There’s a lot of information we accept as common knowledge and assume is correct:
Don’t skip breakfast. Divide your food into several smaller meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism pumped. Eat often to keep your blood sugar stable.
… But what if all of that is completely wrong?
Those who follow these traditional tips can certainly lose weight, but new evidence suggests there’s a better way to lose weight – an eating schedule that not only improves weight loss, but provides bountiful benefits ranging from disease prevention, lower inflammation, and even improved ability to manage stress (1).
I’m talking about intermittent fasting, which is a meal routine rather than a diet. It’s all about timing of food rather than type of food.
What, Exactly, IS Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (or “IF”) is the concept of strategically skipping certain meals, and the results are nothing short of amazing.
Intermittent fasting is something we all do without even realizing. When you go to bed at night – unless you wake up for a late-night fridge raid – you are fasting for quite a while. Most people will fast between dinner and the following breakfast for 10 hours or more.
Our bodies are certainly well equipped to handle this short fast. An IF meal schedule just takes this to the next level. You might end up, for example:
- Skipping breakfast, extending that natural fast from 10 hours to 15 hours or so.
- Taking a 24 hour break from eating. You might have dinner, then not eat any food until dinner the following evening. This type of fast would only be done every few days to ensure optimal health.
- Eating only one large meal per day. Simply pigging out at dinner every day might not be the best approach, but done in a healthy manner, this can provide a healthy fast between meals while still allowing you to get full on a regular basis.
- Following a reduced calorie diet two days per week. This approach allows you to eat normally on most days, then having a “fast day” where you might only consume 400-600 calories.
Compared to an old-fashioned “diet”, IF is easier for a lot of people to follow. There’s a few reasons for that:
- It’s easier to be “good”. When you diet, you have to follow the rules of said diet 24/7. Many find it easier to simply not eat for a given period and then not have to worry about dieting for a while.
- Meal planning is easier. Forget having to bring a bunch of food to work in order to eat every few hours – just don’t bring anything and fast instead.
It’s important to remember that IF is not an excuse to eat like crap the rest of the time. Even though you might still see results, you’ll get further by following a relatively healthy diet when you do eat.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
So, you have to go a while without food. Bummer.
With that sacrifice in mind, you’d expect to achieve some serious results.
For starters, even if you eat normally during non-IF periods, you simply consume fewer calories if you incorporate fasting. These food-free periods lower your total weekly caloric intake, and even a drop of a few hundred calories per week can help with weight loss.
But that’s not the whole picture. Intermittent fasting can help you lose even more weight than simple dieting alone, and even the unrelated health benefits are nothing to laugh at (2).
In fact, IF may even allow you to eat more food than normal and still lose weight.
What else can IF do for you? Here are some examples:
- IF provides the benefits of calorie restriction in a realistic format. When lab animals are fed a heavily reduced calorie diet, they are 66% less likely to die of age-related illness and end up living substantially longer (3). IF provides these benefits without the inconvenience and possible malnutrition of long term caloric restriction (4 / 5).IF also promotes:
- Insulin reduction, helping to lower body weight.
- Improved stress management.
- Lower inflammation markers throughout the body.
- Positive changes to gene expression, providing protection from many diseases.
- Improvements of both cardiovascular and neurological health.
Cavemen Didn’t Eat Every 3 Hours
Why does IF seem to work so well, and provide so many health benefits? The answer may lie in our genetic makeup.
Our ancestors didn’t have refrigerators and pantries packed full of food, available to them whenever they wish to eat – along with a drive-thru place down the road. That’s not how we are built.
Food in nature is not common, and as such, we are designed to eat only when food is finally caught or harvested. Nature tends to provide large meals with large breaks in between, not small meals evenly spaced throughout the day.
If you have any medical issues (especially things like diabetes), you’ll want to talk to your doctor before straying from regularly spaced meals – and you’ll want to stick to a traditionally accepted IF meal schedule (intermittent fasting is not an excuse to follow more extreme plans, such as anorexia).
Don’t over-do it, stay sensible, do your research, and then move forward. Done right, IF provides more benefits than possibly any other diet plan.