I promised myself that I wouldn’t take it upon myself to DEFEND intermittent fasting…mostly because I do not see that as my role.
I enjoy intermittent fasting, and it is what I do to stay lean. I am educated in intermittent fasting, and I enjoy writing about it, but I don’t see it as my child that I need to defend when someone kicks sand in its face on the playground that is the internet.
Yet, here I am.
Hopefully, you’ll see that I’m not about to defend Intermittent Fasting, but rather defend logical thought.
Most of (but not all) the slander about intermittent fasting that is popping up on the net is a mix of purposeful attacks (typically to gain traffic and Google rankings) and logical fallacies – ideas that seem logical, but on further investigation are lacking in soundness and validity.
I really don’t mind when people discuss possible negatives of IF, since it forces me to expand my understanding of the research. However, I do mind when people cloud the science of IF with logical fallacies.
I want to start with an obvious logical fallacy – that a high protein diet is exactly the same as intermittent fasting because it has almost identical effects on hypocretin neurons. Fine, then by that rationale, intermittent fasting is exactly the same as a high protein diet.
Obviously this is incorrect, since high protein diets have myriad of health effects the intermittent fasting simply does not have. Which is exactly my point – intermittent fasting also has a myriad of health effects that a high protein diet does not have. The fact that they share many similar health effects does not make them the same.
(as an analogy: I am not a twin of every other person on earth who is 5’10” with brown curly hair.)
Secondly, as to the negative health affects of intermittent fasting I can say two things
1) There is no diet style is so perfect that it works for everyone who tries it – hopefully this is obvious and doesn’t need any further discussion
2) I find it sad that this myth is often perpetuated by people who are supporters of the Paleo way of life. While I have no qualms with paleo, I do know that they have had to fend off their share of scientific attacks – including that a high protein diet increases the rate of Cancer, Diabetes and Osteoporosis. So it’s sad to see a group of people (or rather one or two members) jump on the ‘IF is bad for you’ band-wagon based on a couple of comments made in the scientific community, when they themselves know how frustrating it can be to be attacked by incomplete-science.
The truth about the intermittent fasting is bad for you movement is this: There are a group of people who have made millions of dollars convincing you that weight loss has to be complicated, and that you absolutely need their expertise to cut through this confusion to create the ideal weight loss diet. For these people there is a large financial benefit to attacking IF. There are also people who are genuinely curious about IF and have found some sort of information in the scientific community that troubles them, so they decided to broadcast it and their ideas to the world. I don’t mind this second gr0up, since they help expand our understanding of how IF works. However, they are the minority.
Moving to the intermittent fasting and insulin resistance story – I wish I could say that the people who perpetuate this story should know better, but sadly, I think they DO know better, and that this was a purposeful scientific oversight. There is a transient decrease in insulin sensitivity when fat burning is elevated. This is pretty standard physiology. As long as fat burning is increased there will be a slight compromise in the amount of glucose that can be transported into your muscles, because those same muscles are busy burning fat and have no reason to be taking up glucose while this is happening. So the results do illustrate that after longer fasts (36+ hours) there has been (but not always) a finding of a reduced amount of glucose entering muscles, but we do need to look at other situations where fat burning is elevated for more than a couple hours and you will see similar transient levels of decreased glucose disposal because again the muscles are busy burning fat.
A prime example would be the decreased glucose disposal after a marathon event. Running marathons do not cause diabetes. As with most scientific findings, we have to ask does glucose disposal remain decreased for weeks and months or is this something that only occurs during periods of elevated fat oxidation? This does not mean we should ignore these scientific findings, but maybe we should stop using them as a scaremongering tactic. Especially without fully explaining the intricacies of the study in question.
Keep in mind, the other day I reviewed a scientific study that suggested that lazy-boy style recliners caused diabetes by crushing the pancreas under the weight of your stomach. You can find at least one study that says just about anything – that’s why we always analyze the information from the total body of research, and not just one or two studies.
Finally, I’d like to talk about my old favorite – Intermittent fasting and muscle building. I’ll just cut right to the chase with this one. From my understanding of the available science, weight training DOES NOT cause muscle growth. It SENSITIZES the muscle to the anabolic affects of eating protein.
No workouts, no muscle growth.
No protein, no muscle growth.
Workouts plus protein = muscle growth… at least for a short while.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT PROTEIN NEEDS TO BE EATEN EVERY TWO HOURS, AND IN MASSIVE QUANTITIES, OR EVEN RIGHT AFTER A WORKOUT
And here’s the key to this whole equation… MUSCLE GROWS SLOWLY, and if you are training consistently with a high amount of effort (Practicing the art of ‘consistency of effort’ as I like to call it) then EVERY protein meal you eat will be anabolic. And, since muscle grows slowly, any growth you see over a 2-3 month period is actually the result of 100’s of workouts and potentially 1000’s of protein containing meals.
The questions “how much protein” and “how often” are still being debated (and will probably continue to be a topic of debate for decades). This however doesn’t change the following point…there are no magic windows of time when you must eat protein, the ‘sensitization’ from your workouts can last for days if the volume and/or intensity was high enough, and quite frankly, there will come a time when all the protein in the world will not force you to gain any more muscle.
Don’t blame intermittent fasting for that last fact.
The bottom line is that no diet is perfect, and to be honest, I hate that fasting is becoming trendy just as much as you do… It’s not perfect by any means and it’s not for everyone.
When you’re reading the latest internet diet-gossip (which is what diet advice on-line really is becoming) keep in mind that sometimes (but not always) the person on the other side of the computer may not be using sound logic, and they may doing so on purpose.
I know it’s difficult, because to figure out if someone is telling the truth you would have to track down every single reference and read through the scientific findings to make sure it supports the claims made in the article (which is part of the reason I no longer read other peoples blog posts or articles unless they are people I find truly entertaining)
Again – no diet is perfect, IF probably isn’t going to cure cancer and turn you into the most muscular person in the world. It’s a tool… a very useful one in your arsenal against obesity. For many people it is the simplest and easiest approach to weight loss that fit into their lives without having to make drastic lifestyle changes.
The various forms of IF have helped thousands of men and women get in fantastic shape, yet there are some people who tried and simply thought “this isn’t’ for me” , and that’s fine too.
The end goal of IF, at least from my view, is simply to allow people to be comfortable with the idea that it’s OK to eat when they are hungry, and not eat when they are not hungry.
Like I stated in the beginning – I enjoy intermittent fasting, and I enjoy writing about it. I do not see the need to defend the concept of IF but I do see a need to point out when the fight isn’t fair.
It is very difficult to tell a person’s intentions on-line, and it is also difficult to tell whether or not their opinion should count. It is really is up to you and your ‘feel’ for the person. If you start to notice logical fallacies being a reoccurring theme in their writing, it’s time to let them go. (great resource for logical fallacies here)
My goal is to have this post serve as my ‘evergreen’ answer for when people what me to review a blog or article about fasting written by some on-line personality or coach. To be clear, if they raise a valid point worthy of true scientific thought, I will absolutely review it and include in the next edition of Eat Stop Eat, but I will not argue it on-line. If their point is not valid and is a logical fallacy or simply an attack to raise awareness of their site, or an attempt to keep their personally-designed scientifically-validated supplements selling , then I am not going to take it upon myself to be the whistle blower and attack them.
IF is a method of weight loss that really doesn’t take much expertise, you don’t need coaching or special supplements, and it’s becoming very popular – so it is NOT going to make a lot of friends in the next couple years.
In the end, I want to help people understand and explore IF, but it’s not my goal to try and change peoples minds or opinions.
My last couple blog posts were dedicated to helping people get the most out of intermittent fasting, however I did omit one last piece of advice that I will now add – If you don’t like IF, if it’s not fitting into your life, then you don’t have to do it. Simple, it’s not a failure, just not a good fit at the moment.
Eat when hungry, rest when tired.