The Simple Scoop on Intermittent Fasting!
Last week I posted my own personal transformation as a coach after experimenting with intermittent fasting. The blog gained quite a bit of traction and sparked curiosity among our readers. I promised that this week I would give you a simplified version of the “biological behind the scenes” to clear the air on whether IF was simply another fad or a truly effective approach.
Maybe you’ve been on the fence about trying IF yourself or your clients have inquired about it and you’re curious as to whether it’s effective or sustainable.
There’s a lot of confusion as to it’s validity so here’s the scoop.
The most common misconception assumed regarding intermittent fasting is that it’s only effective due to it’s restriction of calories and its starvation style approach. As a coach; I fell into this same belief pattern upon my initial introduction to the concept. My response to the coach who introduced me to IF was something along the lines of, “No shit that’s effective, you’re cutting out a massive amount of an individual’s calorie intake! Just watch – in a few weeks they’ll go into starvation mode and gain it all back and then some.”
Was I ever off the mark.
The lesson that I learned?
Measuring a concept based off your personal knowledge doesn’t always do it justice. In this situation my belief that calories in / calories out was the sole determinant of weight loss and weight gain led me to believe that the ONLY way intermittent fasting could prove effective was due to it’s reduction of calories which would equate to successful weight loss. This is the difference between correlation and causation. Intermittent fasting no doubt has the potential to reduce calories (I personally consume a surplus in a smaller feeding window) BUT that is NOT why it’s effective. Its effectiveness derives primarily from it’s progressive effect on hormones in the body that regulate the storage and use of body fat.
If you are stuck on why reducing calories and intermittent fasting could possibly be anything other than one and the same; riddle me this:
If jumping off a 1 FT wall 1000 times is undeniably different than jumping off a 1000 FT wall 1 time than would it be logical to assume that a 1-day reduction in 2100 calories be different than reducing calories by 300 per day (2100 calories over 7 days)? Logical is an understatement. Of course, they are different.
The primary difference long term between both modes of weight loss comes down to their relative impact on the metabolism. When calorie reduction as primary is employed, insulin levels may still remain elevated due to meal frequency / snacking / carbohydrate intake, etc which consequently compromises the body’s ability to access and utilize stored body fat for use as fuel. This results in the development of the infamous “starvation mode”. With limited or compromised access to its own fuel stores the body is forced to rely on the individual’s further consumption of food for energy. The usual feeling of hunger cravings sets in and one of two paths is usually traveled:
1. The individual caves in to the feelings of hunger ruining their progress thus far and potentially gaining back any weight lost and often a few pounds more (leading to the self blame game and lack of willpower shame experienced by so many people who have “failed” with their weight loss efforts).
2. The individual forges ahead and attempts to ignore the mental and physical discomfort they are experiencing. At this point the body perceives the inability to access stored fuel due to elevated insulin as an immediate threat to survival and responds by slowing down metabolic processes that are not of importance to the individual staying alive. Cue poor hair quality, development of brittle nails, mood swings, decreased energy levels, reduced sex drive, lacking motivation, poor sleep quality etc. These are all uncomfortable, yet all too common experiences had during diets as an individual’s body slows down the “non-essentials” to conserve energy relative to what it’s being provided.
So how does intermittent fasting elicit a different result?
First, it’s crucial to understand that the storage of excess body fat is a hormonal imbalance NOT a caloric imbalance.
Here’s the process:
- When food (especially carbohydrates / simple sugars) is consumed our insulin levels go up.
- Insulin is a STORAGE HORMONE.
- Some of the energy consumed is stored in the liver as glycogen while excess energy is stored in our fat cells.
- When we stop eating – insulin levels start to fall at which point this stored energy begins to be released.
- This means that we don’t need to constantly eat to feed ourselves during periods of fasting (Otherwise we would die while sleeping!) because we’re generating energy from the stored fuel that we have available.
Due to insulin’s role as a storage hormone; when insulin is elevated we can not burn the fat that we have stored. Body fat is burned as fuel when insulin levels are lowered. Therefore, running on a treadmill to mitigate the negative effects of having consumed a box of cookies would be the literal definition of an exercise in futility.
Think of sugar / glycogen as you would money in your wallet. Money in your wallet is easy to access BUT you can only store limited amounts.
Think of fat as you would money in the bank. You essentially have unlimited amounts of storage BUT it’s not as easy to obtain access to.
If every few hours I put a wad of $20 bills in your wallet you would have very little motivation to go to the bank to withdraw your own saved money.
Similarly; if you are continuously consuming small amounts of food throughout the day it would be irrational to assume your body would NEED TO, let alone attempt to access stored fat for fuel!
If you're looking for a great read on how to get started with and succeed with Intermittent Fasting I personally suggest getting your hands on a copy of THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO FASTING.
Intermittent fasting in some form or fashion has been a part of our existence for centuries. Although it’s often utilized for varying reasons (religious reasons, political protest, spiritual practice, physique preparations, treatment of Type 2 Diabetes, etc) there is no denying it’s progressive benefits to our future health profile – reduction of excess body fat being one of many positive outcomes! Our bodies were designed for feast and famine NOT feast, feast, feast!
Next week’s blog will outline my personal approach to intermittent fasting, my weekly IF schedule, and some tips and tricks to make IF a simple, sustainable lifestyle approach for YOU!