No one food is good or bad. No one meal will make you fat. No one diet is the best diet. Such absolutist thinking is the reason why we are constantly told to eat a certain food or follow this diet in order to “get shredded in 6-weeks!” Unfortunately, fasting, more specifically Intermittent Fasting (IF), has become the new subject of such abuse, which is why I decided to write this post.
First of all, when talking about intermittent fasting, I think I should address that we, humans, have practiced fasting for many many years. Commonly associated with religious practices, fasting has been used for years to “make contact with supernatural forces.” Speaking of fasting, Ramadan just ended last week which is a month-long fast, dawn to sunset each day, practiced by the Islamic community. Outside of the religious practices, intermittent fasting has been commonly recommended or talked about especially for weight loss, which is what I wanted to discuss below.
I’ve mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, the fundamental principle of weight loss is the energy balance. In order to lose weight, one must be in a state of energy deficit (also known as the caloric deficit). Meaning, it doesn’t matter if such deficit is achieved by burning more calories (energy out) via exercise or consuming fewer calories (energy in) by eating less food. Adding further, it also doesn’t matter how you consume those calories as long as it’s in a deficit overall. What I’m essentially saying is that YES, you will probably lose weight by intermittent fasting. However, the weight loss isn’t necessarily achieved due to the “magical properties” of intermittent fasting, but rather, the simple fact of consuming fewer energy/calories overall by skipping a meal or two (or the whole day). There are plenty of researches that have shown and proven that neither intermittent or continuous energy restriction being superior to one another with respect to weight loss. Even during an intermittent fast, if you are in a caloric surplus you probably will gain weight!
So when should I intermittent fast?
“The ideal diet/program is the one that is sustainable.” If you’ve found intermittent fasting to be the solution then you should keep doing it. If ketogenic diet, another type of diet that’s gotten a huge interest recently and will write a post on it, is sustainable and provide results then that may be the diet you should continue to be on. Do you see where I’m getting at? What matters is the principles of dieting and the sustainability, not what the name and the protocol of the diet is. If you are used to not eating for several hours, don’t usually eat breakfast, often eat less frequent meals, or eat bigger portions, perhaps intermittent fasting is the option for you. It does not guarantee a weight loss or weight gain. It is simply a sustainable diet option to follow.
It is important to note that there is always a risk and reward to dieting. The reward is obviously the positive adaptation that you’re looking to achieve, such as weight loss. However, the risk, the negative in another term, is there as well. For example, the human body functions optimally in homeostasis (the body’s ability to self-regulate to maintain stability while adjusting to conditions) and by reducing the caloric intake during a diet the body can be put out of its homeostatic state. Since the body functions optimally in homeostasis, when it’s out of such state, the bodily functions can suffer. What that means is that if you have a big meet, game, or tournament coming up where you want to perform at your best, you probably don’t want to be on a diet, weight loss nor weight gain, because then you’ll most likely be out of the homeostatic state. Don’t get me wrong, for sports that have weight-categories such as UFC, boxing, weightlifting, and more, they have to “cut” their weight near their competition day. With that said, many athletes performance end up suffering due to too extreme of a cut or improper planning/timing of the weight cut. The reward of making the weight may be achieved at the cost of the performance.
Lastly, it’s vital to point out that the body will do what seems necessary to survive. The human body will detect any stress or “threat” and will adapt accordingly. For example, if the body notices that there is lack of fuel, like on a caloric deficit, that may be interpreted as a threat. In result, the body may slow down its metabolic rate for its survival. Meaning, the body will burn less calories in order to keep its energy reserves for longer, like the fat reserves in the body. At this point, weight loss may not be so simple since the body simply doesn’t want to lose weight!
In summary, I believe that all diets can be beneficial, at the right time and place. Intermittent fasting is a method and only that, of achieving a certain goal. When it comes to weight loss, it is not superior to any other diets that accomplish energy restriction. With that said, it has been used as religious practices for years thus perhaps it may have some spiritual or psychological benefits (that is outside of my scope thus I have no factual information nor scientific evidence that support such benefits).