What is intermittent fasting?
It is an eating pattern, that’s it. Far from being a diet or revolutionary fitness idea, it is an eating pattern that aims to create certain feeding and fasting zones throughout the day.
The reason we call it a fad is because there is no scientific basis suggesting its effectiveness long term, or demonstrating it having any sort of significant positive impact upon health, nothing that isn’t obvious at least.
What does it do?
Well, if you ask so-called fitness experts on Instagram and YouTube, it seems to help do everything from helping you lose weight to gaining muscle and some even claim it has positive effects on your brain and mental faculties!
What does it actually do though? It goes without saying that if you only have a small window throughout the day for eating, you’ll end up consuming less food on average, which leads to the following obvious conclusion: –
It is simply, for the most part, calorie restriction in a new package.
Yes, apparently the great secret behind losing weight, getting ‘ripped’ and becoming a zen master is; ‘just eat less’. Brilliant.
So at this point, I think we need to establish why you’re reading this. What are you trying to get out of Intermittent fasting?
Does it help with weight-loss?
Of course. One doesn’t need a degree in nutrition to know that eating less is a guaranteed way to lose weight. The question is, is it healthy? If weight loss is your only concern, eating less than your maintenance calories will let you lose weight fast. There are a few important reasons why this may not be desirable though: –
- Sustaining your current lifestyle or work-out regimen might become a strain as you are effectively asking your body to perform the same work-load with reduced fuel. Many I.F. programs recommend High Intensity Interval Training routines to speed up the weight-loss effect even though exercising at these intensities require considerable energy and strain.
- The mechanisms that kick in to quickly mobilize stored fat and resources because the body isn’t getting enough timely energy puts strain on your adrenals, thyroid and other important glands. Reliance on stimulants like caffeine increases just to get through the day, compounding the problem and adding to adrenal fatigue. It goes without saying that this also has a significant impact on your mental and emotional health (more on this below).
- While you may lose weight temporarily due to eating fewer calories, survival mechanisms in the body assume that you are in a state of famine and make provisions to gain and hold weight, mostly fat, the next time you get more calories in order to prepare the body for a future deficit. This effectively means that the only way to keep weight off in this state is to constantly be in a caloric deficit, which apart from being unsustainable, has some serious long term consequences.
Bottom-line: While calorie-restrictive Intermittent Fasting may help you lose weight temporarily, it is definitely not healthy.
But what if calories aren’t restricted? Well, apart from making it needlessly hard to get the same number of calories, the resulting factor would then become the source of the calories consumed within the feeding window. Part of the thinking that spawns the calorie-restriction/fasted training mentality is things like ‘calories in = calories out’, ‘eat less, do more’ and other over-simplified, outdated understandings of physiology and nutrition.
You might love to read: Read meat good or bad for health?
We hope most of you will agree that 100 calories from a doughnut is not the same as 100 calories from a banana. We also hope to discuss calorie sources in detail in a separate article but it should suffice to say for now that when checked for caloric intake but not source, Intermittent fasting should have no positive effect on weight.
Does it help with fitness, physical health and longevity?
There is some evidence to suggest that fasted, low intensity workouts (such as a walk or jog) have some endurance benefits. But since these involve eating right after, they’re not really the same thing as I.F.
Depending on the duration and how intermittent the fasting is, it should have no effect (best case) to a negative effect on health long-term. This is especially true when checked for other factors.
So I guess, we’ll just use this space to debunk some of the benefits of intermittent fasting touted by its supporters. Apparently;
- It raises levels of growth hormone (GH)
- Improves insulin sensitivity (you’re not eating, so obviously blood sugar and insulin will drop temporarily, what happens long-term though?)
- Aids cellular repair and gene expression.
While some of this Is true, the truth is that these effects have been observed in rats.
Yes, that’s right. If you closely examine any study supporting these claims, the test subjects were likely mice/rats. Considering the fact that we don’t have rodents in our readership, I think we can safely move on.
But not before acknowledging the long list of restrictions that are mentioned anytime someone with half a conscience recommends intermittent fasting. Here are some situations where proponents thoughtfully advise consulting a doctor before trying this fad:
- If you have diabetes
- Have problems with blood sugar regulation.
- Yeah, so much for the insulin claims.
- Have low blood pressure.
- Take medications.
- Are underweight.
- Have a history of eating disorders.
- Are a female who is trying to conceive.
- Are a female with a history of amenorrhea.
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Not to mention that you might not be able to perform mentally or physically until your body ‘adapts’.
Does this sound healthy to you?
Bottom-line: Intermittent Fasting might let you live longer, if you’re a rat.
Does it help with mental and emotional health?
If we may, this is where we’d like to get a bit serious.
As we’ve mentioned above, taxing your body with reduced calories can strain organs that produce certain hormones and create undesirable mental effects, moods swings and reduce general faculty.
But what’s more important is that the idea of Intermittent fasting can cause people to have a very unhealthy relationship with food. Constantly monitoring the time when you can eat and when you can’t, supressing hunger and feeling guilty for eating ‘outside the window’ even if you are eating good food. Does this sound healthy to you?
You might love to read: How to setup a home gym?
It is with good reason that people with a history of eating disorders are advised to stay away from such experiments.
Bottom-line: Apart from compromising your mental stability, Intermittent fasting might also give you an eating disorder.
Why do people claim all these benefits and how do they seem to get impressive results?
This is where we can attribute the term ‘Genius’ to Intermittent fasting, in that it is a great marketing ploy, distraction and sleight of hand.
Health and fitness is a multi-billion-dollar industry and there are new trends and fads being created every day. You might be wondering, how can fasting be monetized? Well it can’t. You can however sell supplements that assist/promote fasting and sell e-books and programs that tell you how to go about it.
The health, fitness and supplement industry also ties in with the bodybuilding/body aesthetics scene and key figures within the scene are the biggest influencers, endorsers and brand ambassadors. Competitive bodybuilding involves posing, flexing, tanning and yes fasting to starvation and dehydrating yourself before a show to get as much of a ‘dry, ripped’ look as possible. For those a bit more familiar with the scene, it also involves some questionable choices to get a look that will be judged favourably…
You might have guessed where we’re going with this. Yep, its steroids. We try hard not to be cynical but if you’ve ever looked at a picture in a magazine or a supplement container and thought, ‘wow, that’s an impressive physique!’, chances are it involved some sort of exogenous hormones. There are substances out there, that if you take them, the natural rules simply do not apply.
The considerable stigma behind steroid use (as well as it being illegal in some locations) means that star endorsers can never be honest about their use, despite the fact that if you’re well versed in physiology, it’s easy to see that many of these people have a fat-free-mass index far greater than is naturally achievable (source below).
So what do you do? How do you explain your results to people who wish to emulate you while at the same time take care of your commercial interests? You sell them whey protein, creatine and other supplements, training and fasting guides.
While some of these will produce results, they will never quite be the same and will not be adopted by everyone equally.
Then there are those who are just jumping on the bandwagon, propagating the current trend until the next fad comes along. Does any of this sound healthy to you?
Bottom-line: Results that are too good to be true, probably are.
If your diet requires you to fast to lose weight and remain healthy, perhaps it’s the diet that needs to change.
While this may be an unpopular opinion, it is true. The best science available suggests that you cannot out-train or out-fast a bad diet. Eating less saturated fat and cholesterol is undoubtedly better than eating more. However, it needs to be replaced with something long-term. For better or worse, we all need to eat. Might as well eat healthy.
This is an area normally reserved for studies used in the course of writing the article. However, as this is sort-of an opinion piece and there is no viable modern study on Intermittent Fasting (likely because fasting human subjects would trigger several human rights violations), I’d instead like to point to the following authoritative reference on human starvation: –
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment
The Biology of Human Starvation I & II – Dr. Ancil Keys
Fat-Free index source:- http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/research-review/fat-free-mass-index-in-users-and-nonusers-of-anabolic-androgen-steroids-research-review.html/
More information can be found with a simple search and I highly recommend you check them out if the subject interests you. These (starvation) experiments will likely never be repeated again due to human rights, making the study even more valuable.