Intermittent fasting has gotten very popular recently. So what’s better for you? Eating one meal a day or five meals a day? This one goes back and forth; as some people believe that eating more frequently boosts your metabolism. Meanwhile, others believe that fasting improves your fat burning capability. So which is true? Read on to find out.
The Background of Fasting
Every week I have shared with you the same principles I have used to lose over 35 pounds in just three months. Today, I’m gonna talk about the answer to the question, “Is intermittent fasting better for you – or better for fat loss – than eating more frequent meals?”
First, let’s talk a little more about how the body works and how intermittent fasting plays into it. It’s important to understand, as I’ve shared with you before, that cooking foods with fire or heat changes the chemical composition of food, making it more bioavailable such that we get more calories out of it. Now for a fat loss goal that’s not necessarily a good thing, right? Take for example food that has only 100 calories, which when cooked, has now 200 calories available. We know for fat loss purposes that you’d want to decrease the calories going in, and increase the calories going out.
So, I’ve discussed how back in the caveman days, we started cooking foods to get more energy out of them, since it wasn’t sure when the next meal was gonna be. Fast forward to today, where there’s a grocery store almost every 12 feet – we have more food than we know what to do with! There’s a reason why 2/3 of Americans are overweight. It’s because there’s so much food available, and there’s this socio-cultural standard of eating all the time – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a lot of snacks in between. So we have a lot more food available nowadays as compared to thousands of years ago, and we also eat way more frequently nowadays than we did thousands of years ago.
But in human evolutionary terms, our bodies are made to go without. We are genetically engineered with all the cells – fat cells – that we have all over our body. We’re able to have a whole bunch of food at one time. The excess is then stored in the fat cells, which enables us to go a long period of time before we have our next meal. That’s how we’re engineered.
However, in today’s society we don’t go through that process per se, and that’s where this concept of intermittent fasting comes in. We’re actually made to be able to “intermittent fast”. So something a lot of people don’t realize is that everybody everywhere is actually already intermittent fasting, if you think about it.
Let’s take a look at an ordinary day – we go to bed at night, and then sleep all night with no food going in. Most people go at least eight hours before having breakfast in the morning. Some people stay up late until midnight and then sleep all the way until late in the morning. Other people are not even “breakfast people”, and don’t eat right away after waking up. So these people might actually spend 12 hours every day, accidentally fasting, before having some food.
The whole craze of intermittent fasting is about purposefully having stretches of time with no food intake specifically when you’re awake. We all know we have some of those hours fasting when asleep already, so there are some variations on what that looks like. Most people already have 8 hours of sleep and then 16 hours of time when they have food available. Some do it 12/12 – they don’t eat for 12 hours then have 12 hours of food. What’s more common is 16/8, which is 16 hours with no food – eight of that being asleep and 8 awake with no food – and then 8 hours of food. Then there are also some people who even go all the way up to 20/4 – 20 hours of no food and then only 4 hours with food.
Technically, It’s the Same Calories
So with intermittent fasting, what we’re basically doing is going from a bunch of meals spread throughout the day, to just one short period of time where we may have only one big meal. For instance, if you’re on a 20/4 fasting, you’ll most likely be consuming about 2,000 calories all on one meal. This is because you only have a small window of time – 4 hours – to eat all 2,000 calories. Technically, it’s the same thing as having four 500-calorie meals spread throughout a day, like an average person might do at 16 hours of feeding a day.
Ultimately the total number of calories is the same. What’s different is that for the 20/4 fasting, it’s just compressed into a small portion of time.
Let’s look at the scientific studies and research that’s been done on intermittent fasting and the different variations of time. If the total number of calories is the same, there really is no difference in your body’s metabolism, or how your body utilizes energy and distributes it among the different systems. There’s no difference in fat loss either, given that the total number of calories are the same.
So, “Intermittent fasting is better for fat loss than eating more frequently” – FICTION.
Now this could break a lot of hearts!
So Why Do People Still Do It?
Although this totally makes sense, the reality is that what’s ultimately most important for people is what kind of a feeding system or diet they can stick to, which allows them to control their calorie intake.
Some people thrive on carbohydrates but they’re very disciplined in that they can eat exact, calculated amounts, and not overeat. Now most people can’t do this and tend to munch on a lot of high-carb snacks… again, it’s not that carbs are bad, but what’s bad is not being able to control oneself from eating a lot of it.
Now this is the reason that there’s value to intermittent fasting. This is also one of the many reasons why I had to go on an intermittent fasting program.
It helps some people to CONTROL their total calorie intake. If there’s a specific period of time when you’re not allowed to eat because you’re fasting, then you’re not going to overeat, and therefore you’re not going to have an excess of calories. That’s honestly the most important thing.
Coping with Long Hours of No Food
Let me tell you a little about what I do for my fasting. I do fasting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For example: on Sunday night I will eat dinner, and then the next time I eat will be Monday night at dinner. So I’m going from dinner to dinner – a full 24 hours without eating. Sometimes I do a 20/4 fasting when I get home early, but most of the time it’s a full 24 hours.
Now coffee has become a very vital thing for me. On days when I’m not eating, I drink lots of black coffee – no cream and no sugar, because I don’t need the extra calories which kinda go against the fasting. Drinking a lot of coffee keeps me energized and focused so I can still get through my workday. So I’m getting the benefits of caffeine in the coffee. The caffeine gives my central nervous system a stimulant to stay focused at work.
Oftentimes, when people fast for long periods of time, their blood sugar gets used up and starts to go down, and if it goes down too much, it’s hard to focus. This is because our brain is the #1 consumer of sugar in our body. In a hypoglycemic state – a state of low blood sugar – caffeine can help you refocus so that you’re still getting your job done at work.
Caffeine is also an appetite-suppressant, so it helps you especially when going into a long period of time without food. Going a long period of time without food makes some people “hangry” wherein you get too hungry that you start to get too grouchy. Now that’s not conducive to your work, your social life, or your family life.
Now those are some positive benefits of caffeine there.
The Most Conducive Times to Fast
I specifically do my fasting on the weekdays since those are the busiest days. These are the times I help my kids get ready for school – there’s not much time for eating. And then I get to the office where I usually forget to eat, being busy at work. How many times have you been too focused at work and just skipped lunch on accident because you didn’t realize that you were hungry?
So for me, it’s not even a difficult challenge to fast for almost 24 hours during the work week because that’s just how busy my life is.
Sometimes something will come up on the weekend. Let’s say I go to the fair – we just had a fair here in South Florida which was a lot of fun – and there’s some fried Oreos, corn dogs, and all these fun stuff to eat. So, because I knew I was going to the fair even though it was Saturday, I decided to fast again. I didn’t eat all morning and only started eating when I went that evening to the fair. I fasted because I knew that I was probably gonna consume more than my normal daily amount of calories there at the fair. So I don’t limit fasting to the work week, I can do fasting 4 times a week if I have to.
Another example, since I love football, is when I go tailgating. Tailgating is an activity that often involves consuming alcoholic beverages and grilling food in the parking lots at stadiums and arenas, before and occasionally after games and concerts. So if I know I’m tailgating in the morning, I’ll have breakfast the day before then I wouldn’t eat the rest of the day. After waking up, we leave at 6 o’clock in the morning; then tailgating starts at 8 or 9, which is when I’ll start to eat and drink. Another time I used my fast is before New Year’s Eve – same thing, I didn’t eat all day until later that evening.
So I’m using the fasting to control my calorie intake for specific times, be it for an upcoming event, or just generally throughout the work week.
That’s probably the most potent and important aspect of using intermittent fasting as a means to an end. It is to ultimately keep your calories within the limit that you’re looking for to achieve your fat loss goals. It’s a tool, and honestly if people look at it that way it’s a very viable tool. If used properly, people could gain great results.
Adjust Your Eating Times Based on Your Everyday Activities
There are some times when we don’t want to have long periods without any food intake –12 hours, 16 hours, 20-24 hours. If you are a person who exercises regularly, specifically those who go through higher intensity exercises and strength training – you’re gonna need to have some sugar intake prior to your exercise. High-intensity exercise requires sugar metabolism, since this is stored inside your muscles and is in your bloodstream.
If you have those types of exercise, that means you have to do “tinier fasting” in such a manner that you have one of your meals before you go to the gym or before you do your workout. That way, your body has the sugar it needs to perform at a high level.
When we work out, it’s physically taxing to the body. The muscles get worn down. In order to get a response, an adaptation of getting stronger faster, even burning some body fat, you’d have to work hard. It has to be difficult in order to work. And at that high enough level, you gotta have some fuel – sugar – that fuels the body.
So if you’re gonna have exercise, adjust your fasting and feeding times in such a manner that you fed yourself prior to the workout. This is so you don’t pass out because of low blood sugar. So plan ahead and think about it – there’s purpose behind these things.
Now I had this conversation with my business partner about when you’re fasting and then go drinking. You’d want to be careful when you’re doing this – make sure you’re eating as you’re drinking. Don’t just start drinking and then forget to get food first, especially when you had just gone a long time without food. This will make you pass out as well.
Ultimately, from a scientific standpoint, NO, intermittent fasting is not better for fat loss. HOWEVER, the caveat is that it can be used as a tool to achieve your fat loss goals because it helps you control your total calorie intake in a given time.
- Intermittent fasting is NOT better for fat loss, since the total number of calories is the same – intermittent fasting just reduces the amount of time you get those calories in, as opposed to having your meals spread out during the day.
- Intermittent fasting can be used as a tool to control your total calorie intake in a specific period of time – you can do this on times when you are busy enough, or before going to an event where you’ll most likely eat in excess.
- If you do choose to do intermittent fasting, make sure to plan ahead and adjust your feeding and fasting times according to your everyday activities. Make sure to eat before a physically taxing activity, and also while drinking.