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Intermittent Fasting – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For those of you who read my blogs on a regular basis, you already know how I feel about fad diets. That is to say, I don’t support them and I know they don’t work for long term weight loss. However, I’ve been intrigued by the notion of intermittent fasting. I’m seeing articles and content about it everywhere. In a very short amount of time, it’s become all the rage in the fitness and wellness world. I thought I’d dig a little deeper into the supposed benefits of this to see if it would work for my clients.

Before we get in to the meat and potatoes of this I do want to make this clear: All diets, fad or no, work in the right now.  If you follow the rules.  The question is whether they are a viable long term answer.

“Benefits” of Intermittent Fasting

intermittent fastingProponents of intermittent fasting swear it’s the cure for weight-loss plateaus and that it helps to hold off a host of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis or high blood pressure. The basics of intermittent fasting create a limited window for eating, depending on the person, it can be a 4, 6, 8 hour window, or even, in some extreme cases a 2 hour window. All caloric consumption takes place within this time frame. Any beverages consumed outside of the fasting window must contain less than 25 calories, or else the fast is considered broken. By directing all calorie consumption in a small window of time, followers feel freer to consume larger quantities of food thereby negating the positive effects of limited consumption. The body is literally starved of calories during the fasting period.

On the plus side, this has got to be the simplest diet yet: It takes no preparation or planning on the part of the dieter.  Just don’t eat until you hit your window.  Those are the only rules.

According to a study at Johns Hopkins University “alternating between fasting and eating may improve cellular health, most likely by triggering metabolic switching. In metabolic switching, cells use up their fuel stores and convert fat to energy — “flipping a switch” from fat-storing to fat-saving.”

As soon as I read this, I realized this doesn’t work for those who are looking to build and maintain muscle while burning fat. Simply put, I want my clients to optimize their metabolism to keep the body at peak performance and to keep burning fat throughout the day.

one pound fat and muscle

Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting

fasting muscle lossListen when I tell you this: using fasting as weight loss tool will absolutely cost you lean muscle tissue.  For males, the cost is less due to the fact that they are starting with more muscle mass and also have the protective effects of higher (much higher) testosterone levels.  For females, the loss of lean muscle tissue is much more severe.

What’s wrong with losing muscle while losing weight?  The result is your base metabolic rate reduces because it is heavily influenced by the amount of active lean muscle that you have.  That means you are burning less calories and it will be even easier for to gain the weight back or more.

Now here’s a common misperception  / objection: You might say  “I don’t care about muscle mass, I only want to lose weight.”  Wrong.  You don’t want to lose weight.  You want to lose fat.  You don’t want to lose muscle.  Muscle burns fat.  Muscle enables you to eat more without gaining fat.  You can build a lot of muscle that you will never see.  Muscle is much more dense than fat and takes up much less space.  Trust me when you think that your thighs are too big, the too big part isn’t muscle.  It’s fat.

When you sleep, you are by default fasting.  Your body is still working to burn calories and it’s crucial to give the body fuel in the morning to recharge, repair and reset for the day to come.  My nutritional plans are designed to increase your metabolic rate – not just reply on your natural default metabolic rate (which is likely too slow and why you are looking to lose weight).  My starting nutrition plans recommend eating at least 5 times a day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner. For those looking to build more muscle, they may eat even more times throughout the day. I can support the concept of not eating after a certain point in the evening, which curbs mindless snacking, but I can’t support starving the body.

Another concern I have is by starving the body with intermittent fasting, it can be challenging to have enough energy for satisfying, productive workouts. For those looking to build or maintain lean muscle mass (important for boosting metabolism), working out with weights is an ideal exercise. If you don’t have the strength to lift weights due to lack of nutrition, intermittent fasting might not work for you.

fatigue

fatigue

Additionally, intermittent fasting is a challenging schedule to stick to due to energy. There are no set foods you can, or can not eat. Food choices are left up to the participant, which can be a very difficult diet to stick to when the body is literally starving for the first meal. It’s almost guaranteed to leave the dieter feeling hungry, irritable and less able to concentrate, which can make for some very poor food choices, once the dieter is allowed to consume calories. According to a 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association study: “When the brain is deprived of food, appetite hormones in the hypothalamus, the brain’s “hunger center,” are released in a flurry and can trigger overeating.” “Patients should be advised that feeling hungry and irritable is common initially and usually passes after two weeks to a month as the body and brain become accustomed to the new habit.”

Once again, if the goal is just to lose additional weight, by limiting eating within windows of six to eight hours this will slow down the body’s metabolic rate and create much easier weight gain once someone returns to a regular eating schedule. Other studies indicate that shorter windows for eating over the long term might have an adverse effect on cardiovascular health. It would be a shame to lose the weight, just to create other diseases or conditions.  Whether or not this last side effect proves to be true, you don’t want to burn less, you want to burn more.

If my clients plan it correctly, sticking to a 12 hour feeding or nutrition window daily might make sense. Wake up and eat a sensible, nutritious breakfast either before or after your morning cardio workout. Have a small snack three hours later, then a nutritious lunch. Another small snack mid-day keeps the hunger at bay and boosts the metabolism. Having a sensible dinner without the high-calorie desserts or alcohol 12 hours or less after your first meal, then stopping your caloric intake until the next day works well for those of you looking to keep your metabolism at its peak and your fat loss at its maximum.

Understand this: there is to amount of witchcraft or trickery you can use to get around the fact that fat and weight loss relies on calories in vs. calories Out.  Regardless of the type of diet you implement, you need to burn more calories than you take in to lose fat.

Be advised, there is no one “right” diet or nutrition plan for every person. When I work with my clients or advise people in general on optimizing their fitness and physique, one of the most important aspects is always nutrition. If you’re not consuming whole, nutritious foods such as lean protein, low glycemic carbs, fiber, vegetables and some fruits and fueling your body properly for your workouts and everyday living, you will start to see the ill effects sooner rather than later. They don’t call it a beer gut for nothing.

When looking to change your lifestyle and diet, it’s crucial to work with a certified professional who understands the ins and outs of diets, nutrition, health and well-being. Looking to drop weight quickly? It can be done safely, but only when you really understand how to help your body burn fat without losing muscle. Most fad diets can help you shed weight quickly, and you may be able to fit into that new outfit you just bought, but as soon as you start eating your normal diet again, the weight piles back on. Before you consider yet another quick fix to lose weight, contact me today to create a nutrition and workout plan that’s right for you.

Jennifer before and after
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Aaron before and after
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Mandy before and after
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Mark before and after
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Kristina before and after
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Posted in Nutrition by Jason Kozma | Comments Off on Intermittent Fasting – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly