Is Intermittent Fasting a Weight Loss Miracle or a Myth?
Have you heard of intermittent fasting—or “IF” for short?
It’s a hot new philosophy which, among other things, has finally helped dispel the bodybuilding myth that eating lots of smaller meals throughout the day increases your metabolism (and for that I am thankful!).
So what’s all the hype about? Proponents claim that intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, improve metabolic health- and some even say it’ll help you live longer.
I want to get into the ins and outs of what the research says, crossover with Beauty Detox and the different types of intermittent fasting. Before we go there, I want to touch on three points of warning:
Listen to your body above all. It’s nearly always troublesome to take some outside information, “secret” or tip and impose it on your body, without feeling/checking in.
Intermittent fasting, can be especially problematic for women who’ve ever battled eating disorders. Suddenly, it provides an excuse for starvation. This is of course very dangerous!
The research around intermittent fasting doesn’t consider traditions like Ayurveda, with thousands of years of experience saying that certain types benefit more or find it easier to fast.
For example, Kapha types — who tend to carry extra fat and have slow metabolisms (and are rarely hungry in the mornings) find it easiest. Vata types, who have varying appetites, can do it sometimes. But if they try all the time will get thrown out of balance. Pitta types, with strong appetite and digestive fire, find adhering to the IF VERY difficult- and it could perpetuate major imbalance.
There’s No “One Way” to Do It
What can make intermittent fasting a little confusing is that it doesn’t adhere to one uniform protocol. There are a variety of approaches to how it’s done, and each will have its pros and cons.
The 16/8 method – this involves daily fasts of 16 hours for men, and 14-15 hours for women. On each day, you restrict your eating to an 8-10 hour “eating window” where you can fit in 2-3 or more meals. What’s interesting about this is that some research showed that few meals in a shorter window, assuming the same calories consumed, burned just as much fat as eating 6 smaller meals throughout the day.
In fact, this study showed that eating only one meal (definitely not recommended) per day—with all the calories in that one meal—produced more weight loss than three meals. The downside is that subjects were considerably more hungry! Oof. Not ideal, and more on this in a moment.
The 5:2 diet — This involves eating normally 5 days of the week, while restricting calories to 500-600 on two days of the week. Within this would be the “Eat-Stop-Eat” plan popularized by Brad Pilon, which has you doing a 24-hour fast, either once or twice per week.
Alternate-Day fasting – is another type, which just means fasting every other day.
The Warrior Diet – this means you fast during the day (except a little bit of fruit and veggies) and eat a larger meal at night. In this plan, you’re going about 22 hours between the end of dinner one night—to the beginning of dinner on the next. Very difficult, and again, not sustainable for most people.
Spontaneous Meal Skipping: Skip meals when convenient.
If one of all of these sounds quite crazy to you, you’re not alone. I’m all for a properly designed cleanse at least on a seasonal basis. And while there may be some benefits, the actual practice of only eating every other day all the time sounds pretty miserable to me, not to mention super tricky with managing kids/family/friends life.
Still, before I present what I think is a better and Beauty Detox-friendly way of getting in the potential benefits of intermittent fasting (without the downsides), I want to go through some of the research in favor of IF.
“Fasting has been shown to improve biomarkers of disease, reduce oxidative stress and preserve learning and memory functioning, according to Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, part of the US National Institutes of Health.”J Nutr Biochem 2005;16:129–37
Asthma & Weight Loss Improvements
In this study researchers observed the following :
“Overweight adults with moderate asthma consumed only 20% of their normal calorie intake on alternate days. Participants who adhered to the diet lost 8% of their initial body weight over eight weeks. They also saw a decrease in markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, and improvement of asthma-related symptoms and several quality-of-life indicators.”Free Radical Bio Med 2007;42:665–74.
“Mattson and colleagues explored the effects of intermittent and continuous energy restriction on weight loss and various biomarkers (for conditions including breast cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease) among young overweight woman They found that intermittent restriction was as effective as continuous restriction for improving weight loss, insulin sensitivity and other health biomarkers.”Int J Obesity 2011;35:714–27.
Many of these quoted abstracts and studies are properly attributed to this very excellent research summary on intermittent fasting, if you want to dive more deeply into the science .
The Theory on Why It Works
If you don’t eat for 10–16 hours, your body will go to its fat stores for energy, and fatty acids called ketones will be released into the bloodstream. Ketosis, which is very different from the condition of ketoacidosis, occurs anytime the body does not have glucose for fuel and begins to rely on fat stores for energy.
Another major benefit of intermittent fasting is due to something I’ve discussed at length: reduced digestive energy expenditure.
As I’ve written in all my books and blogs extensively, digestion is one of the most energy intensive processes in the body. This is why “heavy” foods like animal protein and dairy are so aging; they require considerable energy to digest!
One reason why intermittent fasting could be beneficial—is it gives your body a break from digesting food—so that energy is made available for healing and rejuvenation. When this happens over and over, the net effect is that a considerable amount of repair can take place in your digestive system, brain, endocrine system (hormones), skin and more.
In fact, improved growth hormone secretion—a major factor in slowing aging—has been reported some intermittent fasting studies .
Could Eating Less Provide the Same Benefits?
But perhaps it isn’t so much the fasting that produces health benefits, per se, as the resulting overall reduction in calorie intake. Of course, that assumes you don’t overeat on non-fasting days, which could create a caloric surplus instead of a deficit.
This is what Dr. Stephen Freedland, associate professor of urology and pathology at the Duke University, believes and says in this study :
“Caloric restriction, undernutrition without malnutrition, is the only experimental approach consistently shown to prolong survival in animal models.” Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis 2010; 13:350–5).
Their research went on to show that when the same calories were consumed—the fasting did not show any improved biomarkers.
Overall, his research and others believe that reduced calorie intake—which maintaining an equivalent degree of nutrition—is what will make the most difference in preserving organ health and helping reduce excess weight.
He concludes by saying in the aforementioned study:
“If you [don’t] eat two days a week, and limit what you eat the other five days, you will lose weight. It’s one approach to losing weight. I’m not sure it works any better than cutting down slightly seven days a week.”
The Problem with Calorie Restriction
The big problem with calorie restriction is that you typically reduce your nutrition intake, so you don’t feel as good — and you get very hungry. Eventually, the pendulum swings back. That’s why we don’t get into calorie counting here in Beauty Detox…
The other issue is that it’s not just about calories, but about the quality of your nutrition and focusing on eating nutrient-dense foods. 500 calories from an avocado will digest quite differently and have a very different effect on your overall body and metabolism than 500 calories of fried potato chips!
We don’t want to just think calories and weight loss, but toxin load, the alkaline/acid effect of the foods you eat and so on. Just looking at calories is too reductionist and overly simplified.
Sadly, doctors and researchers are only beginning to consider factors like the energy required to digest foods and toxins—and one of the big health advantages that comes from Beauty Detox, and also intermittent fasting, is the break from digestion that gives your body time and energy for rejuvenation.
Thus, it’s not just how frequently you eat (or don’t) or even the calories – but WHAT you eat and how much digestive energy required. Which brings us to…
The Beauty Detox Way of Intermittent Fasting
As I’ve discussed before, the Beauty Detox lifestyle outlined in The Beauty Detox Solution naturally provides some of the benefits of intermittent fasting — without any of the downsides.
It does so by the following:
Beginning the day with hot water with lemon, SBO Probiotics, then low-calorie (without trying to be!), filling, high-nutrient beverage — Glowing Green Smoothie® (GGS) — that takes almost no energy to digest.
In my opinion, one reason why intermittent fasting works on an overall anti-aging and health level is because it gives your digestive system a break. Beauty Detox, when the GGS is used for breakfast — does something very similar, while keeping you nutritionally nourished, full, and energized. But also starvation-free!
If you have a GGS for breakfast and a light lunch, i.e. a salad, soup, cooked veggies, — your body is already naturally preserving its energy throughout the day. Just don’t do this too often or every day because you can tend to overeat in the evenings — a no-no.
Also, because your digestive fire is highest in midday/afternoon according to Ayurveda, so over-consuming food late at night after eating very little all day is contrary to that principle and will lead to imbalances.
I like to keep the morning light but I do need to like to eat some substantial foods in the middle of the day—whether it be some of countless Beauty Detox recipes, such as gluten free wraps, healing kitcheree, pates with seeds or nuts, more avocado, a Power Protein in the afternoon, and so on.
Going all light occasionally is okay, especially if you are doing something during the day that requires high levels of focus and your brain works well on light eating (GGS, salad, raw foods, etc.)—but I don’t think it’s necessary to push yourself and your body to eat that light day in and day out.
Note that by “light” I mean eating almost nothing, or just fruit smoothies or fruit or super easy-to-digest foods. Most Beauty Detox recipes are light enough that you don’t have to worry about them overburdening your digestion during the day. Especially if you’re already just having a Glowing Green Smoothie for breakfast; which in my opinion, counts as a “fast” until lunchtime.
Find What’s Right for YOU
There is some research in support of the theory of Intermittent Fasting, and so it’s something that you and I will continue to hear about for a while into the future.
But remember that it’s not necessarily the best solution for weight loss, metabolic health and longevity for everyone’s body, or for those with pre-conceived food issues, such as an eating disorder. While one can argue that our bodies can “handle” starving sometimes regularly, as thousands of years ago we didn’t always have access to regular meals, is that how we want to eat today when we do have access and choices?
It might work, but if it is simply a huge struggle for your body type—and also a huge mental drain—is it in any way worth it for the reduced quality of life? It’s something we all must decide for ourselves. For me, balance for 7 days a week is far better than the start and stop approach of intermittent fasting.
Ultimately, I think following Beauty Detox will give you many of the same benefits—in a cumulative way long-term—and without the intense, super stringent protocols.
You will be able to naturally preserve digestive energy long-term by keeping your mornings light, high nutrient, and naturally low-calorie (without trying) breakfast like the Glowing Green Smoothie® and Beauty Detox principles.