Skipping breakfast may actually be good for you.
For centuries, people all over the world have taken advantages of fasting’s near-miraculous benefits. Recently the term “intermittent fasting” has become an industry buzz phrase, but the truth is, cultures have been making regular fasts and other detox procedures an integral part of their religious and cultural traditions for thousands of years. These practices included a wide range of fasting techniques, from “total” fasting, to fasting that allowed water but no food products, to juice fasts and other severely restricted diets.
In the European tradition, Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine, advocated periodic fasting as a way to cleanse the body and allow the digestive system to rest. Galen, the medieval physician who pioneered our understanding of the heart and circulatory system, both fasted himself and prescribed the approach to his patients. And Paracelsus, whose groundbreaking discoveries anticipated modern theories about germs and viruses, called fasting “the greatest remedy—the physician within.”
Both Western and Eastern traditions have seen fasting and other means of detox as a way to combine spiritual and physical cleansing, simultaneously purifying of body, mind, and spirit. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and many African religions have employed fasting for a number of purposes: purification, penance, mourning, preparation for ceremonies, and to enhance one’s own spiritual and mental powers. In India, the ancient tradition of Ayurvedic medicine is based on freeing the body from toxins, which practitioners believe can help the individual’s spiritual state as well. Perhaps as a result, fasting has been advocated by many yoga practitioners and spiritual teachers.
In North America, Native Americans turned to sweat lodges for both spiritual and bodily purification. The Finns, Swedes, and other Scandinavians sweated the winter blues away with steamy saunas. And many European physicians routinely prescribe fasting as an effective way to give our bodies a rest, to lighten our toxic load, and to allow stressed or overworked organs to repair themselves. It’s only in the United States that the medical establishment has been so resistant to fasting and other types of detoxification.
So until the 19th century or so, fasting was a well-respected means of cleansing, purifying, and rejuvenating our bodies, minds, and spirits. Fast forward to today and intermittent fasting – it seems like it’s the buzzword of the day, but in fact it’s been studied for more than a century. Studies as far back as the 1920s show that intermittent fasting done just a few days each week is as effective as continuous calorie restriction when it comes to weight loss, blood sugar control, and disease prevention.
Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, it’s a schedule of eating that doesn’t change what you eat but when you eat. Typically you don’t change the quantity of what you eat, you change the time of when you eat it – most people eat larger meals in a shorter time frame. This results in more fat loss while preserving your lean muscle mass, as well as a variety of other amazing health benefits.
The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting include:
- Burning belly fat while retaining lean body mass
- Increased metabolism
- Better blood sugar control with decreased insulin resistance
- Triggers cellular repair
- Better brain health
- Anti-aging with a longer, healthier life span
- Reduces inflammation and oxidative stress
- Encourages healthy gene expression and optimizes hormone levels
- May prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, cardiovascular disease, Diabetes Type 2, and other chronic diseases
How Intermittent Fasting Leads to Fat Loss
The #1 reason people try intermittent fasting is for the weight loss. It’s one of the easiest ways to reduce belly fat while retaining lean muscle mass. To understand how it works, first let’s go over the basics of digesting vs. fasting states.
From the time you eat your first bite of food for the day, your body immediately begins the digestion and absorption process. During this 3-5 hour timespan, your insulin levels need to be high for sugar/carbohydrate digestion, so this is not the time for burning fat. Because we typically eat our next meal or snack within that 3-5 hour digestive window, we keep the ball rolling with this state of digesting and absorbing, until a few hours after our last meal of the day. This is when we transition into a resting state, where we have processed our food for the day and digestion is resting. After 8-12 hours in this resting state, the body enters into a fasting state, and this is when the magic happens.
Once in the fasting state, insulin levels are low and burning fat for fuel becomes much easier. Fat that wasn’t accessible during the digesting and absorbing state can now be mobilized and eliminated from the body. The best fat burning comes 12 hours after your last meal, but since most of us don’t wait that long. Because we’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we miss out on this golden time of increased fat metabolism.
Intermittent fasting changes that.
Intermittent fasting activates a fat-burning metabolism you don’t have access to on a normal eating schedule. For example, by restricting your eating window to 8 hours of the day and going 16 hours without eating, you’ve given your body 4 hours of prime fat-burning time, and as a result, you lose weight without changing what you eat, how much you eat, or increasing your exercise.
Incorporating Intermittent Fasting into Your Healthy Lifestyle
Intermittent fasting is one of those things that’s hard to understand but easy to do. (This is the opposite of starting a new diet, which is easy to understand but hard to do.) I promise you, once you understand the basics and do it once or twice, you’ll have the hang of it and it will become second nature to you. Your cravings will diminish and even hunger decreases on the right intermittent fasting plan.
When people first hear the term, all they hear is “fasting” and the first question is “Do I have to go 24 hours without food?” No, absolutely not! During the intermittent fasting days, you simply fit all of your normal daily food into a smaller time frame, typically 8 hours. You can start any time of the day that works for you.
What this looks like for most people is skipping breakfast, eating lunch starting at noon, and finishing dinner by 8pm. This is the most common window of time chosen because it allows for lunch and dinner to be shared with friends and family and there’s no feeling of being deprived. You can choose whatever window of time works best with your schedule, and you can extend the time frame to a total of 10 hours if you’d like, just be aware you reducing your fat burning time to just 2 hours in this case.
When you follow my Fat Flush plan, I recommend continuing clear liquids like cran-water and herbal teas during the fasting time. I’ve found it’s still effective for fat loss and the amount of liquids required on my programs would be difficult to get in a shorter period of time.
How Often Should I Do Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting has been practiced by religious groups for centuries and is safe for most people. If you have complicated health issues or are on medications that require regular food intake, it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor before starting any type of fasting program.
We’ve been taught that we can’t skip breakfast and need to eat every 3 hours during the day. The science doesn’t support this and neither do I. These recommendations were based on the theory that digesting burns calories, so eating smaller meals more often will burn more calories. This simply isn’t true. It doesn’t matter if you get your calories in during one meal or ten meals; it takes the same amount of energy to digest the same number of calories no matter how it’s spread out.
I recommend choosing 2 days per week to do intermittent fasting, though I’ve seen people recommend from as little as once per month to as often as every day. It’s important to listen to your body and not do more than you can handle, especially if you are in a healing or disease process, or are under a great deal of stress, which impacts adrenal health.
Fasting isn’t some new fad or crazy marketing scheme, it’s been done for centuries but isn’t discussed much. The reason for this is mainly because no one stands to profit from you not eating for several hours at a time – except you.
I am doing this since being part of ALG’s QuickStart. It works!
I love this. So great you keep up with all the science.
Thank you for this post.
Great to know your take on this. I trust your knowledge and opinions based on the research.
Hi, I’ve been intermittent fasting for 2 weeks and only lost 3lbs…167 down to 164. I don’t have a thyroid. Does not having a thyroid affect my results? My friend started with me and she’s down 10#.
Lana, yes not having a thyroid could produce slower results when fasting. In “Radical Metabolism” Ann Louise uses intermittent fasting in a way with the foods on the plan that it is very helpful to those who are challenged by not having good thyroid function. That plan would be helpful for you.