So, the following convo is one I overheard in the locker room and it demonstrates the misconception about intermittent fasting and I’d like to debunk that with you. One day, I heard two girls chatting after a workout and it went something like this: (I am either coming up with a story for a dramatic depiction of my point or I was eavesdropping hardcore — I’ll let you decide which is true.)
Girl: “OMG this IF diet [Intermittent Fasting diet] is seriously the best thing ever! I am losing weight, feeling great and energized.”
Other girl: “STFU, really? I want to try this diet! Tell me more!”
Girl: “Like, [counting] calories don’t work for me, but IF totally does.”
First of all, let’s clear something up about Intermittent fasting… it’s not a diet. Reframe it in your head as a “schedule.” Intermittent Fasting refers to consistently eating on a schedule, not reducing calories or eating certain foods; however, sometimes a certain schedule will impact your total caloric impact, other times it will not.
Second, there is no “perfect” schedule. The right IF schedule is the one that works for you and your schedule. Me personally? My fast is generally from 1:30/2 to 3:30 a.m. on the weekdays. And 8/9 p.m. to 10 a.m. on the weekends.
The trick to Intermittent fasting is finding the right schedule.
Because there are a lot of different time frames and intermittent fasting diets out there (Warrior diet, 16/8 diet, 5:2 diet, “eat-stop-eat diet”) for the purpose for this article, we will define Intermittent fasting as:
[CROF] definition: eating between certain time frames and fasting the remainder of the 24 hour day.
But what is it? Why does it work? Wait, does it really work?
Glad you asked! There are a lot of recently found research that proves great things about intermittent fasting. Today I want to explain the science, and give you some facts before you decide if you want to intermittent fast! Let’s dig in.
For starters, before we get too nerdy about the science… consider your schedule…. Do you eat breakfast? Do you like to eat late dinners? If you have a steady work week that seldom varies? IF could work for you!
Hate breakfast? Don’t eat. I’m about to tell you why you probably don’t need it.
The SUPER POWERFUL hormone GHRELIN:
I knew I wanted to write about meal times and the importance of them, but, I didn’t know I’d stumble upon a great study featuring this key hormone. A 2017 study tested two calorie deficit groups. The first group ate 2 big meals a day, and the second ate 4 to 6 meals a day. Both groups were eating less than their bodies needed to maintain their weight, thus, weight loss would be an outcome.
As I’ve mentioned before to my #Daretoeat fat loss clients, it doesn’t matter WHEN you eat if fat loss is the goal, so long as you can hit your calories day in and day out. The study mentioned above holds true to this, however, it revealed that if you are pre-diabetic of Type 2 diabetic, you might want to consider eating fewer meals a day.
Why? Aside from finding that Gastric inhibitory peptides and fasting leptin decreased in both groups, it found that fasting ghrelin decreased more in the frequent meal eating group. Now, this is not ideal. WHY? What is ghrelin?
Ghrelin is produced in the stomach when the stomach is empty. The longer the stomach is empty, the more time ghrelin is present in the stomach. There are several benefits to ghrelin being present:
-ghrelin stimulates growth hormone
-it has positive effects on learning and memory
-influences muscle gain and fat loss via growth hormone stimulation
Not to mention, being in a fasted state involves no insulin spikes. Reducing the frequency that insulin is elevated in the body is ideal. With more stabilized levels of insulin, the body can work to reduce inflammation
So now that we understand what is happening between those meals. HOW the heck do you fast?
For starters, or for those of you who are used to eating multiple times a day remember, if fat loss is the goal, whatever allows YOU to hit calories is the first priority. But, if you’re concerned with stabilizing blood sugar and making use of ghrelin, and also aiding in digestion, consider spacing your meals out by 4 hours.
Back in my bodybuilding days, I didn’t worry about meal times much. I simply waited until I was pretty hungry, and ate. With my early morning schedule, this ended up looking like 4 meals a day. I got lean and had no issues.
However, after dealing with stomach issues I had to change some things and put more thought into my meal spacing. You see, the stomach needs roughly two hours and then the intestines also need two hours to process things. By spacing my meals out more, I gave my system a little more rest between processing my food. Plus, if you give your body time to digest, and your stomach to empty, ghrelin may be triggered and then the benefits mentioned above ensue.
For some people, they prefer one big meal in their IF schedule. Or example, if their personal calorie goal is 1800 calories, they are eating them all in one sitting. For others, like the study referenced above, maybe it’s two meals a day. In that case, you could do two 900 calorie meals. For others, like me for example, I may eat 3 to 4 meals, but within an 8 to 12-hour window.
Why 8 to 12 hours….? My primary goal for fasting is to give my digestive system at least a 12-hour break. If I eat within 12 hours, 12 hours will remain in the day. In a perfect world, I eat within 8 to 10 hours so that my tummy gets a longer break.
So is this for you? It depends on your schedule and goals.
There was a time when I was unable to fast. New to dating my boyfriend I enjoyed eating later dinner with him, but could not go without my 3:30 a.m. breakfast before busy mornings in fitness. My resolution? A mini-midday fast from 11 a.m. to 6/7 p.m. This way I got a short break from digesting, I could focus better in the late afternoon and it keep my calories in check.
“The biggest mistake people make with IF: they think they can have unlimited calories within their window”
Here’s the thing, the first time some people fast, they feel so good and empty that they don’t want to break the fast and eat, but, they are also pretty freaking hungry. When the first mealtime comes, they mistake of digging in and eating too much at their first meal because they fasted for too long and are starving. Then, three hours later they eat again and eat more than they need. Calories still count in IF. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article… it’s not a diet… we are talking about the benefits of an eating schedule, and the way that hormones act when the body is in a fasted state. Some refer to this as time-restricted feeding.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like to eat breakfast and prefer a big lunch and an early, moderate dinner IF is for you! The trickiest part about IF is figuring out when to exercise, and when to eat. Some of us (?, me included!) don’t always perform the best on an empty stomach, but others do!
It takes some trial and error to figure out what is best for you!
If your first meal is lunch, you could always eat lunch, workout at 4, and then eat dinner later. But, some research says that the benefits of training on an empty stomach while ghrelin stimulates growth hormone is beneficial. I say, if your goal is fat loss, workout and eat on a schedule that allows you to consistently hit your calorie and protein goals, and if your goal is to gain strength, get on a good program, eat within your goals and prioritize protein.
When we consider an eating schedule, some hardcore intermittent fasters may refer to this as a fast-mimicking diet… meaning that it’s not a true fast. Some people will fast two full days a week and then eat the other five days. Those hardcore fasters do not consider eating within an or 12-hour window true fasting. Others eat only 500 calories during those two days. It’s very personal.
The biggest things you need to know about IF is that ghrelin’s effect on growth hormone has been proven to enhance cognitive function and focus… thus, the brain may be sharper when you’re fasting. It’s also important to know the digestive benefits of allowing yourself / your digestive system 12 hours to relax, recoup and process your food.
Finally, it’s not a diet! It’s a schedule, and there’s no perfect way to do it! And one more thing, if you’re prediabetic, eat less frequent meals, and thus spiking blood sugar less frequently does have benefits.
If you’re giving it a try I’d love to hear about it! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
¹ Kojima M, Hosoda H, Date Y, Nakazato M, Matsuo H, Kangawa K (1999). “Ghrelin is a growth-hormone-releasing acylated peptide from stomach”. Nature 402 (6762): 656–60.doi:10.1038/45230. PMID 10604470.
² Diano S, Farr SA, Benoit SC, McNay EC, da Silva I, Horvath B, Gaskin FS, Nonaka N, Jaeger LB, Banks WA, Morley JE, Pinto S, Sherwin RS, Xu L, Yamada KA, Sleeman MW, Tschöp MH, Horvath TL (March 2006). “Ghrelin controls hippocampal spine synapse density and memory performance”. Nat. Neurosci. 9 (3): 381–8. doi:10.1038/nn1656. PMID 16491079.Lay summary – Science Blog.
³ Lutter M, Sakata I, Osborne-Lawrence S, et al. (June 2008). “The orexigenic hormone ghrelin defends against depressive symptoms of chronic stress”. Nat. Neurosci. 11 (7): 752–3.doi:10.1038/nn.2139. PMC 2765052. PMID 18552842.
PLoS One. 2017; 12(4): e0174820.Published online 2017 Apr 3. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0174820The effect of meal frequency in a reduced-energy regimen on the gastrointestinal and appetite hormones in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomised crossover study