I got interested in IF, or intermittent fasting 9 years ago when I became the fitness expert for a reality TV show called The PCOS Challenge (1). Doing the show on top of my day job meant working 12-18 hours per day 7 days a week for 13 weeks… It meant being too tired to wake up early enough to make breakfast. It meant giving up my personal meal prep time. Nutritional chaos.
Gaining weight while being the fitness expert for a reality TV show is a bad look, so I turned to one of my favorite ways to relive stress: researching things I find fascinating.
Fasting Myth Vs. Fact.
Myth: fasting puts you into “starvation mode.”
Fact: There is no such thing as “starvation mode.” There is no way that eating too few calories can cause weight gain, or impede weight loss. This is the logical equivalent to saying that saving too much money makes you poor. It is utter nonsense. This is the best summary of “starvation mode” on the internet.
Myth: Fasting causes muscle loss.
Fact: Low protein intake and inconsistent strength training cause muscle loss, and this is a big problem. It takes 60 hours without food for your body to begin turning to your muscles for fuel. When you are losing weight 50% or more will be lean body mass (not fat) unless you do strength training at least twice a week, and eat enough protein.
Myth: Fasting has a “metabolic advantage.”
Fact: All diet strategies work if they help you eat fewer calories. None of them work in any other way. If a low-carb or a low-fat diet helps you lose weight, its because that helps you eat fewer calories.
Myth: Eating breakfast accelerates your metabolism.
Fact: It does no such thing. Furthermore, forcing yourself to eat when you’re not appropriately hungry usually means eating excess calories. Excess calories mean slow, no or reverse weight loss.
Myth: there’s only one “right” way to fast.
Fact: as with most things, one size never fits all. You fast every single day when you sleep (I hope) even though you don’t call it a “fasting protocol.” There are many variations on IF – every other day diets, 1 or 2 meals a day, 4-6-8-12 hour feeding windows, etc. The valuable lessons come from the commonalities vs. the differences.
The most important takeaways from IF are:
- Eating less often make it easier to eat less. Most of the increase in the caloric intake of Americans during the obesity epidemic has been from snacking. (More on this.)
- Waiting as long as possible to eat your first meal makes it easier to eat less. Why? Hunger and willpower. We have more willpower in the morning, so this is the easiest time to maximize your calorie deficit.
- We need at least a little bit of structure. How often and when we eat can’t be left up to chance. We live in an obesigenic food environment – we have the easiest access to the widest variety of overly tempting foods that humans have ever known, and the folks marketing these foods are very skilled. Without structure the marketers pull your strings.
- (Appropriate) Hunger is a good thing. You should be hungry for at least 30-60 continuous minutes before eating. 10-20 minutes of “hunger” is a craving not hunger. If you are never hungry, you are never in a deficit. (Please note, I am not advocating eating so little that you begin fantasizing about food like these people did.)
- The PCOS Challenge was a reality show about helping women with Polycystic ovarian syndrome with lifestyle solutions to improve their health. The show was awesome! We helped nearly every woman who was having fertility issues conceive and have healthy pregnancies by helping them with their nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc.
You’ve probably never heard of the show because it was one of the only real reality TV shows. We focused on sustainable changes that would help these women after the show was over (exactly the opposite of a show like The Biggest Loser). The producers focused the show on education and on the realities of the process these women went through (whereas, normally, producers feed lines and create drama to increase the entertainment value of the show).