Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or at the very least avoiding the internet, odds are you’ve heard of the latest trend in weight loss -- that ironically, has actually been utilized by many for years -- intermittent fasting (IF). But just in case, it’s when you alternate between periods of fasting (eating nothing or very little ) and periods of feeding (eating basically whatever you want). And since what’s old is new again is pretty much always a thing, this popular practice has quickly transitioned to a way of life; what’s more, one you can actually maintain.
Although you likely see the term intermittent fasting everywhere, it can actually mean many different things. And there are many different ways to practice intermittent fasting.
The trick? Knowing which method works for you. For instance, there are those who opt for the “time restricted feeding” which essentially involves fasting for periods of approximately 16 hours and eating for approximately 8 hours every day. Another popular form of IF, and one that’s been proven to promote even faster fat loss, is “alternate day modified fasting,” which involves consuming either no or very little food on fasting days and then alternating with a day of unrestricted food intake or a “feast” day.
Whichever method you prefer, one thing has been proven: it works
Still, there are still those skeptics who believe this “diet” is for the birds; not to mention, completely ineffective. And that’s primarily based on the several subsequent myths surrounding it.
To help get to the bottom of this controversy once and for all, we enlisted the help of Stephen D. Anton PhD, an Associate Professor at the University of Florida’s Institute on Aging, who has reviewed more than a dozen studies focusing on the mechanisms and benefits of intermittent fasting.
“Intermittent Fasting will improve virtually every aspect of your health,” says Dr. Anton, author of The Man Diet: A Proven Guide to More Energy, Increased Virility, and Higher Testosterone Levels. “It’s much more than just weight loss, it promotes both a healthy and powerful mind and body.”
Read on to discover what exactly these five intermittent fasting myths are, and exactly why they are, well, myths.
Myth #1: Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day
This myth is number one for a reason. How many times did you hear this your entire life? Your mom could be saying this very statement to you right now, in fact. And who is anyone to disagree with your mom?
Well, for one, science. Because the fact is, there are many benefits to NOT eating breakfast. While it may have been beaten into your head that it’s essential to eat the minute you wake up -- or at the sound of that initial stomach growl -- doing this causes you to miss out on the benefits that occurs from extending the fasting period to be 14-16 hours (or even longer) every day.
“The key is to train your body to use your own fat and ketones for energy,” explains Dr. Anton. “This change leads to our body’s preserving muscle mass and function while at the same time metabolizing fat.”
Plus, Dr. Anton says after a couple of weeks, you won’t even crave breakfast anymore.
Myth #2: You Need To Eat Every Few Hours To Preserve Muscle
Why is this myth quite possibly the most laughable one? Well, for one, you cannot be “anabolic” 24 hours per day. And according to Dr. Anton, spending some time in a “catabolic” state is critical to experiencing the full benefits of the anabolic time period; the key is to alternate one with the other and then watch your fat levels go down while your muscles grow.
And sure, if this was an extra long fast of several days -- or, say, a juice cleanse -- that would be one thing. But with IF, you lose much less muscle than the amount of fat you burn.
Dr. Anton explains that one of the reasons for this is the enhanced secretion of human growth hormone (HGH) that occurs during fasting. HGH promotes muscle growth, bone health, and fat loss. Your body increases its production during a fast, perhaps as a mechanism to keep that precious muscle intact for the next hunt. Unfortunately, production of HGH declines during aging, so IF may be an effective strategy to help adults maintain their youthful HGH levels as they age.
“Contrary to ‘traditional’ wisdom taught to bodybuilders over the past century, your body simply does not need to eat every three hours to maintain your precious muscle,” says Dr. Anton. “If this were the case, we would all wake up with less muscle than we had before going to bed.”
In fact, you are more likely to see your abs and also greater muscle definition upon rising in the morning as well as feel more alert and energized.
Dr. Anton adds, “When we sleep our bodies go through the very natural process of switching our energy source from glucose to fatty-acids and fatty-acid derived ketones -- our bodies repair and regenerate the vital tissues and organs, which occurs while we are fasting.”
In other words, by practicing Intermittent Fasting regularly, your body can become more efficient at “flipping” this metabolic switch. And when this switch is flipped, your body’s energy source changes from glucose to free-fatty acids, made from your own body fat, and ketones, which serve to preserve muscle.
Think of it like the 80s movie Over The Top: when this switch is activated... it is on.
Myth #3: It Actually Slows Down Your Metabolism
Well, the good news is that science has shown that this is just not true. The main driver of your metabolism is the amount of lean (muscle) mass that you have, and we have already covered how IF results in a relatively small loss of lean mass compared to fat mass.
On the other hand, science has shown that when you consistently restrict your calorie consumption, you do lose weight BUT approximately 1/3 of the weight that is lost is from lean (muscle) tissue. As you would expect, this can lead to a slower metabolic rate over time, which would promote weight regain.
In contrast, there is evidence from one of Dr. Anton’s previous studies that following an alternate day fasting regimen for just 21 days resulted in a substantial increase in the amount of fat grams burned over a 24 hour period (from 64 grams per day before to 101 grams per day after following this program); that is significant and indicates that IF programs can enhance fat metabolism.
Want more evidence?
In order to gain a better understanding of the potential of Intermittent Fasting to improve body composition and health, Dr. Anton and his research team completed a systematic review of findings of clinical trials that were conducted in the past few decades. In this review, he found that IF programs in which participants fasted for approximately 24 hours every other day produced significant fat loss in 10 out of 10 trials.
Talk about a thing of beauty!
Myth #4: It Doesn’t Rid Your Body of Toxins
Blasphemy! One of the best parts about intermittent fasting is it can reduce toxic load and turn your body into a well-oiled machine.
“During fasting, the process that your cells use to eliminate waste products, called autophagy, is activated,” says Dr. Anton. “This means you are cleaning out the “junk” when you are fasting, and this process appears to be critical to the survival of every cell in your body and has been linked to greater lifespan.”
Here’s the best part: according to Dr. Anton, there’s even a natural supplement to get even more out of your detox, help your cells better clean themselves, and receive the most benefits from intermittent fasting -- and it comes in the form of another fad-turned-lifestyle choice: activated charcoal.
“If you are new to fasting, it is particularly important to take products that can assist your body’s waste removal process by trapping and then escorting toxins from your body. Dr. Anton says the reason for this is “because when you first start fasting, your body may not be able to handle the toxins released into your bloodstream from your own body fat,” stresses Dr. Anton. “There are a few products out there that claim to be able to do this, but the one that I recommend is called Miracoal -- derived from coconut, this is one of the only natural remedies that promotes whole body detoxification due to its unparalleled ability to trap and remove toxins.”
Myth #5: You’re Going To Crack
Ok, so here’s the real question you are probably definitely thinking right now: Am I really going to eat like this the rest of my life? That part is up to you, of course, but the truth is: you really can.
It should come as a “no brainer” the hardest part of any diet is denying your cravings too long; reminding yourself constantly, you can’t have that bowl of pasta, cookie, or the two slices of pizza you really want. And intermittent fasting basically obliterates that entire mentality.
“Intermittent fasting is an easy way to control your food intake without battling your cravings,” says Dr. Anton. “Once you get used to the schedule, you won't think about food during your fasting window. And during your eating window, you can enjoy healthy portions when you do eat, and not worry about having dessert.”
Plus, pretty much unlike any other diet on the planet, intermittent fasting allows you to have a social life. Did you have a late dinner one night? Just move your eating window the next day. Craving breakfast one day? Fine, quit eating at 3pm. In other words, it’s as flexible as you want it to be; therefore, making it actually sustainable. Because just like working out, the best routine is the one you'll not only stick to, but actually enjoy.
And let’s be honest, no one can do low-carb forever. A life without pasta is just no way to live.