If you’ve read up on headlines over the past year or two, you’ve probably heard of not eating breakfast to lose weight. Otherwise known as intermittent fasting (IF), weight loss isn’t the only goal here.
In fact, fasting has been used as a therapeutic practice for a long time. And yes – it can be used to effectively shed some fat, increase lean muscle mass, and help you reach your physical goals by following the same principles as calorie restriction – the foundation of any series of dietary choices for weight loss.
Generally speaking, there are two types of people: the breakfast people and the breakfast skippers. The breakfast people wake up with a gentle hunger and they are ready to eat within an hour of rising.
The breakfast skippers often feel as though eating breakfast would feel too heavy first thing in the morning, holding off until later to do so.
There’s nothing wrong with either of these, despite the notion that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ being drilled into our minds for so long. For many people, skipping breakfast could actually help them.
If you click around on the web for awhile, you can find research for either breakfast being the key to weight loss, or skipping breakfast being the ultimate fat burning fix.
The truth is, this is going to differ from person to person, and there are benefits to either strategy. Some people aren’t cut out for regular fasting while others will adapt to it quite well.
Let’s talk about the benefits for weight loss, for the body, and the risks.
The benefits of intermittent fasting for weight loss
Fasting can be done a few different ways such as alternate-day fasting (only eating every other day), but the easiest way to get into fasting is simply by skipping breakfast.
If you’re eating dinner at 6 p.m. and you wait until 12 p.m. to eat lunch, you’ve already fasted for 18 hours – a good portion of which you were asleep for. We don’t have to turn to science for why this might boost weight loss.
You’re eating fewer meals, often taking in fewer calories unless you’re gorging during meal time. It goes beyond portion sizes and meal timing, though.
Blood levels of insulin drop. This helps to prevent insulin resistance which can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. It ensures proper blood sugar regulation which is important for weight, hunger cues, and energy (1).
Fat oxidation increases. Fasting for more than six hours optimizes fat oxidation (4). This essentially means the body is more efficient at breaking down fats into smaller parts (fatty acids and amino acids) and using it as energy throughout the day.
Think of it as a time-released medicine; considering we generally take in more fat than the body needs or can use at once, the rest has to go somewhere. Regarding weight loss, it’s better that it’s broken down than stored.
Decrease in serum glucose. What does that mean? Well, it’s thought to be the reason why there’s a rather significant metabolic increase during the early stages of starvation.
Fasting can send the body into a state in which its total daily energy expenditure or TDEE (how many calories you burn while simply resting) is higher, aiding in weight loss (5).
Retention of lean mass. One of the major gripes with weight loss is the subsequent loss of muscle mass. Calorie restriction is necessary for weight loss, and it can be healthy for other reasons too, but losing fat is nearly impossible without also losing some muscle.
Intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than continuous calorie restriction used in a typical diet (6). Lean mass is less dense than fat and increases metabolic rate which is beneficial for weight loss.
Effective for obesity. Intermittent fasting may seem like an extreme measure, but it’s safe and effective even for obese individuals. Research shows that in combination with calorie restriction, intermittent fasting is good for both weight loss and cardiovascular protection in the treatment of obesity (7).
The benefits of skipping breakfast (beyond weight loss)
We have to tell you first that if you have any preexisting conditions, you should ask your doctor if intermittent fasting could be right for you.
There is tons of convincing evidence that shows us how beneficial it can be for fat loss and important components of weight management, but intermittent fasting can be used as a healing tool and preventative measure for those who want to address other issues.
Prevention of neurological disorders. Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction can contribute to the growth of new cells, keeping the brain healthy.
It’s also linked to reducing the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s because it influences metabolic and cellular signaling pathways that help regulate life span.
Moreover, it affects energy and oxygen radical metabolism, shifting cellular response systems in positive ways that protect neurons against both genetic and environmental factors thought to be associated with neurological disorders and aging (8).
Improved cognitive functioning. We can see how IF positively impacts the brain over time, but it could actually improve memory and learning ability in the short-term, too. This is likely due to IF’s link to new neuron growth, and a reduction in oxidative stress which is a factor in ageing, plus a cause of cell injury which impacts memory/learning (9).
Better cardiovascular health. Considering heart disease is the single largest fatal threat to our health we face in today’s day and age, improving heart heart and preventing cardiovascular disease is a priority for most people (or should be!).
Improving the diet and eating real food is the single best thing you can do, but studies have shown intermittent fasting to be good intervention for further managing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood triglycerides, inflammation, and blood sugar – all major factors in overall heart health.
The benefits of IF are actually comparable to those of exercise (10).
Reduces oxidative stress. We touched on oxidative stress and how it impairs the brain, but reducing oxidative stress leads to less inflammation, which in turn decreases risk of many diseases including cancer.
Is intermittent fasting right for you?
If you’re looking to lose weight, increase brain power, prevent disease, and boost your lean body mass, intermittent fasting might seem like a good answer.
It can be done in a variety of ways, so you can always choose a fasting schedule that caters to your lifestyle. While we recommend simply starting with the ‘skipping breakfast diet’ method, you can also experiment with alternate-day fasting.
Unfortunately, the latter can be tough to push through, as many subjects report no decrease in hunger (1). A ketogenic approach may help, as the body will have more to burn through while it’s not taking in energy.
Let’s discuss the intricacies and potential risks of IF, determining who and who it is not good for.
Determine your relationship with food. For some people, intermittent fasting could be a fast-track to developing an unhealthy relationship with food or worsening an already damaged relationship with food.
Individuals with a history of restrictive eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or orthorexia should be careful with restrictive diet plans, and should always consult with a medical professional and/or psychologist prior to changing eating habits drastically.
Someone with a healthy relationship with food will have more success with the IF approach.
Gauge your hormonal health. Women, in particular, need to be especially careful when experimenting with intermittent fasting due to its potential negative impacts on hormones.
While we see that IF has benefits for hormonal health, it can also keep cortisol (the stress hormone) levels chronically elevated which leads to inflammation and can possibly deter weight loss. Men tend to do better with IF because of this.
It could backfire, leading to weight gain. Not eating for 12-18 hours can take its toll on someone, especially if you’re not following a low-carb diet and fueling off ketones.
Hunger speaks louder than reason sometimes, leading us face-first into breaking the fast with a big plate of fried foods, bread, and sugar. These things could easily contribute to weight gain, digestive symptoms, and leaky gut. Make sure you have your meals planned!
Intermittent fasting only works if YOU work it. People who have trouble with binge eating should likely avoid going too long without meals.
Caffeine could become your worst enemy. One of the easiest ways to push past the morning hunger is with coffee.
People who do fasting often drink quite a bit of the stuff, but overdoing it on the caffeine is not doing the body any favors besides curbing your appetite and keeping you relatively energized. This will also contribute to that cortisol spike IF’ers are prone to.
All in all, intermittent fasting really relies on meal timing for its framework rather than the contents of the food you’re eating. This means you’re more prone to eating foods you’re sensitive to or giving yourself too much wiggle room.
If you’re looking to address serious health issues like autoimmune disease or have a history with eating disorders, skipping breakfast could do a lot more harm than good.
Intermittent fasting – yay or nay? Skipping breakfast could be beneficial for weight loss/management, brain health, disease prevention, hormone health, and so much more, but we know it’s not for everyone.
We hope you learnt something new here today, and perhaps feel a bit more confident seeing if IF works for YOU!
1. Heilbronn, L K, et al. “Alternate-Day Fasting in Nonobese Subjects: Effects on Body Weight, Body Composition, and Energy Metabolism.” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15640462.
2. Ho, K Y, et al. “Fasting Enhances Growth Hormone Secretion and Amplifies the Complex Rhythms of Growth Hormone Secretion in Man.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 1988, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC329619/.
3. Rudman, D, et al. “Effects of Human Growth Hormone in Men over 60 Years Old.” The New England Journal of Medicine., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5 July 1990, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2355952.
4. Achten, J, and A E Jeukendrup. “Optimizing Fat Oxidation through Exercise and Diet.”Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.)., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15212756.
5. Zauner, C, et al. “Resting Energy Expenditure in Short-Term Starvation Is Increased as a Result of an Increase in Serum Norepinephrine.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2000, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10837292.
6. Varady, K A. “Intermittent versus Daily Calorie Restriction: Which Diet Regimen Is More Effective for Weight Loss?” Obesity Reviews : an Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity., U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21410865.
7. Klempel, Monica C, et al. “Intermittent Fasting Combined with Calorie Restriction Is Effective for Weight Loss and Cardio-Protection in Obese Women.” Nutrition Journal, BioMed Central, 21 Nov. 2012, nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-11-98.
8. Bronwen, Martin, and Mark P Mattson. “Caloric Restriction and Intermittent Fasting: Two Potential Diets for Successful Brain Aging.” Ageing Research Reviews, vol. 5, no. 3, Aug. 2006, pp. 332–353., doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2006.04.002.
9. Li L, Wang Z, Zuo Z (2013) Chronic Intermittent Fasting Improves Cognitive Functions and Brain Structures in Mice. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66069. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0066069
10. Mattson, Mark P. “Beneficial Effects of Intermittent Fasting and Caloric Restriction on the Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Systems.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, vol. 16, no. 3, Mar. 2005, pp. 129–137., doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2004.12.007.
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