A Supplecity site visitor asked about "intermittent fasting," after having read about its many wonders on various blogs and postings written by people with credentials completely unrelated to diet and fat reduction.
The idea behind this is you starve your body of calories just long enough to tap your fat stores but not long enough to trigger your body's starvation defenses. Looking at it from just this perspective, it would appear to be just the thing for a person who wants a magic bullet for losing fat. It's not.
This practice works against the principles that all top-ranked bodybuilders and most elite athletes follow. They understand that the human body goes into a catabolic (breaks down muscle, stores fat) state after about three hours with no food. This is why the Body For Life (started by Bill Phillips) folks and many others talk about six small meals a day.
If you have tried this intermittent fasting thing and lost weight, you have lost both healthy tissue and fat. And probably more of the former than the latter. Much of the fat loss is due to the reduced calorie intake that attention to eating nearly always entails. While the diet itself doesn't talk about reducing calories, almost anyone on this diet will eat less. The same psychology is at work when people keep a food diary. This simply act results in less food being consumed, even if there's no plan to consume less.
Intermittent fasting has several serious shortfalls. For starters, it reduces nutrient absorption, causes insulin swings, and plays hell with your kidneys. If you want to go into a coma or wind up on dialysis, this approach is perfect. Otherwise, stay away. It's Dangerous (notice the capital D there?).
Let's step back a moment and look at the bigger picture. If your goal is to "lose weight," then of course mindlessly reducing calories for a short enough period that you don't go into the low-metabolism, calorie conserving mode makes sense.
But, that's not a sensible goal. A sensible goal is fat reduction. And that is hugely different (no pun intended) from weight loss. And so are the consequences. After all, you can lose weight very quickly by having your limbs amputated. Do you think a runner who wants to go faster should lose weight by such a method? Of course not. And it doesn't make sense for anyone else.
You can lose weight by losing lean tissue, and most weight loss methods result in that. What you really want to do is lose excess fat, because that's how you get rid of a root cause of disease.
Nobody has ever gone to a doctor and heard, "Well, your arteries are clogged because you have too much lean mass." No, the problem is the excess body fat.
That excess fat comes from too many calories. But simply cutting calories doesn't fix the fat problem. There's a bit more to it than that.
Your body needs a certain amount of calories each day to:
Further, you cannot build new muscle on a restricted calorie diet. This means that, for sustainable leanness and fat loss, this diet works against you by inhibiting muscle growth.
Your body also needs a certain level of fiber flow through the digestive system to reduce cancer risk and generally detoxify your system.
When you go on intermittent fasting, all of this stops.
What does start, though, is a negative hormonal environment (you can verify this by asking any endocrinologist). In that environment (called "catabolic"), you lose lean tissue but have increased fat storage. You may overcome the fat storage issue by consuming fewer calories, but you are left with a lower metabolic rate due to the lost muscle tissue.
Again, much that's good simply stops. You stop building new muscle, which means you reduce the amount of fat you burn just by sleeping. You will, in fact, lose muscle. And why on earth would you want to risk your job by showing up with a brain that isn't firing on all cylinders? Do you want to drive a car on our dangerous roads in that condition?
This diet, like all other "silver bullet" diets, ignores fundamental principles and tries to get something for nothing.
If you want to reduce your body fat, you will find out how to safely and effectively do that in our other fat loss articles. Go here to see what they are:Weight loss and fat loss articles.
Some general principles of fat loss are as follows:
If you follow just those four principles, you will see your body fat level go to well within the "Look at that tight bod!" level. Yes, there's more you can do to fine tune things and get really "cut." And maybe you would like more information on the details of doing so.
But it you just follow these four principles, you will get results. You won't need to experiment with a health-challenging, unsustainable, uncomfortable practice like fasting. Intermittently or otherwise.
We're not saying the proponents of intermittent fasting are either dishonest or ignorant. We don't have to. The facts speak loudly enough to that issue.
The articles on this site are authoritative, because:
Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.
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