10 Things You Must Know About

Intermittent Fasting

... Read this before intermittent fasting!

Written by: Dr. Marc Morris Ph.D CSCS

Since intermittent fasting was introduced in the last decade, it has shaken up the health and fitness world. Being told to not eat for long periods of time is almost the exact opposite of what we were told to do before.

Despite this, intermittent fasting has stood the test of time. In this article, I will delve into ten crucial aspects of intermittent fasting.

Exploring its strengths and weaknesses, discussing who would benefit, and cautioning against who should steer clear.

Here’s ten things you should know about intermittent fasting, starting with…

#1 Autophagy

Every time I discuss fasting, people are curious to know the impact it has on the process of autophagy. Most proponents of intermittent fasting highlight this as a key benefit from abstaining from food, for longer periods of time.

Autophagy is the natural process your body undergoes to remove damaged or dysfunctional parts of a cell, and make repairs throughout the cell. This is the body’s way to replace old cells with newer, healthier cells.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to induce autophagy in animal studies. However, there isn’t enough evidence to tell whether or not this has a meaningful impact.

There are other factors like calorie restriction, exercise, and infection that have all triggered autophagy. 

This reality doesn’t erase the benefits of intermittent fasting, but before we get into that we must discuss the different types of fasting. 

#2 Not All Fasting

is The Same

Not all fasting methods are created equal, as they differ in fasting and feeding cycles, and the length of the fast.

First and foremost, a crucial piece of advice is to avoid "dry fasting," where you abstain from all fluids. This extreme approach can lead to severe dehydration and, in extreme cases, even death. It's vital to prioritize hydration during any fasting regimen. Some individuals have reported fasting from food for extended periods, even up to a year. However, this is not feasible with liquids alone. 

Let's delve into two popular fasting approaches:

16:8 or the "Lean Gains Method"

This method involves fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window, often before sleep. It's a daily practice that has gained popularity, offering flexibility in meal timing.

Alternate Day Fasting (ADF)

ADF includes complete or partial fasting on alternate days, with regular eating on non-fasting days. Some find this method promising, though personal preferences and adaptability play a significant role.

However, you need to approach fasting with a balanced perspective. While it has been successful for many, it’s important to consider the adjustment period. Any change in eating habits, especially those related to hunger and appetite, comes with an adjustment period. It's unrealistic to expect to immediately adjust the first time you try fasting.


#3 Magical Fat-loss Solution?

There’s a large group of intermittent fasting enthusiasts who think that if they fast for long enough, no amount of calories will affect them. Instead they believe that fat-loss is driven through hormones. 

The myth goes as follows: 

Fat gain is caused by hormones, mainly insulin secreted when we eat carbohydrates.

Since insulin is the “storage hormone” it is the key that unlocks the fat loss puzzle. By abstaining from food during a prolonged fasting period, they believe there is no increase in hormones, and no fat gain. 

However, this oversimplified narrative is far from accurate.

Changes in fat tissue are fundamentally an energy balance issue (calories in VS calories out), independent of hormonal fluctuations. The idea that abstaining from food on one day can offset overconsumption the next is a misleading oversimplification—it's still a checks and balances game.

As a nutrition coach, I appreciate the practical applications of fasting. However, it's crucial to debunk the myth surrounding its supposed exemption from the energy balance require for fat loss.

Understanding that fat loss is intricately tied to energy balance allows for a more informed and realistic approach to intermittent fasting as a part of a broader nutrition strategy.

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#4 Large VS Small Meals

Maintaining optimal health and wellness is a journey unique to each individual, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach. While one strategy may not universally work for everyone, understanding the underlying principles can help you find what works for you.

Take, for instance, the concept of meal frequency. Let's say you want to distribute 2,000 calories between 5 meals at 400 calories each, and eat more frequently. You’ll see similar impacts on your metabolism and body composition as if you at 1 meal at 2000 calories.

The key isn't about adhering to a rigid definition of what's "right"; it's about applying what works for you. Larger, less frequent meals may fit better with your lifestyle rather than smaller, more frequent meals, or vice versa.

However, it's essential to acknowledge that restricting your eating window may present practical limitations. Let's delve into those considerations. 

#5 Implications of

a Narrow Eating Window 

If you want to get leaner, gain muscle, and improve your energy levels, the key isn’t eating less. It's not about fewer calories, fewer carbohydrates and fats, or limiting your food intake. Instead, the focus should be on consuming as much as possible – loading up on quality nutrients and calories while still making progress. However, this can pose a significant challenge, especially when eating in a limited window of time.

Take protein, for example – a crucial part of your nutrition and fat-loss. It's highly satiating, and if you have a substantial goal like consuming 200 grams of protein, your eating window may need to be a minimum of 8 hours to accomplish that successfully.

For some, the stress of meeting such nutritional goals can be overwhelming, particularly if there's a lack of planning or a naturally weak appetite. Personally, I've never faced this issue, but for others, it can become problematic without proper planning.

Consider it this way – imagine you have a big test in an important class on Thursday. You might think you have plenty of time and plan to start cramming on Wednesday night. However, in practical terms, you're likely not going to start early enough, and you might not leave yourself enough time to adequately prepare.

Your approach to food is similar; you probably need more time to eat enough and prepare the right things. Being mindful of this is crucial. While it's not impossible to pull it off, it might require extra preparation and some trial and error to get it right.

#6 Athletes in Ramadan

For the most part, people have a choice before they try intermittent fasting. However, there are some groups of people that need to work intermittent fasting into their lives due to other reasons, like their religion. One fascinating case study from this perspective is athletes in Ramadan. 

During Ramadan, Muslims fast for 30 days from sunrise to sunset, restricting their eating window. This presents a unique challenge, especially for athletes with demanding training regimens. Surprisingly, peer-reviewed research indicates that these athletes successfully manage without significant impacts on their performance.

Amidst the challenge of fasting during rigorous athletic demands, these athletes have found strategies to optimize their nutrition within a time-restricted framework.

Key practices include:

  • Planning their training sessions around the meal window.
  • Ensuring they consume adequate protein, carbohydrates, and total calories during the feeding period.
  • Prioritizing convenient and easily digestible food sources to accommodate higher calorie intake in shorter time frames.
  • And maintaining proper control over sleep and recovery.

The experiences of Muslim athletes during Ramadan show that there is a way to work intermittent fasting into an active lifestyle. This scenario sheds light on the fact that, with planning, your athletic performance need not suffer.

#7 Dysfunctional Eating Patterns or History

If you've encountered challenges with your eating habits in the past, whether it be struggling with disordered eating or following a specific dietary pattern, or if you've received a legitimate eating disorder diagnosis, it's essential to carefully consider whether intermittent fasting is a suitable approach for you.

This is because eating outside of the window can be seen as inherently "bad" or "wrong." This approach has the potential to trigger past patterns that could negatively impact your relationship with food. It's a significant factor to take into account.

It's important to recognize that intermittent fasting is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it may not be suitable for everyone. Before starting intermittent fasting, especially if you have a history of eating disorders or related concerns, consulting with a healthcare professional is advised. It's important to prioritize your overall well-being and make choices that align with your individual health needs and circumstances.

#8 Not an All Access Free-for-All 

Eating in a limited time-frame doesn’t mean that you can eat anything and still reach your goals. Although operating within a limited eating window allows for a calorie buffer, it doesn't mean every dietary choice is consequence-free.

When you choose to confine your eating to a specific time frame, you do create a more lenient caloric allowance, which gives you some leeway for more high-calorie options. However, remember that this doesn't grant you a pass to ignore the importance of mindful food choices or the significance of macronutrients.

Indulging in whatever you please or neglecting the consideration of macronutrients can eventually catch up with you. Similar to how excess body fat can accumulate despite "eating healthy," the same holds true for intermittent fasting. It's entirely possible to erase the progress and benefits gained from fasting by making inappropriate food selections. So while intermittent fasting may give you more flexibility, you need to strike a balance between indulgence and choosing foods that will lead you towards your goals.

#9 Trying to Gain Muscle?

If your goal is to build muscle, a key focus of your nutritional strategy should be ensuring you're consuming enough calories. This can be challenging if you're either limiting your eating window or find it difficult to meet your caloric needs.

Certainly, it's possible to gain muscle while fasting— if you commit to rigorous training and meet your calorie and protein requirements, and muscle growth can occur. However, the restricted eating window associated with intermittent fasting might present challenges in adhering to the necessary calorie and protein intake.

In my opinion, muscle gain is a situation where the conventional approach of consistent nutrient intake throughout the day is the most beneficial. Attempting to build muscle while navigating a limited eating window could potentially make an already challenging process even more demanding.

Ultimately, achieving your muscle gain goals requires a thoughtful approach to nutrition that ensures you're not only training effectively but also providing your body with the necessary fuel it needs throughout the day.

#10 Female Sex Hormones

We’ve already discussed how intermittent fasting can affect your energy intake, primarily because it shortens your eating window. While this is the objective in many cases, it's crucial to emphasize the importance of maintaining sufficient energy intake, even when in a calorie deficit. This holds particularly true for females, as research indicates that low-energy diets can have more severe effects on them, largely attributed to hormonal shifts.

For females looking to conceive or enhance reproductive health, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, be wary of fasting. Even in phases of life where reproductive concerns are not a priority, such as post-menopause, intermittent fasting can still pose an additional stressor when managing caloric intake.

While intermittent fasting may work for some individuals, it is advisable to approach it with caution, especially considering its potential impact on hormonal balance and overall well-being.

In summary, these are the important points to consider before trying intermittent fasting. While extended fasting might not be a miraculous cure, it could be a valuable solution if you struggle with maintaining a calorie deficit, don't feel hungry in the morning, and prefer larger meals.

It's not a magic fix, but for many, it serves as a beneficial tool to help reach your goals.

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