Intermittent fasting is getting a lot of press of late, but some folks are still worried about whether this diet fad is healthy, useful, or even safe.
To assuage your fears, New York Times bestselling authors Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic for Functional Medicine, and Max Lugavere, health journalist, are busting five major misconceptions people still have about intermittent fasting.
1. “Intermittent fasting has been linked to weight loss, but only because when you fast, you eat less food overall.”
Sometimes people practicing intermittent fasting do end up eating less – especially those who have a tendency to snack at night – but even if you eat just as much, it's likely you'll still end up losing weight, according to Dr. Hyman.
“Intermittent fasting can lead to fat loss and weight loss even when someone does not reduce the overall amount of calories they consume in a day,” explains Dr. Hyman. “There are a few reasons for this. Intermittent fasting reduces inflammation in the body, and inflammation is a big driver of weight gain. Additionally, glucose metabolism gets better and insulin sensitivity increases when you fast.”
2. “You shouldn’t ingest anything during your fast periods.”
First off, cutting out water is never a great idea, so even if you’re practicing intermittent fasting, keep drinking H2O. But water might not be the only thing you can consume during a fast period.
While Lugavere notes that once the liver starts to metabolize the things we eat or drink, the fast has technically ended, he also explains that “Many of the benefits of fasting stem from the fact that you are prolonging the amount of time spent in a low insulin state.”
This, he explains, means that drinking coffee, which does not stimulate insulin, “might be permissible,” and even a little bit of fat could be fine, despite falling outside of studied protocols.
Dr. Hyman even recommends having a cup of bulletproof coffee in the morning, noting that this combo of coffee and butter or ghee "contains healthy fats and puts your body into ketosis, or the act of shifting the primary fuel from glucose to ketones (or fat)." This can help with fat-burning and fuel your metabolism.
3. “Alternate day fasting is the best kind of fasting.”
Intermittent fasting exists in several forms: alternate day fasting requires you severely restrict calories to fewer than 500, eaten all at one meal, every other day. 5:2 fasting, meanwhile, requires an individual to eat regularly for five days and severely restrict their calories for the remaining two. 16/8 fasting requires an individual to fast for 16 hours, eating only during an eight-hour window.
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Lugavere notes that alternate day fasting can be done occasionally to aid in weight loss and contribute to cardiovascular health, but 16/8 is the easiest protocol and can be practiced every day (with approval from your doctor).
Hyman agrees. “For many patients, I find a 16-hour window becomes that ‘magic’ number,” he says. “It isn’t as unpleasant as it might sound, since you’ll be sleeping about eight of those hours.”
4. “I can’t fast because I work out a lot.”
While it’s always important to check with your doctor before changing any dietary regimen, don’t think that just because you practice a lot of physical activity there’s no way intermittent fasting could work for you.
“When I practice intermittent fasting, but I have bulletproof coffee, I actually find that I have more energy for sports or training,” says Dr. Hyman.
He notes, however, that this might not be the case for everyone.
“Listen to your body," he says. "It will tell you what it likes and doesn’t like. You might find that you want to work out right before your first meal or in the evening instead of first thing in the morning.”
5. “It’s just not natural!”
Some people accustomed to eating three meals a day claim that intermittent fasting is akin to starving yourself, but according to our experts, intermittent fasting is actually quite natural – especially the 16/8 protocol.
“Animals are designed to eat at certain points in the day,” explains Lugavere, citing a study done in mice at San Diego’s Salk Institute, where two groups of mice – one given food all day long and one only during an eight hour window – ate the same number of calories (and the eight-hour window group weighed two percent less).
“We are diurnal creatures and therefore our bodies' metabolisms are calibrated for daytime eating,” he says. “While there are only a small number of human studies it would stand to reason that eating constantly throughout the day and night is likely disharmonious with that.”
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