Intermittent fasting is a topic that has been gaining a lot of attention lately. What is it? How do you do it? Can intermittent fasting help you lose weight and fat? How does it relate to gut health? These questions are answered on this episode of the Thank Gut It’s Fixed show.
You should eat three meals and three snacks a day.
Myth or Fact?
Did you answer “fact”? If so, let me break down why it’s actually a myth.
We have always been taught that we should be eating three meals a day and three snacks a day. We’ve also been taught eating frequently will help you lose weight, because of the theory that if you eat frequently, then you’re never “too hungry”, which means that you will lose weight since you’re undereating.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence to support that. When you’re eating six times a day, you have six times a day to potentially overeat. That also means six opportunities a day for your body to produce insulin. Insulin is the hormone that is released after you eat sugars and causes you to store fat. In a nutshell, the more you eat, the more insulin you produce, which prompts you to store more fat.
Some would say that eating multiple times in a day help your body burn more energy in the form of thermal effect of food. This is the energy the body needs to use to digest and absorb nutrients. But the thing is, you’re really only burning a percentage of those calories when you eat, and how much you burn depends highly on the composition of your meal. For example, you’ll burn roughly 10% of your total intake when you eat carbs and 30% of your total intake when eat mostly protein. You’re still storing the remaining 70-90%, and that’s going to be a problem if your total intake is more than what your body needs overall.
Learn how to identify the REAL causes of your gut problems.
Before we dig into what intermittent fasting is, let’s talk about who it may not benefit:
- People on certain medications that must be taken with food multiple time a day
- People with severe headaches and/or migraines (and if you do, you might want to learn more about food sensitivities)
- People with hypoglycemia. (this doesn’t mean you can’t fast, but I would recommend speaking to do your doctor first.)
- People with severe and unmanaged adrenal fatigue or thyroid imbalance (unless working privately with a dietitian)
- People with kidney issues
- People with other medical conditions who might benefit from speaking to a doctor or working with a dietitian to make sure it’s safe
I used to consult for a corporate wellness program where I had 10-15 minute coaching sessions with their employees. It was a whole lot of time to get to know someone, but after seeing the same people month after month, I go to know them more and track some of their progress.
There was this one man who had heart issues and wanted to lose weight. He had told me he was doing all of the things that he could to lose the weight, but nothing was working for him. So I just threw out the idea of intermittent fasting. He was very quick to say, “No, no, no…that’s bad for my heart, that’s really bad for my health. I won’t do it.”He didn’t give me much of a chance to explain it.
Well, a few months later, he came up to me and told me: “I should have listened to you.”I guess what I said about fasting stuck with him, and he went home to do his ownresearch. He told me that he had started intermittent fasting and his blood sugar and weight dropped, and he was so excited!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
There are a few different ways you can intermittent fast. One of them, the most common, is to not eat for 12-16 hours. Typically I recommend 14-16 hours without food. Then you can eat in the remaining hours of the day. For example, if you’re going to fast 16 hours, you would eat during the other 8 hours of the day.
The other way of doing intermittent fasting, is going 24 hours without eating. So you would eat dinner, and then you won’t eat anything until the next evening. Honestly this is a bit more challenging, and after 24 hours, you could potentially start using some of the protein in your muscles for energy sources, so I typically don’t recommend going more than 16 hours.
What Are The Intermittent Fasting Benefits?
Many people experiment with intermittent fasting for weight loss. A few things happen while you’re fasting:
First, you’re cutting the amount of calories you’re eating because there aren’t as many opportunities for you to eat. However, it’s not simply about calories in vs. calories out. It has to do with when you eat and the composition of what you’re eating.
When you fast, your body doesn’t produce insulin. Insulin is what your body creates after you eat carbohydrate-rich foods. Which, if you’ve ever tracked your macros, you know that carbs are in everything – even healthy vegetables! When you produce insulin, that tells your body “Don’t burn the fat that we have, because food is present.” So any excess macronutrients that aren’t used for energy are going to be stored as fat.
If insulin isn’t being produced, your body is forced to burn the fat that is on you. Yep, that means your shoulders, love handles, torso, legs – everything! Fasting also helps preserve your muscle mass.
Learn how to identify the REAL causes of your gut problems.
Here are just a few other things that fasting helps with:
- When you break your fast, anything you eat is immediately going to be used for energy.
- You get comfortable with the normal sensation of hunger, and that teaches your body that it can survive without food for a certain period of time.
- Fasting help improve insulin sensitivity
- Fasting increase growth hormone, which helps you build lean muscles
Let’s talk about growth hormones for a second. Research shows that fasting helps your body produce more growth hormone. Fasting doesn’t work because you’re eating less. Fasting works because of the effect on your hormones.
Growth hormone is typically what is produced when you’re younger and helps build muscle. As we age, we build less muscle and. Did your parents tell you as a child that you need to go to sleep so you can grow? Well, that’s actually true! Your growth hormone is released at night.
Fasting reduces the insulin you produce, makes your body more sensitive to insulin, and it’s helping you produce more growth hormone. The combination of these things is what is going to help you preserve your muscle mass and lose your fat mass.
How should you eat during your eating hours? That’s a tricky one to answer because there are many different study designs when it comes to fasting. Some of them restricted intake during eating hours to be 25% less calories than required, whereas other studies didn’t change the total calories.
What I recommend? Use common sense and listen to your body. Don’t consciously overcompensate and overeat during the eating hours. It definitely means you can’t have all the dessert and fried foods you want! You don’t need to be as strict with your portions, but you do need to eat your regular meals with lots of vegetables, high fiber-foods, lean protein and healthy fats.
Now… as excited as I am with some research on intermittent fasting, there’s more to learn and more research is being conducted. And while there are some human studies, a lot of the studies were done on animals. Some studies found that when it comes to weight loss, fasting was as effective as regular calorie restriction. So in other words, if you don’t like the idea fasting or you can’t do it, it doesn’t mean you’re missing out. Studies did show that fasting improves glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity more than regular calorie restriction though.
One of the questions I get asked a lot is: “Can I drink anything when I do intermittent fasting?” You can drink a few different things:
- Black coffee
- Black tea
You want to steer away from using sugars and yes — even collagen — in your drinks, because this could change the way your body processes and metabolizes food which might take you out of that fasted state. However, making “bulletproof coffee” (adding fats to your coffee) is okay. After 12 hours of fasting, your body is using fat for fuel, so some fat in your coffee won’t interfere with that.
If you’d like to read more on intermittent fasting, here are some research articles to start with: