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Intermittent Fasting: The New Fitness King

Think of how many times you’ve heard the following phrases by so called experts:

“Eating many small meals throughout the day will increase your metabolism and is ideal for fat loss.”

“Never skip breakfast”

“Carbs after (insert random time) p.m. are prohibited if you’re trying to lose weight.”

What if I were to tell you that you can lose weight and get healthier –– easily –– ignoring this expert advice?

Enter the realm of intermittent fasting (or IF for short). This involves exactly what the name suggests –– extended periods of fasting with shorter periods of feeding. Long gone are the fad diets that strip a few pounds off of you, just to have them come roaring back afterwards.

Are you interested? You might be wondering, Why is intermittent fasting different than any other fad diet?

I want to address this first by saying that intermittent fasting is not a diet per se. To most of the population, the term dieting is associated with negative connotations of nibbling on chicken breasts and broccoli all day while being constantly hungry. At the most basic level, how do you lose weight? Caloric restriction. Why do literally all fad diets eventually fail? The human body cannot stay in an extended period of caloric restriction. You become constantly tired, lose motivation to exercise, and your metabolism becomes slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter.

We live in a society today in which food is readily available at all times. All we have to do is simply walk to the kitchen. In the most desperate of times, a ten- minute drive and a few dollars is all that stands between a typical American and a couple thousand calories. The likes of McDonalds and other fast food restaurants would have our hunter and gatherer ancestors envious. The human species evolved over millions of years with unintentional intermittent fasting. Wouldn’t this be the most efficient way to eat?

Well, how does it work?

Like all weight-loss efforts, caloric restriction is key. With intermittent fasting, all the calories you would normally consume are accounted for –– just in a shorter time period. There are many different methods of using intermittent fasting. The method you should use depends on your schedule and personal preference. One of the most popular protocols involves fasting every day for a certain period of time(we’ll say, 18 hours) followed by a small period of feeding(for this example we will say 6 hours) If your daily limit is 2,000 calories, many professional’s would tell you to eat five small 400 calorie meals throughout the day. You may eat these meals at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., and 7 p.m..

This is fine if you are OK with being constantly hungry all day because you never actually feel satisfied and full. With intermittent fasting, you would consume all 2,000 calories in the 6 hour period you are supposed to eat. For most people this would mean a 1,000 calorie lunch and a 1,000 calorie dinner. You actually get to feel FULL after eating!

Other protocols involve eating normally a certain number of days per week, and cutting calories on other days. A typical example of this would be eating 2,500 calories five days of the week, and only eating 1,000 calories twice per week. With this technique, you’re only actually dieting two days out of the week.

One of the greatest things about intermittent fasting is that off-limits foods do not exist. I’m not saying that you should go crazy and eat all the cake and ice cream you can handle. Of course lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts should be the staple of your diet because they have less calories and are more nutrient dense (in other words, they are real foods). As mentioned, total caloric intake is key here. It is much easier to overeat when you have all day, every day to eat than if you only have a few hours.

There is only one potential drawback of Intermittent Fasting (however, there is a silver lining). This is the hunger period. This is the last few hours of your fasting period, usually after you wake up, where your hunger will seem almost unbearable if you’re used to cramming your face with donuts, cereal, and other processed carbs first thing in the morning.

Fortunately, after settling into the IF style of eating, this can turn into an advantage. Once your body is adjusted to this, the hunger pangs begin to fade and you can actually turn this into a period of increased productivity. After doing this for awhile, you should notice an increase in focus during the fasting period. You no longer have to worry about cooking or even what you’re going to eat during this time, so you can focus attention elsewhere.

Now that you know what intermittent fasting is, let’s debunk some of the myths associated with dieting and intermittent fasting.

Eating frequently “fuels” your metabolism.

Every time I talk to someone trying to lose weight, they usually begin by announcing they have taken the first step towards healthy eating –– multiple small meals per day to really rev up their metabolism. This whole principle is based on the thermal effect of food, in other words, how many calories your body burns digesting the food you eat. What people don’t realize is that this is entirely based on how many calories you consume and has nothing to do with how often you eat. If you eat small meals constantly, your metabolism will be slightly elevated almost all the time. However, there is no actual difference than if you eat two huge meals per day, in which you get two large spikes in metabolism.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

After seeing this on almost every cereal box that I loved as a kid, I’ve come to believe that this is more of a marketing ploy than actual fact. There has been research that shows that people who eat breakfast, on average, weigh less than those who don’t. The cliche of “correlation does not equal causation” could not be more appropriate here. For the most part, people who do not eat breakfast are usually not as health-oriented as those who do.

This myth has been accepted by most as fact based on the premise that if you skip breakfast, you will over eat later in the day. If you typically eat 500 calories for breakfast and 500 calories for lunch, then skipping breakfast and eating 1,200 calories for lunch as well as a few snacks that you wouldn’t otherwise eat is obviously going to be detrimental. However, most people who skip breakfast would rather make up for it by going to the donut shop during their mid-morning break and eating an extra order of McNuggets for lunch. If this is the case, you should be more worried about your cholesterol levels than whether you’re eating breakfast or not.

Eating carbohydrates at night is bad for you.

This myth can be related to the previous paragraph on eating breakfast. Again, some research will show that those who eat more late at night will weigh more. These kinds of studies are uncontrolled with regard to actual calories consumed, and do nothing but suggest that those who do eat a surplus of carbohydrates late at night are not as health conscious as those who don’t. The physiological processes of your body do not differentiate between day and night; excess calories will be stored no matter what time you eat them.

These three myths, along with the surplus of readily available food, have contributed to our modern day dieting habits. Although intentions and willpower can go a long way in eating more healthily, your efforts can be made more fruitful through intermittent fasting. Maybe you enjoy nibbling on carrots and lettuce all day, always feeling hungry and never quite satisfied, in a measly attempt to fit into that size you wore in high school. For the rest of us who like to eat like champions, there’s intermittent fasting.

Jon Lundahl is an Exercise Science (Neuromechanics) Master’s student at the University of Mississippi. He works as a personal trainer at the Turner Center, as well as a graduate instructor and research assistant in the Health, Exercise Science, and Recreation Management Department. He is currently participating in a summer internship with the strength and conditioning staff at Georgia Tech.
E-mail Jon jalundah@go.olemiss.edu

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