What if I told you that, contrary to popular belief, starting your day off with a healthy breakfast is not all it’s cracked up to be? You might say I'm crazy, and as someone who used to be a big breakfast fan I can understand the disbelief. Nonetheless, I want to share how I’ve been able to maintain a 20 pound weight loss simply by skipping breakfast.
This is not one of those “lose weight quick" schemes. This is my real experience supported by real science.
I typically eat two meals a day. I eat my first meal at 12pm and the second before 8pm sometimes with a snack in between. Then, I don’t eat until lunch time the following day.
This unconventional eating vs. non eating cycle I’m referring to is also known as intermittent fasting.
I was first introduced to intermittent fasting two years ago. I'll admit, I initially resisted the idea because it went against everything I was taught regarding nutrition and weight loss. At the time, I weighed 178 pounds and had 29.9% body fat; a number that increased my likelihood of developing some form of chronic disease in the future. After a little research I figured it was worth giving it a shot. Within six months I was able to drop down to 158 pounds and 18% body fat.
We live in a world where we are bombarded by food everywhere we go so I can understand that fasting may seem unusual. However, it's important to recognize that fasting is a normal part of everyday life. You just happen to be asleep throughout most of it. The difference is intermittent fasting extends the length of time you fast.
Dr. Jason Fung, co-author of the book The Complete Guide to Fasting stated, “It is perhaps the oldest and most powerful dietary intervention imaginable.”
Let’s continue, shall we?
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is alternate periods of eating and not eating. IF is less about what you eat and more about when you eat so your body can be the fat burning machine it’s designed to be. There are no standard guidelines regarding fasting and diet, although I believe that IF is most affective when paired with a low carbohydrate diet and minimal amounts of processed foods.
A meal, such as breakfast, is typically skipped during a fasting cycle. You are able to eat how you normally would during your eating window, but it's likely you'll still consume less calories than you're used to.
A common misconception surrounding fasting is that you must starve yourself. To be clear, starvation and fasting are NOT the same thing. Starvation is an involuntary response that is caused by a lack of food availability. Someone who is starving does not know when or where their next meal is coming from. Fasting is a conscious choice made by an individual to abstain from eating for spiritual or health purposes. During my fasting periods there is food readily available, and I always get to decide if and when to break my fast.
What Does A Fasting Schedule Look Like?
There are several different approaches to fasting and choosing the one that works best for your lifestyle is important. I have been successful using the 16:8 method, which is a 16 hour fast followed by an 8 hour eating period.
I typically have my first meal between noon and 1 o’clock and the second before 8pm. Then, I fast for 16 hours until lunchtime the next day.
16:8 Fasting Schedule
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Differentiating between a fed state and a fasted state is key to understanding how IF leads to weight loss.
When we eat, more food energy (typically sugar) is consumed than the body can immediately utilize. The body will use up what it can and store away any excess energy for later. Insulin, the hormone responsible for storing food energy, does this in two ways. Smaller sugar molecules are linked together to form a larger molecule called glycogen, which is stored in the liver. The liver has limited storage space therefore forcing insulin to deposit any remaining sugar molecules as fat, and there is no limit as to how much fat can be stored.
See where I'm going with this?
Your body enters a fasted state 8 to 12 hours after your last meal. During a fasted state the process is reversed because the body is no longer getting it’s energy from food. Insulin levels decrease, thereby signaling the body to burn stored fat for energy.
Unfortunately, it’s rare for our bodies to be in a fasted state because we have been conditioned to constantly eat throughout the day. We’re eating from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep, never allowing our bodies a chance to burn the energy it’s already holding.
If you don’t have a good balance between fasting and eating, overtime you will inevitably gain weight.
Additional Benefits of Fasting
Weight loss is great, but there are many other reasons why fasting is one of the most powerful tools you can utilize to manage your health.
1. Boosts Brain Health
Studies have shown fasting to promote neural health by converting stem cells into new neurons. Production of new neurons can have a crucial role in preventing devastating conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's disease.
In addition, memory and concentration becomes enhanced due to a mild stress response that is produced in the brain during fasting periods. This stress response causes the brain to become more active and alert. When we eat a large meal, 65% of the body's energy goes to our digestive system leaving less energy available for our brain to function.
2. Preserves Lean Muscle Mass
Fasting has been shown to increase the secretion of human growth hormone, also known as the “fitness" hormone. HGH is essential for growing and maintaining lean muscle mass. One study reported, subjects who underwent interval training while fasting increased HGH levels by 1300% in women and 2000% in men.
3. Prolongs Aging
When our insulin levels are low during fasting, a process called autophagy is stimulated. Autophagy is a way for the body to cleanse itself by identifying “broken” cellular parts, then replacing those parts with new ones. Our body is essentially undergoing a self renovation. Researchers believe that build up of these “old parts” may be responsible for premature aging.
4. Improves Insulin Sensitivity
The average person consumes far more food than the body needs. This can lead to insulin resistance overtime, which has been linked to a range of chronic diseases. By lowering insulin levels your body becomes more efficient at using up stored fat for energy rather than relying on food for energy. Some of the most common conditions associated with insulin resistance are:
- Type II Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- High Blood Pressure
This is a big one and one of the main reasons I continue to fast.
For more information on fasting, I highly recommend reading The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung & Jimmy Moore. Check out the links below:
Paperback Kindle Audible
Intermountain Medical Center, Eurekalert April 3, 2011