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.