Short fasts can accelerate fat loss and make you healthier. But should you do them? Should your clients? If so, how?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is the name some people give to the practice of occasionally going for extended periods without eating.
Of course, fasting is nothing new. Humans have fasted for most of their history, whether it’s during the typical overnight period, during more extended periods of food scarcity, or for religious reasons.
What is new is the clinical research. Data show that IF, when done properly, might help extend life, regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, manage body weight, gain (or maintain) lean mass, and more.
Rather than something we’re forced to endure – whether because of food shortage or cultural expectations – IF is becoming something that health and physique-oriented people are seeking out in order to keep their bodies in top shape.
That’s why, in this video series, we’ll teach you all about the hottest trend in the nutrition field. What it’s all about. Who it’s for. And, most importantly, whether you (or your clients) should give it a try.
This video is about 12 minutes long.
In part 1 of this series, we talked about why you should learn more about intermittent fasting. And I shared some fasting plans to combat jet lag.
You might have noticed that most of the fasting plans included larger meals, eaten relatively infrequently. So lets talk about meal frequency.
Is grazing still the best way?
We’ve all been taught that lean, healthy people graze. That instead of eating 2 to 3 larger meals each day, we should eat 4 to 6 smaller meals.
That grazing, or eating frequently, is said to lead to a speedy metabolism, better health, improved longevity, and a host of other benefits.
Likewise, we’ve been taught that doing the opposite, eating a few larger meals, can lead to the following problems:
But is it true? Will we suffer from physiological and mood problems if we don’t eat every few hours?
Well, yes. If you’re used to eating every few hours. In other words, if you routinely eat every 2-3 hours and you skip a meal, you’ll probably feel like the sky is falling.
But that’s only because of something called the hormonal entrainment of meal patterns.
In essence, you’ve trained your body to get hungry every few hours. So, if you don’t eat, you’ll start to feel pretty bad. Thank your hormones (like ghrelin and others) for this.
What’s interesting is that this effect is temporary.
In fact, if you were to skip a meal every day for a few days in a row, your hormones would adapt and you’d do just fine with infrequent eating. In my experience, it only takes a week for your body to adapt.
Reality: Your meal frequency isn’t that important. You can be healthy and lean with either a frequent meal pattern or an infrequent one.
As long as you make good food choices, control your portions, and stick to a regular schedule, you get to pick which you prefer.
More on this later in the video series.
But which is better?
For most of my career I’ve recommended more frequent eating.
Our educational materials were built on it. And about 90% of the 10,000 people we’ve coached have used frequent feeding with great success.
For most people, eating around 4 times a day, including breakfast, is perfect for a lean, healthy body.
However, for a certain type of person, that strategy doesn’t work.
Some people tend to have problems with portion control and cravings when eating more frequently. Others, because of work or personal demands, simply struggle trying to eat that way. Still others simply aren’t physically hungry and don’t like to eat at a certain time — most commonly, breakfast.
Instead of pushing upstream against these clients’ natural inclinations, try another approach: Flow with their needs, demands, and tendencies. Try another approach.
My first fast
Since I’ve been a proponent of frequent eating for most of my career, you might be wondering how I got interested in fasting in the first place.
Well, you can blame our Lean Eating Coaching Program.
As part of Lean Eating, just once during the year-long program, we ask our clients to try fasting for one day.
And since we ask our clients to do it, I figured I should do it too. So I picked a random Sunday, which is usually a more relaxed day for me, and I gave it a shot.
Of course, in the program, we share explicit instructions on how to do the fast. Here’s what that might look like.
Now, if you’re freaking out at the thought of going an entire day without food, you’re not alone. Most people are very uncomfortable with the idea.
I know I was. Because most of us have the wrong idea of how hunger works: After a few hours of not eating, when we start feeling really hungry, we think there’s an emergency.
We expect that the hunger feelings, the ones making us uncomfortable, will continue to grow and grow, until… I don’t know… our heads explode.
But that’s not how hunger really works. Instead of getting progressively hungrier during a fast, our hunger oscillates up and down.
We experience peaks and valleys based on our normal meal patterns.
In other words, you’ll feel hungry around the time you would normally eat your meals. And around the times that normally fall between meals, the hunger goes away.
(Yep, it’s that hormonal entrainment of meal patterns thing again).
If you’re trying a one day fast, it goes much better if you understand how hunger really works. That way you won’t hit the panic button when you’re getting a little uncomfortable.
However, I won’t lie. My first full-day fast was a little stressful, just like most new experiences are.
By now, though, I’ve done hundreds of fasts. Since my body (and my expectations) have adapted, these fasts are pretty comfortable.
Now I strongly recommend a one day fast for most clients. Whether they end up enjoying the experience or not, every single one has learned something valuable.
Here are some of the important lessons they’ve described:
- “I learned that hunger is not an emergency.”
- “I learned that physical hunger is different from psychological hunger.”
- “I learned that eating is a privilege, some people in the world don’t get to eat.”
- “I learned that eating is a responsibility, one that’s to be taken seriously.”
- “I learned that food marketing is crazy.When fasting I notice food ads everywhere.”
Wrap-up and today’s takeaways
That’s it for part 2 of Intermittent Fasting: Science or Fiction?
Here are today’s key points.
- Intermittent fasting means eating fewer meals and eating less frequently.
- Eating high-quality foods in the appropriate portions is much more important than specific meal frequency.
- One day fasts are really interesting and can teach you some important lessons.
- For more on intermittent fasting, check out part 3. In it, we discuss the research.
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