bodies are actually designed for fasting.
Throughout history, we’ve gracefully alternated between two states:
During the “fed” states, our bodies are digesting food and acquiring nutrients.
During the fasting state, our bodies are detoxing and regenerating, as well as burning excess calories and fat accumulated during the fed state.
One of the main reasons why we face many of the health problems we face today is because our bodies are constantly in the “fed” state, eating constantly, without giving our bodies a chance to utilize what it’s digesting and burn off the excess.
12 hours without food is enough to start experiencing some of the benefits of IF.
The Truth About Skipping Breakfast
We are told that skipping breakfast is dangerous and unhealthy. In fact, some research is showing that people who skip breakfast are at a higher risk for obesity and heart disease than breakfast eaters. (http://www.businessinsider.com/skipping-breakfast-can-kill-men-2013-7)
But why is that?
The truth is that there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about skipping breakfast, if you don’t need to eat that meal.
All the studies that showed that skipping breakfast leads to more health problems are studies of “association.”
Typically, men who skip skip breakfast are doing it because of late-night drinking and binging. Men who skip breakfast are more likely to smoke, drink, be sedentary, and work too much.
My father was a typical breakfast skipper, but I’m quite certain that it’s not his morning eating habits that killed him at the too young age of 63. Dad typically woke up really early (around 4 or 5 a.m.), had a couple cups of coffee, and didn’t eat anything until 11:00 or noon. His lunch wasn’t particularly healthy, and most nights for dinner he had spaghetti with meat sauce and too much wine, followed by a rich chocolate cake. He didn’t exercise, and didn’t eat many fruits and vegetables (if he ate them at all).
Breakfast eaters, maybe because they listen to health advice, tend to pay attention to other aspects of their health: like exercise and the quality of their diet. Those people eat breakfast because they are trying to do everything that’s right for their health. Are they healthy because breakfast is healthy or because it’s marketed as healthy and those health conscious people are eating breakfast, among other, mostly positive things?
When it comes to IF, there’s no right or wrong for everybody.
The idea is not that everybody should skip the morning meal, or fast 24 hours a day.
If I’ve discovered one thing about IF in my research about it over the last few years is that there’s not one “right” way to do it.
Many people will need to eat something in the morning. And in fact, I personally eat a morning meal a few times a week (but skip it about every other day). I go with how I feel.
A Few Ways to Follow Intermittent Fasting
There are a few ways to incorporate IF as part of your overall routine. Not all of those will work for you. But through experimentation you may find one that works.
1) No Breakfast Plan — In the early 1900s, Edward Dewey wrote a book called the “No-Breakfast Plan” where he presented a revolutionary approach to health. His book was filled with testimonies from people who had incredible recoveries of all kinds of diseases following his approach. And you guessed it: it was pretty simple, and simply involved skipping breakfast.
Skipping breakfast only means that you eat a “late” breakfast, because the word “breakfast” actually means breaking the “fast” of the night and therefore means your first meal of the day. Depending on when you wake up, you could spend a few hours fasting before you have that first meal.
You don’t need to skip breakfast every day to experience the benefits. Try it occasionally, when you feel the need for it at first.
2) The 8-Hour Diet — A new book now recommends this approach. It’s pretty simple: you only eat during an 8-hour period during the day. For example, you could have your first meal at 11 a.m. and finish eating by 7 p.m. That way, you would be fasting for 16 hours a day.
I tried this approach and found that it didn’t work for me at this point in my life. However, I can do a 10 hour day without problems.
3) The No-Dinner Plan — Some people skip dinner or eat a very early dinner (around 4 p.m.) instead of skipping breakfast, and rave about the results they are getting with this approach.
4) The weekly 24-hour fast. Instead, you could simply fast each week for 20 to 24 hours in a row. I find that fasting for about 20 to 22 hours works just as well as a full 24-hour fast.
5) The 5/2 Diet. This approach developed by a doctor who produced an interesting documentary called “Eat, Fast, and Live Longer.” Every week, you have two “fast” days where you consume about 400 calories only during the entire day. On the other days, you can eat as much as you want. As you can imagine, many people who have tried this approach lost weight and had other great health results.
I’m currently working on a book about Intermittent Fasting, and will therefore cover this topic more in the future.
For now… the question for you is: have you experimented with IF and what were your results?