Intermittent fasting has taken the world by storm. No longer is it the province of fitness freaks. No longer do you get weird looks because you skipped the break room donuts. Now you’ve got grandmothers trying it and doctors recommending it. It’s here, the benefits are legion, and you’re interested. But how should you do it? Are there different types of intermittent fasting? Are there different benefits associated with the various flavors of IF?
Thinking about fasting, reading about fasting, and reciting the benefits of fasting are all pointless if you don’t know how to go about doing it.
First, the most fundamental concept central to all the flavors of intermittent fasting is not eating. Skipping meals, skipping entire days of meals, letting yourself get a little hungry. There’s no getting around that. It will happen. let’s go over the different variations of fasting. I’ll give a quick rundown. Each involves not eating for a period of time, unsurprisingly.
A couple other rules that apply to all the given methods:
- Sleeping hours (provided you don’t sleep-eat) count as fasting hours.
- Eat well regardless. While some fasting plans tout their adherents’ ability to eat crappy food and still lose weight, I’m not interested in fasting solely as a weight loss method. Keep your food Primal as possible.
Okay, on to the variations.
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12:12, 16:8, 18:6, or 20:4 Intermittent Fasting
As the names suggest, these breakdowns of intermittent fasting involves fasting for either 12, 16, 18, or 20 hours and taking in all of your food for the day over the remaining window of hours.
How to find out which fasting length is the the best one for you? There’s only one way. You have to experiment.
You can start with a 12:12 intermittent fast, which comes with the benefits of intermittent fasting and is easy to do for most people. You stop eating a couple of hours before bedtime, and delay breakfast a couple of hours after waking. If that works well, extend your fasting period the next day, and repeat until you find the eating and fasting pattern that feels good.
Lots of diets have added more detail to the intermittent fasting model, but bare-bones intermittent fasting is simply a shorter feeding period.
If you’ve heard of Leangains, Martin Berkhan’s incredibly popular fasting protocol, you’ve heard of 16:8 intermittent fasting. How does it work?
- A daily 16 hour fast during which you eat nothing containing calories. Coffee, tea, and other non-caloric fluids are fine. Some people get away with a little cream in their drink.
- A daily 8 hour eating window.
- Three days of weight training, ideally performed at the tail end of the fasting period. To improve performance and muscle protein synthesis, you have the option of consuming 10 grams of branched chain amino acids 10 minutes before the workout.
- Always eat high protein.
- On training days, eat more carbs and less fat.
- On rest days, eat more fat, fewer carbs, and slightly reduce calories.
- Most people begin their fast after dinner (say, 9 PM), workout in the afternoon (at around 12 PM), and break their fast immediately post-workout (at around 1 PM), but you can use any schedule you prefer as long as you hit the 16 hours of fasting.
- Your post-workout meal should have about 50% of your day’s caloric allotment (a real feast).
Who should try it?
12 or 16 hours isn’t a long time to wait for a meal, which makes intermittent fasting a great model for anyone who wants to experiment with fasting. One benefit of fasting this way is that it’s not that long a fast – you eat every day. It is totally doable. Whether you add the detailed lifting days and carb days is up to you.
Women may have better success with slightly shorter fasting windows—12-14 hours long instead of 16 hours. To understand why, check out my post on women and fasting.
People with steady eating schedules will have more success than people with erratic schedules. A huge benefit of intermittent fasting is the hormonal entrainment induced by regular feeding times. Once you get locked into your routine, your hunger hormones will adapt to the schedule, and the fasting should get easier, or even effortless. For this reason, it’s a good idea to get a feeding schedule and stick to it.
OMAD — One Meal a Day
Ori Hofmekler’s plan is based on the feast-and-fast concept:
- Eat one meal a day, at night, and make it a big one. A real feast. You have three or four hours to eat until full. So it’s basically 20/4 hours.
- You can occasionally snack on low-calorie raw fruit and vegetables during the day, but try to limit protein as much as possible until the feast.
- Exercise during the day, in a fasted state.
Who should try it?
People who have trouble sticking to a stricter fast will do better on the OMAD, as it allows light eating during the time leading up to the feast, but I wonder if you’d be squandering some of the benefits by eating.
Alternate Day Fasting
Researchers often use this method in lab studies:
- Eat normally one day (last meal at, say, 9 PM Monday).
- Don’t eat the next day.
- Resume eating the day after that (at, say, 9 AM Wednesday).
- It works out to a 36-ish hour fast, although there’s plenty of wiggle room. You could eat at 10 PM Monday and break the fast at 6 AM Wednesday for a “mere” 32 hour fast.
Who should try it?
People who have no trouble going to bed hungry. With other intermittent fasting methods, you can always manage to get to bed with a full belly; with ADF, you will be going to bed on an empty stomach several times a week. That can be tough.
That said, the therapeutic benefits to serious conditions will most likely really be pronounced with this way of fasting. The casual 20-something Primal eater who lifts heavy things and enjoys going out with friends? Probably not ideal. The older Primal eater interested in generating some autophagy and maybe staving off neurodegeneration? It might just work out. And while I’m not able to tell a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy what to do, I’d guess that the longer fasts will be more beneficial in that regard, too.
Eat Stop Eat
Put together by Brad Pilon, Eat Stop Eat is really basic:
- Once or twice a week, don’t eat for 24 hours.
- Start your fast in the morning, at lunch, or at dinner. It doesn’t matter as long as you don’t eat for 24 hours.
- Break your fast with a “normal-sized meal.” Don’t try to make up for the lost calories by feasting.
- Exercise regularly.
Who should try it?
People interesting in fasting for the therapeutic benefits (cancer protection, autophagy, life extension, etc.) would probably get a lot out of this method, as opposed to people interested in the body composition benefits.
Going a full 24 hours without food is a much tougher slog than going for 16 hours. In my experience, going lower-carb and higher-fat makes longer fasts easier, so I’d have to say a low-carb Primal eater would do better than most.
But my personal favorite way of implementing fasting?
WHEN — When Hunger Ensues Naturally
I’m not going to put any bullet points here, because none are required. Instead, I’ll give a few scenarios:
I wake up bright and early on a Saturday morning. It’s about 65 degrees, the sun’s out, my dog is walking around with the leash in his mouth, and Red Rock Canyon is kinda calling my name. I’ve got my coffee already and I’m actually not all that hungry from dinner. You know what? I’ll go on that hike, skip breakfast, and really work up an appetite for lunch. Or not. If I’m hungry afterwards, I’ll eat. It’s a fast, but not really.
I hit the gym, put in a light workout, then swing by the beach for some sand sprints. I’m toast by the end and have to stagger back to my car, but I’m not hungry. Even when I get home and smell the grilled salmon, I have no desire for it. I might eat later that night, but only if my appetite returns. I’m fasting post-workout only because it doesn’t occur to me to eat, not because I’m following a plan.
I’m away on business, stuck on a layover that’s turned into a delay that’s turned into an overnighter. The only food available is a Kudos candy bar – I mean, healthy granola bar (they seriously still make these?) from the mini fridge, a greasy pizza joint on the corner across the street from the hotel, a Chinese takeout place next to the pizza joint, and a slew of fast food restaurants some ways down the road. It’s late, I’m tired, I had a Big Ass Salad before I left for LAX… you know what? I’m just going to skip the “meal.” I’ll figure out something at the airport in the morning (20 hour fast) or once I land (24 hour fast). And I’ll be okay either way.
That’s eating When Hunger Ensues Naturally.
This is the most natural, most effortless way of “fasting,” at least for me, because it allows a person to eat intuitively. Although most people will eventually acclimate to more regimented fasting schedules, and many may even need and thrive with that structure, I prefer a more fractal, loose, random pattern of “missing” (in quotations because I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, and that’s the whole point!) meals. I have no data on whether it’s as effective or more effective than the more popular methods, but I do know that I’ll often fast for 16 hours and eat for eight, or skip an entire day of eating, or sometimes (but very, very rarely) even approach a full 30 hours, and it seems likely that this random pattern of eating characterized the eating “schedules” of our ancestors.
In short, we’re all doing the same thing, chasing the same goals. We’re all skipping meals, reducing calories, staying active, and all the while we’re doing this without feeling miserable and restricted. It just so happens that because we’re efficient Primal fat-burning beasts, switching over to burning our own body fat reserves for energy during a fast is a natural, seamless transition. We often don’t even notice it. There’s no effort involved.
That’s the key: lack of stress. If any or all of these fasting methods stress you out, make you irritable, kill your performance, make you feel restricted, or reduce your ability to enjoy life, and these feelings persist beyond the first five fasts you attempt (when some adaptation difficulties are totally expected), you shouldn’t employ them. You should shelve fasting for a while and come back to it later, or never. It’s not a “requirement” or anything. It’s just a tool you can wield if your situation warrants it. In fact, this is the perfect opportunity to conduct an informal experiment of one. Try one style for a week or two, then throw in a a different style once or twice a week for a bit, then try another method. Compare and contrast. How did you feel? How did you perform at work, at home, and in the gym? Take some waist measurements perhaps, or analyze your favorite barometer of body composition to see how the different fasting methods worked – or didn’t work – for you.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. What’s your favorite fasting method? Do you have one, or you just kinda go with the flow? Be sure to review the previous installments below and if you have any questions about any of the stuff I’ve covered in this series, leave them in the comment section and I’ll try to get them answered for you next week. Thanks for reading!
The post How to Intermittent Fast and Which Type of Fasting Is Right For You appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions taken from last week’s post on the power of pairing low-carb with fasting. First, do I have any advice for a woman who’s struggling to see results eating one meal a day? Second, how does low-carb interact with the different types of glucose tests you can take? And third, what are my thoughts on carb limits when fasting? Is lower always better? Is there a carb threshold after which fasting stops working so well?
I have been dappling in low carb for nearly year and in the last 2-3 months I have been playing around with OMAD. My question is, I eat ’till I’m full ,which is about 12-18 grams of carbs, never over 100g protein and around 100g fat, sitting at 1000-1400 calories—but I’m not losing weight. Over 3 months I’ve lost about 6kg and I have about 30kg to lose. Do I keep going? I’m enjoying it but I get frustrated about the lack of weight loss (I’ve lost a dress size).
The majority of women don’t do well on one meal a day. Consider the average office worker struggling to lose weight. They do coffee for breakfast and maybe have a salad with no meat (and few calories) for lunch, struggle mightily not to eat five stale donuts at 3p.m. in the break room, only to cave at night and eat a sack of potato chips and take out while streaming some show.
My point is not that these people would do better if only they ate a solid meal for dinner rather than chips and snacks and Netflix. Nor is it that this problem only afflicts women and never men. Plenty of men do it, too, and have bad results. But it shows more quickly in women, who by nature of their reproductive physiology are simply more vulnerable to nutritional insults than men—on average. I explain the reasons this happens in this post on fasting for women. Long story short, because reproduction is far more costly and demanding on a woman’s body than a man’s (conception, pregnancy, nursing); woman are more finely attuned to caloric restriction and fasting. My point is that fasting for most of the day, every day, doesn’t work well for most women—it becomes a constant stressor, driving unhealthy cravings to which you eventually succumb.
It sounds like OMAD might not be working for you. Just one dress size (which is a better barometer than weight) in 3 months? Yeah, it might be time to try something else.
Was low carb with more frequent meals working?
I’ve seen a lot of men burn out on OMAD, too. Throw in some sleep disturbances, a heavy training schedule, work-related stress, cooking for the family, bills, and whatever other stressors modern life throws our way, and OMAD can be counterproductive.
For one thing, your calorie intake is way too low. One thousand calories is way too low; 1400 calories is really pushing it. Perpetually starving yourself for 22 hours a day and then trying to cram a big meal in that doesn’t even provide enough calories or nutrients just doesn’t work for most people. I can imagine your leptin is low, your caloric expenditure dampened, your thyroid function inhibited.
Here’s what you might try.
Do OMAD with 1000-1400 calories once a week. Twice max. Eat normal—two to three meals—the rest of the days. This way you pulse your fasting and OMAD’ing. You eat normal amounts of calories for five days a week and then drop them down low twice a week, giving your body a message of relative abundance punctuated with short bouts of scarcity.
I think that’ll work better for you. Write back with your results.
If you are low carb and need to do a glucose blood test and an A1C test: What is the best fasting times then? Just the night before or for 24 hours?
If you fast longer, shouldn’t the glucose reading be lower?
It really depends on what kind of test you take.
If you’re doing a fasting blood glucose test, fasting will probably lower it.
If you’re doing a postprandial blood glucose test, fasting will probably raise it. You’re asking your body to suddenly go from burning fat to processing 75 grams of pure glucose. The fat-based metabolism triggers transient insulin resistance, which inhibits your ability to process the glucose efficiently. Your postprandial reading will thus be higher than is “real.”
If you’re doing an HbA1c test, fasting won’t affect it. HbA1c is the “average” blood sugar over three months or so; a single meal will have no impact.
I totally agree with the science of this relationship. Mark, at what intake level of carbs are you considering this relationship no longer synergistic? Anything over 100 grams or should the carb intake be kept lower to have the greatest fat-burning / weight-loss effect?
The bulk of the synergy lies in the ease with which you can maintain the fast. Low-carb/fat-based metabolisms simply make it easier to slip into and remain in the fat-based metabolism of the fasting state. If you can easily fast, easily slip back into ketosis and maintain the fast while eating an otherwise moderate or high-carb diet, have at it. That isn’t as common as the opposite, drawing on my experience talking to hundreds of people about this.
However, some people get the best weight-loss effect by combining intermittent fasting, heavy weight training, and periodic/timed carb feeds. The trick is to time your carbs around your workouts, and eat no more than you’ve actually expended through glycogen depletion. That means you’re still in a fat-based metabolism because the carbs you do eat are going toward glycogen repletion rather than being burned for energy, so they never actually inhibit the burning of body fat.
If you’re doing CrossFit WODs that hit every muscle and leave you panting on the ground (or the equivalent), you could probably get away with 100-200 grams right after without any issues. It really depends, of course. More muscle, larger glycogen sinks. Some people just slip right back into ketosis more easily. Others have a life history that may inhibit this. But that 100-ish carbs after a “hard” training session that you feel should be a good target for most people.
You should keep fat low and protein high in these carb-heavy meals. What you want is to refill that glycogen and hit the protein hard.
That’s it for today, folks. Take care. Be sure to ask any followups or additional questions down below. Thanks for reading!
The post Dear Mark: OMAD for Women, Low-Carb Glucose Testing, and Carb Limit When Fasting appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Is it just a case of overlapping interests? Is it because when you stumble upon one big lie perpetrated by the experts—that cutting carbs will give you heart disease and leave your brain starving for energy/you must eat 6-8 small meals a day or else risk “starvation mode” and “slow metabolism”—you start questioning all the other advice they give?
It might be some of that. But a big reason why intermittent fasting and low-carb eating tend to converge is that they are synergistic. Doing one makes the other work better, and vice versa.
What are the benefits? What are the synergies?
Fasting is easier when you’re low-carb. Low-carb is easier when you fast.
Low-carb is easier when you fast.
Fasting is easier when you’re low-carb.
The two inputs support each other. Rather than a vicious cycle, it’s a virtuous one. Fasting promotes fat-adaptation by upregulating fat-burning mitochondria, spurring the creation of new mitochondria, and reducing your reliance on sugar. Fat-adaptation makes going low-carb easier, because you’re really good at burning body fat and don’t get so many sugar cravings. Going low-carb makes you even better at burning fat and builds even more mitochondria, which is a prerequisite for fasting for extended periods of time.
If low-carb is going to work, you have to do it. If fasting is going to work, you have to fast. Anything that makes those easier is going to be good for your health. That’s where it all starts.
You’ll burn more fat.
A 2013 study compared low-fat dieters on an alternate day fasting schedule with low-carb dieters on an alternate day fasting schedule. Both groups lost weight and improved metabolic health markers, but the low-carbers lost more body fat.
A more recent study putting low-carbers on a fasting schedule for six months saw their body fat drop, lean mass remain stable, and fasting insulin decrease. However, there was no control group and the low-carb diet was still 30% carbs. I think you’d see better results if you dropped those carbs down even lower.
You’ll lose less muscle.
One common criticism lobbed at intermittent fasting enthusiasts is that it has the potential to cause muscle loss. This is a valid point. If you are insufficiently fat-adapted, your glucose requirements will remain elevated when fasting, and you may break down muscle tissue for the amino acids to convert to glucose.
Luckily, ketones spare muscle tissue by reducing your need for glucose. It turns out that a fair number of tissues that would otherwise run on glucose can run on ketones. Being in a ketogenic or low-carb fat-burning state before you fast accentuates this effect. It’s no wonder that the studies mentioned in the last section found that weight loss via low-carb dieting and fasting was entirely from body fat.
Bump up the muscle-sparing effect even more by lifting heavy things (even during the fast).
You’ll forget to eat.
A major reason low-carb and keto diets work so well for weight loss is that they increase satiety and inadvertently reduce calories. Whereas your average calorie-counter is painstakingly tracking everything he or she eats and expends just to wrangle a few pounds lost, the low-carb dieter often just eats to satiety and lets the weight loss happen.
The average low-carber will fast without even thinking about it. They fast because they simply aren’t hungry and forget to eat. Someone on a higher-carb “regular” diet often must summon superhuman willpower to fast. They fast in spite of being ravenous and can think of nothing else but eating.
Forgetting to eat is a much easier way to fast than willing yourself to do it.
You’ll avoid harmful postprandial blood sugar spikes.
Eating a high-carb meal after fasting for two days will spike your postprandial blood sugar. Eating a low-carb meal after fasting for two days will likely not. Why?
Consider the problem of the long-term low-carber trying to pass a glucose tolerance test. It’s common for long-term low-carbers to “fail” glucose tolerance tests because they’re trying to handle 75 grams of pure glucose with a fat-based metabolism. The body is set up to burn fat and you suddenly introduce a bunch of glucose. It’s hard to do, and most people will fail that—even if they’re healthy.
When you’re coming off a fast, you’re burning fat. You may not have the glucose intolerance of a long-term low-carber, but you are running on fat, and that’s going to raise the chance of exaggerated postprandial blood sugar numbers.
If you do want to eat carbs after a fast, the best way to mitigate this issue is to break the fast with a hard workout and then eat the carbs. You’ll “simulate” glucose tolerance by clearing out glycogen and providing open storage depots for the incoming carbohydrates.
Or you could just be a low-carber to begin with and avoid the problem altogether.
You’re less likely to overdo the re-feeds.
Fasting is a great way to induce caloric deficits and thus lose weight. That’s pretty much why it works so well, as an artificial boundary to control our eating and snacking habits. However, people can tend to go a little wild on the re-feeds. They haven’t eaten all day, so of course they’re going to pig out when they break the fast and eat all sorts of foods they wouldn’t otherwise eat—and eat way more calories than they would have, thereby counteracting all the good they did not eating.
If you’re sticking to low-carb or keto principles, the re-feed is safer. You’re less likely to overeat, because low-carb is so satiating. You’re less likely to eat junk, because the “rules” of the diet eliminate most of the offending foods like chips, sweets, and fried carbohydrates.
Your insulin will normalize.
When insulin is elevated, fat is locked away in our adipose tissue, making it very difficult to burn fat. Hyperinsulinemia, or chronically elevated insulin, also increases the risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and elevated insulin levels are linked to atherosclerosis.
Intermittent fasting is a potent antidote to hyperinsulinemia. This recent study found that, despite causing similar reductions in body weight, alternate day fasting led to greater improvements in insulin and insulin resistance than regular caloric restriction.
Low-carb eating is also a potent antidote to hyperinsulinemia. As it turns out, avoiding carbohydrates reduces one’s insulin load.
I’m no enemy of insulin. It serves many valuable purposes, and we wouldn’t be alive without it. But too much insulin at the wrong time causes undeniable problems—and combining IF with low-carb can normalize it.
So, should you avoid fasting if you’re not low-carb?
Fasting while low-carb isn’t the only way to do it. Many people have great success combining high-carb dieting with fasting, provided they also lift weights. One popular (and effective) method is to go high-carb, low-fat on training days, with the workout coming at the tail end of the fast and the first meal coming after the workout. Then on rest days, you break the fast with low-carb, high-fat meals. The training stimulus increases insulin sensitivity and gives all those carbs a place to go (your muscle glycogen stores).
But combining low-carb and intermittent fasting really does increase and accentuate the benefits of both practices.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’d love to hear about your experiences with intermittent fasting and low-carb eating. Do you find that the two go hand in hand, or have you also had success fasting with a higher-carb diet?
Klempel MC, Kroeger CM, Varady KA. Alternate day fasting (ADF) with a high-fat diet produces similar weight loss and cardio-protection as ADF with a low-fat diet. Metab Clin Exp. 2013;62(1):137-43.
Kalam F, Gabel K, Cienfuegos S, et al. Alternate day fasting combined with a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss, weight maintenance, and metabolic disease risk reduction. Obes Sci Pract. 2019;5(6):531-539.
Mujaj B, Bos D, Kavousi M, et al. Serum insulin levels are associated with vulnerable plaque components in the carotid artery: the Rotterdam Study. Eur J Endocrinol. 2020;
Gabel K, Kroeger CM, Trepanowski JF, et al. Differential Effects of Alternate-Day Fasting Versus Daily Calorie Restriction on Insulin Resistance. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019;27(9):1443-1450.
The post Benefits of Pairing Low-Carb Eating with Intermittent Fasting for Health and Weight Loss appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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It’s curious how not eating can spark so many questions and debates. A practice born out of necessity for our ancestors, fasting for long stretches happened when weather or circumstance hampered hunting and gathering, or for shorter periods while on the hunt or foraging.
As food has become readily available and abundant in many countries, our near-constant state of food arousal can dull the hormonal drivers that regulate appetite and, ironically, lead us to want to counteract the overabundance with some restriction. When we eat too much too often, we get the natural inclination to push back from the table and vow not to consume another bite for a (possibly long) while.
Fasting, particularly intermittent fasting, is gaining popularity now as a weight loss and weight management tool. As some celebrities proclaim that intermittent fasting is one of their “secrets” to their hard Hollywood-worthy bods, more and more people will be keen to latch on. We compiled a list of our greatest hits on fasting and intermittent fasting to provide education and context around how intermittent fasting works, reasons you may want to try it, reasons you may not want to try it, and considerations for athletes who want to fast.
First, let’s start with the basics. Before making any changes to your eating (or non-eating) habits, it’s important to understand:
- what it means to fast
- why people fast
- how long to fast
- what benefits or downfalls there could be to fasting
- whether all of the above can or should apply to you individually
Do the effects of fasting differ for men and women? What are the most common things people get wrong about fasting? Is fasting an effective tool for weight loss? We answer those questions, and more, in the following articles.
Fasting How to
How to Lose Weight with Intermittent Fasting
Fasting can be really beneficial to those who are trying to lose fat. Yes, that’s fat and not weight. Unlike some other kinds of weight-loss methods, which result in loss of water weight or muscle mass, fasting can effectively get rid of fat.
How to: Intermittent Fasting
There is no one way to do IF. The only real guideline is that, as always, the food you eat should be healthy. (It’s pretty clear how we choose to characterize that.) In addition to the substantial health benefits, the simplicity and flexibility are what draw people to IF.
Dry fasting is going without both food and fluid. That means no coffee, no tea, no broth, and no water or liquid of any kind (except the saliva you manage to produce). It’s an extreme type of fast whose fans and practitioners are adamant that it can resolve serious health issues. But does it? Is it safe? And what kind of research is available on it?
Fasting vs. Carb Restriction
Both fasting and carb-restriction appear to operate along similar physiological pathways. Both lower carbs. Both increase fat-adaptation. Both have the potential to get you into ketosis. Both lower insulin and blood sugar. But is one better than the other?
Top 10 Fasting Mistakes
If you’re making fasting mistakes, you might never accomplish the benefits you were hoping for. Before you throw in the towel, I want to help you identify some possible fasting pitfalls you might not be aware of and also help you avoid them.
The Pros and Cons of Fasting
The Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Fasting is one way to have your cake and eat it too. Beyond the already proven benefits of a Primal Blueprint low-carb lifestyle, fasting once in a while seems to offer many of the same benefits of calorie restriction—you know, stuff like increased longevity, neuroprotection, increased insulin sensitivity, stronger resistance to stress, some cool effects on endogenous hormone production, increased mental clarity, plus more—but without the active, agonizing restriction.
Intermittent Fasting for Women
With fasting, perhaps the most important variable to consider is your biological sex. This really does make intuitive sense. Biology cares most about your fertility. Can you reproduce? Can you produce healthy offspring that survive to do the same? These things come first. And from that perspective, a woman’s situation is more precarious than a man’s.
Should You Try Fasting?
Primal folks who are losing weight or looking to lose a bit more, and getting the right lifestyle changes enacted (sleep, exercise, sex, leisure, rest, relaxation, mental stimulation) should definitely try fasting. They will likely flourish.
When Does Fasting Cross the Line?
How do you know if your fasting regimen may be slipping into the grey area of potential orthorexia or disordered eating? We can’t diagnose anyone in an article, of course, but there are signs to watch out for if you have personal concerns or worries about others.
14 Reasons to Fast
Anytime you attempt a “radical” health practice like not eating, it helps to have a good reason to do it. That will not only give you something to aim for, but it will ensure you actually have a physiological justification for your experiment. Never go in blind. What are some of the specific scenarios and conditions where fasting makes the most sense?
Long Fasts: Worth the Risk?
If fasting for more than three days sounds riskier than just skipping breakfast, you’re right. Long fasts can get you into trouble. They’re a big commitment. You shouldn’t just stumble into one because it sounds interesting or some guy on your Twitter feed wrote about it.
What Breaks a Fast?
It’s the nature of many beings—particularly those with weight-loss goals, it seems—to want to know what the “rules” are so they can look for the loopholes to bend them. It’s no surprise that the top-performing article last year on Mark’s Daily Apple was “Does Coffee Break a Fast?” Consequently, we followed up with an article about whether bone broth breaks a fast because we received additional questions. Then people wanted to know about supplements—should they be taken while fasting? We then created a definitive guide to what breaks a fast. If there’s any other liquid, leaf, pill, stone, or twig we neglected to examine, let us know in the comments section.
Does Bone Broth Break a Fast?
Most people aren’t fasting to be able to brag about eating no calories for X number of days. They fast for shorter (often intermittent) periods of time for specific health benefits. It’s entirely possible that bone broth “breaks a fast” but allows many of the benefits we associate with fasting to occur.
Does Coffee Break a Fast?
Does black coffee break a fast? Put another way… Does coffee interfere with the benefits we’re seeking from a fast? Depends on the benefits you’re seeking (and what you put in the coffee).
Let’s look at some of the most common benefits first and if/how coffee affects them.
Do Supplements Break a Fast?
Does fish oil break a fast? What about my multivitamin, protein powder, collagen, or melatonin? Mark delves into the research to provide definitive answers.
Definitive Guide to What Breaks a Fast
One of the most common questions I get is “Does [x] break a fast?”
What they’re really inquiring about is: “Does this interfere with, negate, or nullify the benefits of fasting?” Let’s go through the most popular queries one by one and figure out how each one affects an intermittent fast.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Athletes?
Does fasting before and during workouts confer any performance perks or additional fat-burning benefits? Should athletes fast before every session, or only specific types of workouts? What are the potential drawbacks to fasting for athletes? Let’s go.
Intermittent Fasting Tips for Athletes
What are my specific recommendations for athletes who wish to explore intermittent fasting? I’ve got 12… plus some details about my own fasting and workout routine.
Benefits & Concerns Fasting for Athletes
Sometimes, high stress is exactly what we need to progress—a few heavy sets of squats, some rounds on the Airdyne, a killer CrossFit workout—as long as you can recover from it. A major modulator of our stress is the amount of food we have coming in. At least in theory, exercising in a fasted state could provoke a powerful adaptive response that athletes would find helpful. So, does it stack up? What exactly can intermittent fasting offer athletes?
To some, the idea of working out without “carbing up” or doing the pre-workout protein shake is unthinkable. To others, fasted workouts are sacred tools, the perfect antidote to modern decrepitude. Where does the truth lie?
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading, take care, and leave a comment below if there are more questions you have about IF!
The post Intermittent Fasting: How It Works, Reasons to Try It & Considerations for Athletes appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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A little while back, Mark posted an article about 14 scenarios in which intermittent fasting (IF) might be just the ticket. We got some requests for a follow-up about times when IF might not be advised.
Mark has already written about cautions for women and athletes specifically. I’ll link those at the bottom. More generally, it’s important that anyone considering IF make sure that they are in a good place physically and mentally to handle the additional stress of IF.
As Mark said:
If you haven’t satisfied the usual IF “pre-reqs,” like being fat-adapted, getting good and sufficient sleep, minimizing or mitigating stress, and exercising well (not too much and not too little), you should not fast. These pre-reqs are absolutely crucial and non-negotiable, in my opinion—especially the fat-adaptation. In fact, I suspect that if an IF study was performed on sugar-burning women versus fat-adapted women, you’d see that the fat-burning beasts would perform better and suffer fewer (if any) maladaptations.
Fasting is generally healthy when done properly. The same goes for exercise and carb restriction. These behaviors help many people; but they can also be unhealthy for certain people or when used too much or in the wrong circumstances.
Today I’d like to wade into potentially controversial waters and talk about when fasting potentially crosses the line into disordered eating territory.
Before You Get Defensive…
If you find yourself feeling defensive already because you enjoy fasting and think that I’m going to suggest that you have a problem, please hold off commenting until the end.
To be clear: I do not think that fasting is inherently disordered. However, its popularity has skyrocketed so rapidly, and its proponents are so enthusiastic, that the potential downsides have been overshadowed. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. I have seen plenty of people in mental health and disordered eating circles voice concerns. The ancestral community tends to be very rah-rah about fasting.
The goal for today is to shine a light on this issue so that we don’t go into fasting with a blind spot.
Eating Disorders vs. Disordered Eating
The prevalence of full-blown eating disorders (ED) is fairly low according to NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association. Experts believe biological and/or psychological predispositions make certain individuals vulnerable. These predispositions probably interact with environmental factors to trigger ED.
That said, many more people engage in disordered eating behaviors. The behaviors and their effects are not problematic enough to qualify for diagnosis with ED, but they still negatively affect physical and/or mental health and quality of life. Depending on their severity, they might be considered suboptimal to truly unhealthy.
Before going any further, let me be clear: I’m not in any way trying to diagnose readers with ED or disordered eating. That is way beyond my pay grade. Nor should you self-diagnose. If you want to learn more or get help, the best place to start is with NEDA’s Help & Support center. They have an online screening tool and a helpline there.
As I said, I don’t think fasting is inherently bad. However, NEDA lists fasting among the behaviors that can be indicative of ED. Of course, professionals in the ED and mental health worlds are looking at fasting through the lens of restricting and exercising tight control over food intake. We in the ancestral health space tend to look at it through the lens of optimizing health.
Neither perspective is more correct. It’s all about context:
- why you’re fasting,
- how fasting makes you feel physically and mentally,
- whether it takes over your life,
- if you are using it in a way that is actually undermining your health,
- whether you are taking it “too far” (admittedly a nebulous metric)
As with so many things, deciding if you’ve crossed the line is highly personal. This applies to much more than food. When does worry become anxiety? When does fear become a phobia?
One criteria might be whether fasting causes you distress. Another is whether it interferes with your quality of life, social relationships, and work. This is called the criteria of clinical significance in the DSM-V, the diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals.
It’s often apparent, though not always easy to accept, when a behavior is no longer serving us. Unfortunately, though, it’s not always that simple. When it comes to fasting, it can cross over into problematic territory and still feel good.
Wouldn’t I Know If My Fasting Regime Was Too Much?
Maybe, maybe not. Restricting calories and fasting can lead to elevated mood, increased energy and motivation, and even feelings of euphoria. (Fasting that doesn’t result in a caloric deficit might be less prone to this.)
There are physiological reasons why this might be the case. First, scientists hypothesize that this is an adaptive response. If you were truly starving, this increased energy, drive, and focus would help you redouble your efforts to find food.
There is also some evidence that food restriction affects serotonin and dopamine pathways and can, for some individuals, reduce anxiety. Researchers believe that this is one way anorexic behaviors are reinforced in the brain. Again, fasting and anorexia nervosa are NOT the same animal, but they can share common features. The “high” associated with anorexia nervosa sounds not unlike the profound energy and cognitive benefits that some people report with fasting.
All this is to say, food restriction can feel good. For some people—or more accurately, for some brains—the withholding of food becomes inherently rewarding. In that case, you wouldn’t necessarily recognize when enough is enough.
How Do You Know If You’ve Crossed the Line?
I’m not going to be able to provide a definitive answer here. That said, these seem like potential red flags:
- Fasting makes you feel euphoric. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harmful by any means. Still, take a step back and evaluate whether you are always making healthy choices.
- Your fasting regimen causes distress or significantly interferes with your life.
- You feel like you have to fast or something bad will happen.
- When you eat after a fast, you feel out of control with your food intake or binge.
- You’re ignoring symptoms that might be related to too much fasting: adrenal or thyroid issues, fatigue, hair loss, weakness or inability to perform usual workouts, sleep disturbances, too much weight loss, etc.
Again, I am in no way diagnosing anyone here. If you think that perhaps your behavior has crossed into unhealthy territory, you should seek the counsel of someone trained in these issues.
The Bottom Line
Fasting, though it confers certain health benefits, is not good for every person. Experts recommend that individuals at risk for developing ED or with a history of ED refrain from fasting, including intermittent fasting, altogether. Even if you don’t think you’re at risk, it still might not be in your best interest.
Because fasting is so popular right now, some people think they have to fast for optimal health. They worry that they are missing out on tremendous health benefits if they can’t or don’t want to fast. The main reasons people fast are autophagy, glycemic control, and fat loss. You can achieve all of those goals through means other than fasting.
Remember, too, that you need not rigidly adhere to the same eating window every single day. It is fine to fast stochastically, to borrow from Paleo OG Art De Vany. You might also consider doing one longer fast a few times per year instead of daily intermittent fasting.
In any case, if fasting is wrong for you, it’s wrong for you, period. It doesn’t really matter if your neighbor loves it or the lady in the next cubicle lost 60 pounds with IF. If it negatively impacts your physical and/or mental well-being, it’s not worth it.
And in case this isn’t perfectly clear: Enjoying fasting DOES NOT MEAN that you are doing anything wrong. On the contrary, I hope you are enjoying fasting if it’s a tool you’re using regularly. Feeling great is the goal. If it’s not negatively affecting your physical health, psychological well-being, or social relationships, it’s not problematic. Likewise, if you are consuming enough calories when you do eat, and you’re able to be flexible with your fasting schedule when the situation calls for it, you likely don’t have to worry.
This issue can be hard to talk about because so many people feel passionately about defending their way of eating. Those who question whether fasting is always healthy, or who point out that a desire to eat healthfully can sometimes slip into orthorexia, are accused of “fit shaming.”
However, not talking about it isn’t the answer. Our goal should be to bring these issues into the light and try to better understand them. Then we can make informed decisions about which behaviors best serve us now and in the future.
Related Posts from MDA
- Intermittent Fasting for Women: What We Know Now
- Dear Mark: More on Women and Fasting
- Intermittent Fasting For Athletes: Benefits and Concerns
- 12 Intermittent Fasting Tips for Athletes
- Fasting versus Carb Restriction: Which Works Better for What Scenarios
Kaye, WH, Fudge, JL, Paulus, M. New insights into symptoms and neurocircuit function of anorexia nervosa. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2009;10: 573–584.
Kaye WH, Wierenga CE, Bailer UF, Simmons AN, Bischoff-Grethe A. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels: the neurobiology of anorexia nervosa. Trends Neurosci. 2013 Feb;36(2):110-20.
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