We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day... duh!
This rule has become so commonplace throughout the health and fitness community that it’s readily accepted as fact.
“Want to lose weight? Make sure you start off with a healthy breakfast, so you can get that metabolism firing first thing in the morning!”
“Want to lose more weight? Make sure you eat six small meals throughout the day so your metabolism stays operating at maximum capacity all day long”.
There are even studies that show those who eat earlier in the day lose more weight than those who ate later in the day or skipped a meal.
So, eat breakfast to lose weight and obtain optimal health. Case closed…right?
Maybe you’re not getting the whole story. What if there’s science that promotes SKIPPING BREAKFAST (blasphemy!) for optimum efficiency, maximum muscle retention, and body fat loss?
We want to share with you a concept about skipping meals, and how your health will benefit as a result.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet, but rather an eating pattern.
Now, there are a few different ways to take advantage of intermittent fasting:
Regularly eat during a specific time period. For example, only eating from noon-8 PM, essentially skipping breakfast. Some people only eat in a 6-hour window, or even a 4-hour window.
Skip two meals one day, taking a full 24-hours off from eating. For example, eating on a normal schedule (finishing dinner at 8PM) and then not eating again until 8PM the following day.
Now, you might be thinking: “okay, so by skipping a meal, I just eat less than normally overall, and thus I will lose weight, right?”
Well, that’s partially true.
Yes, by cutting out an entire meal, you are able to eat MORE food during your other meals and still consume a caloric deficit (which is an important for losing weight).
However, as we already know that not all calories all created equal, the timing of meals can also influence how your body reacts.
How does intermittent fasting work?
With intermittent fasting, your body operates differently when “feasting” compared to when “fasting”:
When you eat a meal, your body spends a few hours processing that food, burning what it can from what you just consumed. Since it has all of this readily available, easy-to-burn energy in its blood stream (thanks to the food you ate), your body will choose to use that as energy rather than the fat you have stored. This is especially true if you just consumed carbohydrates/sugar, as your body prefers to burn sugar as energy before any other source. During the “fasted state,” your body doesn’t have a recently consumed meal to use as energy, so it is more likely to pull from the fat stored in your body, rather than the glucose in your blood stream or glycogen in your muscles/liver.
Burning fat = winning. Why does this work? Our bodies produce insulin when we eat. Essentially, the more sensitive your body is to insulin, the more likely you’ll be to use the food you consume efficiently, which can help lead to weight loss and muscle creation. Along with that, your body is most sensitive to insulin following a period of fasting. Your glycogen (a starch stored in your muscles and liver that your body can burn as fuel when necessary) is depleted during sleep (fasting), and will be depleted even further during training, which can further increase insulin sensitivity. This means that a meal immediately following your workout will be stored most efficiently: mostly as glycogen for muscle stores, burned as energy immediately to help with the recovery process, with minimal amounts stored as fat. Compare this to a regular day (no intermittent fasting). With insulin sensitivity at normal levels, the carbs and foods consumed will see full glycogen stores, enough glucose in the blood stream, and thus be more likely to get stored as fat. Not only that, but growth hormone is increased during fasted states (both during sleep and after a period of fasting). Combine this increased growth hormone secretion, the decrease in insulin production (and thus increase in insulin sensitivity), and you’re essentially priming your body for muscle growth and fat loss with intermittent fasting.
Why does every health book say “eat 6 small meals?”
There are a couple main reasons why diet books recommend six small meals:
1) When you eat a meal, your body does have to burn extra calories just to process that meal. Whether you eat 2000 calories spread out throughout the day, or 2000 calories in a small window, your body will burn the same number of calories processing the food. So, the whole “keep your metabolism firing at optimum capacity by always eating” sounds good in principle, but in reality, it doesn't make the damnedest bit of difference.
2) When you eat smaller meals, you’re less likely to overeat during your regular meals. I can definitely see some truth here, especially for people who struggle with portion control or don’t know how much food they should be eating. However, once you've taken control of your eating, I would argue most people find that eating six times a day is very prohibitive and requires a lot of effort. Remember, the type of food you eat matters. Meal frequency is not nearly as important as the quantity and quality of food consumed.
Why fast intermittently?
Because it works. Although we know that not all calories are created equal, caloric restriction plays a central role in weight loss. When you fast (either for 16 hours per day, or 24 hours every few days), you are also making it easier to restrict your caloric intake over the course of the week. This will give your body a chance to lose weight as you’re simply just eating less calories than you were consuming before.
Because it simplifies your day. Rather than having to prepare, pack, eat, and time your meals every 2-3 hours, you simply skip a meal or two and only worry about eating food in your eating window.
It requires less time (and potentially money). Rather than having to prepare or purchase three to six meals a day, you only need to prepare two meals. Instead of stopping what you’re doing six times a day to eat, you simply only have to stop to eat twice. Rather than having to do the dishes six times, you only have to do them twic