I did a call-out recently, letting people know that I was running out of Q&As—!!!—so people needed to send me more, and in the midst of the deluge of replies I received, Ebony asked me about my thoughts on intermittent fasting.
I’m actually surprised I never blogged about it before.
Intermittent fasting is something I learned about from Martin of LeanGains, who I consider to be the expert on all things IF, literally years ago. Long before Men’s Health found his blog and basically decided to publish books based on the content therein.
Intermittent fasting is basically taking short breaks from eating—eating only during a designated window of time each day (like, say, only eating between 12 and 8) or eating only during certain days of the week. The idea is that you’ll burn more body fat during the time periods when you’re not eating, because you’re usually merely burning off the calories you’re consuming during the day instead of body fat. People who have a need to lose body fat without losing muscle for something like a fitness competition, where precision is necessary, find intermittent fasting to be ideal.
And, make no mistake about it, intermittent fasting requires precision. You can’t just say “it’s okay to eat whatever you want for 8 hours a day,” and spend the rest of the day eating cheetos. You still have to eat sufficient amounts of protein and dietary fat, and you still have to stay within your respective caloric range in order to lose weight. Too many carbs and too many calories will still result in the same problem, whether you’re fasting or not.
Does it result in weight loss? Absolutely. Spending time on Martin’s website will show you all the data you need to help you understand how and why and, because his site is a resource I trust and have trusted for years, I’m comfortable suggesting you read there for more information.
People like intermittent fasting because they like guidelines. Telling me I should only eat between these hours or that I “don’t have to worry about food on these days” helps people feel like they rules they can handle. Combine this with the fact that it’s more appealing to many people to eat a day’s worth of calories spread across two meals instead of three, and most people are sold. Eating a day’s worth of calories all in the span of 8 hours allows people space to eat their beloved snacks, eat the portion sizes they’re used to, and still lose body fat.
For me, however, that’s exactly the problem. I suspect that will also be the problem for many other people in my position, too.
As an emotional eater, a food addict, I’m very familiar with what it looks like to eat 1,000 calories in one sitting, with no regard for how it made me feel afterwards or how the habit impacted me. To the recovering food addict in me, this feels like binge-like behavior, and it makes me incredibly nervous. It feels like I’m validating behavior that I’d long associated with the habit that was the result of my initial weight gain.
Not only that, but as someone who had little self-control once upon a time, I’m not entirely certain I believe that intermittent fasting solves the problem that so many face nowadays: a predilection for unhealthy food, low in fiber, short on nutrients, so unfulfilling that it requires hefty portions to achieve satiety. Not to mention a sedentary lifestyle that diminishes quality of life, with even more consequences as you age.
I know that, because I’ll always be a “recovering food addict,” I have to be skeptical of anything that allows me to eat the foods that trigger my habit, or anything that allows me to eat the way I used to eat without consequence. I suspect this is the case for many people who consider this path.
Intermittent fasting requires a level of discipline that many people don’t have starting out. Making sure you stick to your designated amounts of protein, fat, and carbs; making sure you eat within that specific window of time; making sure you say “no” at the appropriate times when someone at the office offers you something you can’t have all require a level of discipline that many people don’t associate with food, and I’m not sure that’s something most people can learn within the confines of an intermittent fasting regimen.
One of my personal policies is to fix the foundation before we build anything new in a person’s life. And, if the foundation is built on a shaky understanding of the myriad ways proper nutrition impacts a persons ability to thrive, let alone survive, then everything built on top of that will be shaky as well. To extend the metaphor a bit more, if the foundation is impacted by habits that could interfere with the house staying solid and strong, it’s likely to crumble.
I don’t like temporary fixes, which is what most people use intermittent fasting for, so I don’t recommend it. I don’t like when people try to make an end run around the habits and choices that result in the weight gain they resent, so I don’t recommend it. Most importantly, I don’t like eating regimens that require you to change your life for it, instead of the person developing an eating regimen that seamlessly fits into their lives, so I definitely don’t recommend it to the average person. But, is it unhealthy? No. Can it result in weight loss? Yes. Is it going to help the average everyday non-fitness professional lose weight and keep it off? Likely not, and that’s why I simply don’t recommend it. It’s just not worth it.
Thank you so much for answering my question. I’ve always wanted to know your thoughts on it. For awhile I was doing intermittent fasting for weight loss and for my stomach and gut. I did see results in looking and feeling less heavy in my abdomen. I was also weightlifting, doing cardio at least 4 days a week, and cooking more meals.
I already have had issues with my liver and digestion at times can be a bit slow. So, eating close to bed time can make me feel bloated, nauseous, or just in pain. In the morning, I may not feel like eating at all.
I had to stop fasting because of medication that I am on for my liver requires me to not miss any meals.. Also, this medicine gives me hell of a ride on side effects. Which leaves me weak, dizzy, fatigued, depressed (even further), etc. Which ALSO has me in this funk about giving a crap about what I eat anymore and I have seem to have backslid into not so hood eating habits. Aaaand leaving hubby to fend for dinner. Dinner would equal take out. 🙁 Did I mention that I am also a recovering food addict? 🙁 🙁 🙁
So far, I haven’t gained weight or inches with the exception of a bloated stomach.
I’m almost done with this medicine and I had planned to go back to intermittent fasting AND clean eating for the sake of feeling normal in my body, stomach, and gut again. But now that I have read your response, you have me rethinking about how I view intermittent fasting.
*Forgive any typos. I’m mobile and Chrome gave me this tiny window to type in.
I’m so sorry to hear about your condition! I hope you get well soon 🙁
As for the rest, right, see? That’s why I get nervous when people who aren’t losing for fine tuning (like, say, fitness competitors) try to use IF for weight loss. There are certain basic principles that you have to figure out first before you do IF, because while IF WILL make you lose weight, you may not have the foundational knowledge to help you keep it off throughout varying stages in your life, and that makes it especially difficult in times of stress or shifts in lifestyle.
It’s okay to take the time to just workout and change the way you eat and, when you want to do that fine tuning, switch back over to IF if you like. I just think making sure your foundation is solid is vital from the giddy-up.
What do you think of the “8 Week Blood Sugar Diet”? Have you read it? It’s from a British doctor by the name of Michael Mosley. I do not know if this book is out in the US or not. I am always hovering on a pre-diabetic condition and Ireally want to change that. I am reading the book now and am planning on following his suggestions and then later the 5-2 diet plan which is also with intermittent fasting. I am new to your site. Have you any advice as far as nutrition and diabetes? For a start I have begun to avoid all rice, all pasta and white potatoes.
I think it’s scarcely different from what we talk about here. The book basically tells you to cut every single thing that could potentially spike your blood sugar, and basically leaves you eating mainly veggies and lean protein….which is basically how I encourage people to eat and the way I’ve eaten all this time. I have lots of advice! Look around, make yourself at home!
Hi Erika! I tried intermittent fasting before but stopped because of I believe hormonal issues. I did some research online and found out that IF is not really as effective for women because it toys with our hormones. The research is inconclusive for now and more studies need to be done. But as for my personal experience, I did lose weight with intermittent fasting for a while, but it felt like the devil took over during certain parts of my reproductive cycle. I didn’t think it was worth it to lose weight in exchange for being unhappy, so I stopped intermittent fasting. If more research is done and if there’s a way to do it better without these problems for women, I’ll probably do it again.
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