Should You Skip Breakfast?
We’ve been constantly told for so long that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” However, a plethora of studies have delved into the effects of skipping breakfast, which has shown to increase metabolism and help with weight loss. This article explains all you need to know about intermittent fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
At first glance, intermittent fasting may sound a bit counterintuitive, as it requires one to consume zero calories for hours on end and then feast within the designated time period. This goes against the "grazing" theory of eating multiple, small meals per day that is often suggested for fat loss.
However, intermittent fasting is simple: you eat during certain hours and you fast the rest of the hours. There are several different durations of fasting, but the most popular is the 16/8 hour fast. This involves fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8 hour window.
For example, only eating between 12-8pm and fasting the rest of the hours. The windows you choose to fast are not important, but keeping your hours consistent matters as it will enable your body to adapt better. Research has found that fixed meal timings helped suppress hunger hormones during time of fast.
In terms of what exactly to consume during fasting and feeding windows, it is quite simple. During the fasting period, you cannot ingest any calories, but water and black coffee is allowed and can help suppress your appetite and keep you hydrated. As for your feeding window, the actual foods you eat should be healthy, as you would normally eat. It is recommended to eat 80% full, healthy foods and 20% foods that are considered less healthy. These meals can be separated according to personal preference, such as into 3 protein rich meals, which enables you to have larger, more satisfying meals or separated into 5 smaller meals.
Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that frequent meals boost metabolism. In fact, in one study, ten male adults were fed 2 meals a day and in another week, 7 meals per day. It was found that a lower meal frequency did not cause a reduction in metabolism. However, there may be a slight advantage in separating out protein intake during the eating window as the body can only digest so much at once.
It is important to consider that there is no strong evidence that intermittent fasting will help you lose fat without being in a caloric deficit. Hence, a caloric deficit is necessary to lose fat. Make sure you prioritize the total calories you are consuming and your protein intake.
5 Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Weight Loss
Given that the eating window is smaller, it becomes easier to be in a caloric deficit and consequently, losing weight can be achieved. In a 2016 systematic review and meta analysis, all of the studies reviewed experienced weight loss. However, such weight loss was not superior to those individuals that were put in a continuous caloric restriction.
- Reduces Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a hormone in our body that is released from the pancreas after we have eaten. It tells the body to use the energy as fuel, instead of storing it as fat. However, when we eat too frequently, the communication between insulin and our cells fail. Insulin is released and and our cells stop responding–they fail to absorb the glucose from our food. This glucose then gets stored as fat. This continues and insulin continues to be secreted leading to higher insulin, and further fat gain.
Large surveys show that most Americans eat 6-10 times per day. Hence, when we fast and break away from constantly being in a fed state, we allow our insulin to decrease and become more sensitive, boosting fat loss.
- Lowers Blood Sugar
Given that fasting increases insulin sensitivity, blood sugar levels will decrease. In one recent study by the University of Adelaide, 15 men who were at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes practiced intermittent fasting for one week. Although they were instructed to eat exactly the same amount they would usually eat, glucose control still improved. Hence, being in a caloric deficit was not necessary to experience a decrease in blood sugar levels.
- Boosts Brain Function
In lab animals testing, fasting accelerated the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This protein is critical when dealing with memory and learning. Fasting also triggers autophagy, which gets rid of “bad” components inside of the cell.
- Reduces Inflammation
In one study, participants fasting for the month of Ramadan had inflammatory markers measured throughout the period. Results showed a significant decrease in inflammation, such as TNF-α levels on the last day of Ramadan.
5 Negative Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, as there are undoubtedly risks you may experience. The negative side effects include, but are not limited to:
- Feeling Hungry, Tired, or Irritable
One of the main reasons why you will feel tired in the beginning is because it is a new change to your daily routine. You may also be eating less calories than you're used to consuming. Over time, your body will adapt and energy will increase as it won’t go all to the digestion process.
- Food Obsession
For some, when we restrict food or focus too much on what we can and cannot eat, our body begins to crave and obsess over it all. This can affect our mood, relationships, and overall happiness. Also, following specific diet regimens in general can lead to orthorexia, a disorder that involves an obsession with healthy eating.
- Changes in Your Menstrual Cycle
Intermittent fasting can affect women differently. According to Dr. Woitowich, individuals who “aren't getting enough caloric intake to support the hypothalamic–pituitary–gonadal axis could experience irregular menses." This means that due to the caloric restriction, the hypothalamus will stop receiving signals to have a menstrual cycle, and may shut off completely.
Many individuals experience constipation during intermittent fasting due to getting less fiber in, which can cause gas, bloating and discomfort. Be sure to eat many whole plant foods to up your fiber intake!
- Changes in Sleep
Initially, fasting can disrupt your circadian rhythm because of our previous habits. Over the long run, it can improve your circadian rhythm and can increase your melatonin levels.
The Bottom Line
The largest systematic review covering 40 studies on this topic, found that although intermittent fasting may provide physiological or psychological benefits, it does not provide any direct benefit for increased fat loss or muscle gain when compared to traditional dieting. In the end of the day, the calorie deficit is what ultimately produces fat loss. However, intermittent fasting does make sticking to your calorie deficit much easier and offers many other benefits besides weight loss.
So if you do try it out (but make sure you talk to your physician first), ensure you give yourself at least two weeks to adjust and truly experience the benefits.
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