Not So Fast: The Science Behind Skipping Meals

| 3 min read

Many diets focus on what you should eat for your meals, but there’s actually a diet that’s all about skipping meals entirely. It’s called intermittent fasting (IF) and it’s one of the hottest new trends in weight-loss eating plans. In a nutshell, IF is the idea that you alternate intervals of eating and fasting. While the length of fasting intervals can range depending on the method you choose, most fasting periods last between 16 and 24 hours, with only water, protein shakes or small amounts of food such as fruits and vegetables allowed. Regardless of the plan, the purpose of IF is to incorporate the vast majority of your food and calorie intake into a short feeding period.
So, does it work?
First, it’s important to understand what happens when you eat a meal. Your body spends a few hours processing that food and burning what it can for energy. However, during the fasting state, your body doesn’t have a recently consumed meal to use as energy. That means your body is more likely to use stored fat for energy. That explains why recent research shows that IF can help you not just lose weight, but could possibly prevent some diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Are there any drawbacks?
Like many fad diets, which it seems like IF is, there are some downsides to consider.
  • Because of the infrequent meals, IF can lead to insulin spikes and erratic blood sugar levels, which can affect alertness and energy levels.
  • Since you aren’t steadily feeding your metabolism, IF may lead to chronic adrenal fatigue and reduced metabolism in some individuals over time.
  • Going long periods of time without food may be difficult for some people, and it could lead to symptoms such as headache and fatigue.
Should you try IF?
If you are a diabetic, prone to hypoglycemia, pregnant or nursing, this diet pattern is probably not worth trying. Likewise, highly competitive athletes and those looking to increase muscle mass and strength significantly will likely not see the best results using this strategy. But for others, it might sound appealing. In that case, here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • If you’re convinced that intermittent fasting may be right for you, you should check out the five different fasting methods to determine which one may be right for your lifestyle and goals. One of the most common is to eat normally 5 days a week and fast 2 days a week (this is known as the 5:2 fast diet).
  • You’ll also want to experiment to find the optimal time to exercise on this plan. They key is that you don’t want to do intense exercise with low blood sugar levels or deprive yourself of nutrients following a workout. A good way to prevent this is to work out on one of your eating days soon after consuming a small snack.
  • While some plans may say you can’t eat anything during the fasting periods, look for one that allows small amounts of protein and healthy carbohydrates. That will help keep your cortisol levels in check.
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Photo credit: Susan Kelleher

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