My mum likes a chat, and I’d been on the phone for nearly an hour. Since moving to London I don’t get home as much as I might do, maybe 2 or 3 times a year, so phone calls are the way to go. This particular chinwag had taken a few twists and turns, but I was now up on the general goings on in the village and had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of how my brother’s house extension was coming on. Just as I was about to put the phone down, I coughed, reminding her that I had a cold. “Make sure you drink lots of fluids,” she said, before hanging up.
If I’m at home and happen to be suffering from a bad case of the sniffles, my family will almost certainly offer a hot toddy as a remedy. Not one to usually say no to a drink, I usually shun this warm mixture of whiskey, water, lemon juice and honey. You see, as much as I wished it wasn’t so, hot toddies aren’t the cure for the common cold we all hoped for, they actually only help to lower the immune system further. What’s more, other than staying hydrated, which is always a good idea, drinking lots of fluids does nothing to get a cold off your back either. My family aren’t trying to stitch me up. We all believe things that have no basis in truth. Sometimes we don’t know why we know something, we only know that we do.
Take fasting for instance. It’s often something we’re intuitively wary of. Many of us fear skipping a meal due to the resulting lack of cognition, drop in blood sugar, or the body’s subsequent panic mode. Even a respected and well-known nutritionist advises his clients to eat breakfast on their laps while driving to work (srs) rather than risking the untold damage caused by skipping a meal. However, just like a warm glass of booze isn’t going to fix your cold, the claims made against fasting, while perhaps well-meaning, are usually wrong.
”If you skip a meal your body goes straight into starvation mode and it’s going to do anything to store fat!”
It’s likely you’ve heard this before; if you skip a meal or fast, your body goes into starvation mode. Once there, fat can’t be lost, and will likely be stored. This is, of course, nonsense.
- There is no difference in the amount of energy you use if you nibble at meals constantly, or skip them and gorge on one big meal.
- In 1973, where a man weighing 207kg fasted under supervision for 382 days. During the fast, he lost 125kg of weight at an average of 0.33kg per day. Not too much sign of pesky starvation mode slowing things down here.
Skipping a meal, or fasting for any period of time does not result in starvation mode. You are at no risk of stopping losing fat or starting to store it if you’re consuming fewer Calories than you burn.
“Wow, you’re looking toned, good luck keeping those muscles without eating anything”.
I get it, while intermittent fasting might seem like a great way to make a diet super flexible and easy to stick to, you slaved hard in the gym to grow those muscles. Losing them because of fasting is not something you’re willing to risk. Well, you needn’t worry.
If you’re training on a regular basis and still eating protein, fasting will not result in muscle loss, and might actually help you preserve muscle better.
“You can’t go to the gym without eating, without fuel your blood sugar will crash and you might pass out”.
Going for a walk, or light runs in the morning before eating seems to be acceptable. Doing something like a spinning class or lifting weights, however, is met with disbelief from friends who truly believe your blood sugar will drop to dangerous levels. Often the fear comes from the idea that the body needs “fuel” to get through anything remotely strenuous, and that’s where the problem is.
For one, fasting won’t cause Hypoglycaemia.
- In a study by Alkén et al, a group of people who claimed to feel shaky, irritated, unable to concentrate and sweaty if they had an extended period of not eating agreed to fast for 24 hours.
- The people in the study said they could feel their blood sugar falling if they missed a meal.
- Because of this belief, they never fasted for any period of time.
- During the study, all of them completed the 24-h fast.
- At no time during the 24 hour fast did blood glucose levels drop below normal levels.
Secondly, insisting your 9-year-old eats his crunchy nut before school, or drinking a Lucozade sport while walking on the treadmill is just not needed. Your body has more than enough fuel stored in fat, our liver, and muscles to do almost anything you need.
Unless you’re trying to run a sub-3-hour marathon or spending a whole day doing strenuous exercise, you don’t need to worry about eating before you train to keep your blood sugar up.
“I can’t believe you’re going to try to write that important document without eating. If I tried to work without eating I’d be thick AF.”.
The above advice is usually parroted by people who have a hard time concentrating on an empty stomach. There’s a big difference, however, in thinking your concentration is affected by skipping a meal, and it actually being true. As is usually the case, the lab coats have already put it to the test, and their findings are different from peoples usual assumptions.
- Fulford et al. looked at how brain activity was affected by breakfast versus no breakfast in kids performing cognitive tasks. They found that task performance was not significantly improved after breakfast.
- In fact, Adolphus et al. also found that eating breakfast didn’t predictability in cognitive testing.
If you’re used to skipping meals or fasting for a long period of time, you’ll find your brain works just fine. Sometimes, in my opinion, not having to think about when your next meal is coming round removes distractions and actually helps you concentrate.
“If you skip breakfast, you’ll just crave later in the day from the hunger and end up eating more anyway”.
If you skip breakfast, do you feel so hungry by lunchtime that you lose you end up bingeing? Not according to science.
- People who eat breakfast actually eat more than people who skip it
- 539 kcal more on average according to research by Betts et al
You may have been given the advice to eat breakfast so you don’t end up stuffing your face later in the day several times before, but what happens when people actually follow that advice?
- A study by LeCheminant et al took 49 women who usually skipped breakfast and split them into two groups.
- One group started to eat breakfast, while the other group skipped breakfast as normal for 32 days straight.
- At the end of the 32 days, the group that was forced to eat breakfast gained over a pound of weight.
Despite what people tell you, if you skip breakfast now, adding it in won’t make you lose weight, it will just make you fatter.
“I heard fasting is going to increase stress hormones in your body, and you haven’t eaten breakfast. You better eat this pastry now or you’re going to fall apart”.
If you think fasting is going to jack up cortisol, more commonly known as your body’s stress hormone, you might want to have a glance at research by Kim Stote from 2007.
- In it, she compared eating 3 meals compared to 1 meal.
- People fasting most of the day and eating only one meal actually decreased cortisol.
Based on this research, you should feel free to fast, stress-free.
Fasting won’t put you in starvation mode, rob you of your hard earned muscle, or pump you full of stress hormones. You can exercise fasted, be just as smart at work without eating first, and you won’t compensate for skipping a meal by eating a ton later. If fasting helps you stick to your diet better then have at it; despite the opinions of naysayers, it’s an endlessly safe and effective weight loss tool.
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