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Intermittent Fasting and the Meal Frequency Fallacy

Posted by | March 04, 2014 | Featured, Food for Thought | 28 Comments
Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting, compressed eating windows, insulin hacking, and calorie cycling - these concepts aren’t commonly covered by the talking heads in traditional media. But there’s a monumental difference between “common” and “normal.” Today, more than 67% of us in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Being fat is common. But it’s not normal.

Intermittent fasting, on the other hand, is historically quite normal, but isn’t common in a world abundant with drive-thru’s, protein bars, and “eating 6+ times a day is healthy” dogmatism. Just because fitness magazines, TV, and doctors say that constantly shoveling food down your gullet “improves your metabolism” doesn’t make it true.

Here’s the problem: eating more frequently doesn’t prevent hunger or stop the urge to binge. Your brain has evolved to prepare for times of famine so that, when you ingest food, your body is ready to feast.

When you’re eating all day but never quite filling yourself up, you think about food all the time. But when you simply have dedicated hours of the day when you eat and others that you don’t, hunger is almost completely avoidable.

Since the 1930’s, animal studies have been telling us that restricting calories improves health and longevity. For many decades, most believed that it was necessary to “starve yourself” to reap the benefits. Recent science has shown us, however, that you can actually trim your waistline, improve your biomarkers of health, and increase your longevity without the pain, suffering, and hunger that comes along with restriction. Intermittent Fasting works, too.

Fasting vs Breakfast

When you look to our ancestors as a guide for how we should live, going without food for some hours of the day starts to make sense. Our ancestors hunted and gathered, often going many hours or even days in between meals. We’re meant to withstand at least a portion of our day without food. But want to know my favorite part of fasting? The feast.

A few nights ago, our feast included chipotle lime chicken, a fresh salad from the farmer’s market, sautéed squash, and cabbage-wrapped Russian Meatballs with greek yogurt. Dessert included homemade peanut butter carob brownies, dark chocolate with figs, and French cabernet to round out the evening. It was epic.

The craziest part? I had a photo shoot the next day and I didn’t look like a fatty.

abel james fasting feasting wild diet

If you could put all the benefits of intermittent fasting into a pill, one lucky pharmaceutical company would make billions. But the truth is that you don’t need any gimmicky product to reap all of the metabolic benefits of fasting – you just need to give it a whirl.

Eating more frequently, while it certainly works for some people, can also provoke an insatiable urge to binge. Eating more often trains your body to be hungry. How often have you stared at the clock eager for the next mealtime?

Gluten Free Skillet Pizza.

Gluten Free Skillet Pizza. Recipe coming soon.

Fasting and feasting keeps us lean largely because it forces the body to metabolize fat for energy more efficiently. And by limiting spikes in blood sugar because there’s no incoming food to digest, your insulin sensitivity can improve dramatically.

Another benefit of fasting and feasting: by eating less often, it gives the opportunity for our bodies to repair themselves, without being distracted by needing to digest food. The result is less inflammation, more muscle growth, and of course, more fat mobilization.

Studies support that fasting then feasting, or having less frequent meals, doesn’t decrease your metabolism. And eating every few hours, including breakfast, doesn’t increase your metabolism, either. Hunter-gatherer meal patterns, with large dinners and little to eat during the day, seem more natural. That’s why skipping breakfast often comes so easily. (Check out my show with Ori Hofmekler, author of the Warrior Diet to hear more.)

Some studies also show that breakfast boosts hunger throughout the day. I can vouch for that. I tend not to get hungry until I start eating.

They’ve found that cortisol is the main culprit. It’s highest in the morning as a normal process of getting you to wake up and prepare you for the day ahead. Often called “circadian cortisol,” the urge to eat in the morning can actually be a response to cortisol flooding our system and not because we are actually hungry.

Simply, when you have high levels of cortisol and eat, you’re likely to experience an insulin spike and a decrease in insulin sensitivity. That’s why you might be starving a mere 1-2 hours after breakfast.

And if you’re worried about wasting away if you don’t suck down a protein shake every 2 hours, fasting won’t make your muscles fall off… It’s not the best picture below, but in this particular experiment I put on nearly 20 pounds and maintained <10% body fat while consistently skipping meals. (Believe it or not, that’s not a sunburn, I just really get that red when I work out. Probably the Irish in me.)

Wild Diet Intermittent Fasting Abel James

Gaining Muscle By Eating Less – from 148 lbs. to 168 lbs.

Fasting and feasting, if you’re up for the experiment, is the bee’s knees. Enjoy the clarity of digestion-free workdays and evenings rejoicing, carrying on, and feasting on some of the best foods you’ve ever tasted.

Interestingly, the more experienced you are with fasting the less you think about food. And if you can get through your day without the distraction of constant hunger, you can get a heck of a lot more done.

Want to hear more about my fasting experiments and tips and tricks to get rolling yourself? Listen to my show on Carb Backloading with Kiefer and the Dangers of Intermittent Fasting for Women.

I’ll be talking about Intermittent Fasting, Fasting and Feasting, and other fun topics to help you reach your highest potential on my next live call for the Fat-Burning Tribe. Check it out!

What do you think about Intermittent Fasting? Did it work for you?

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28 Comments

  • Robert Pait says:

    Yeah, not buyin this one. I am not sure how I would do not eating breakfast since I then have to ride my bicycle several miles to get to where I have to go. Plus I am type 2 diabetic so I need to eat to avoid the ups and downs of blood sugar and stay steady. Nice try though, I can see it as a good argument for normal healthy people to maybe skip a lunch or dinner though, provided you get the nutrition you need on the binge or feast or whatever you call it.

    • Cameron says:

      The only reason IF could be a problem for people with type 2 diabetes is if they are on medication that lowers blood sugar levels, but if you aren’t, I can only think of benefits from giving your body a break from insulin production and use.

    • SeekerofTruth says:

      Do LCHF and your diabetes will be under control, if not cured.

    • Emily Dewey says:

      Some people find it works great for them, others not so much! Totally up to you to test it out for yourself should you have any interest! (As a T2 Diabetic, I would definitely consult with your physician though of course!) :) – Emily, FBM Team

  • Janet says:

    I find that when I don’t have a highly scheduled day planned (like on the weekend) that I often only eat two meals a day. On a really busy day, I might only eat once. The question I have, though is what about the differences in hormones between men and women. I’ve read that intermittent fasting doesn’t work the same on women as it does on men. Do those differences disappear after a woman hits menopause?

    • Lucas says:

      I’m not the expert here. But I’ve also heard that fasting might not be to great for women either. However, if a woman was to consider fasting a good course of action would be to feed on fats during the fast, that is to say, avoid carbohydrates and proteins. Fats are essential to us all for hormone synthesis, which in turn regulate all other functions. Women are much more sensitive to hormone irregularities

      • Emily Dewey says:

        Lucas you’ve definitely got a good point, and it’s true that it’s definitely a VERY different experience for women. I think it can be done, but it’s just a lot more finicky for women than it is for men! – Emily, FBM Team

    • Emily Dewey says:

      Definitely Janet – that’s a great way to approach an IF type lifestyle. IF for women is kind of controversial. I’m not sure that there is any strong research on the difference yet or not, just a lot of personal anecdotal stories out there. I advise women to really tune into cues from their body when testing out IF and adjusting accordingly (energy levels, mood, skin and hair changes are all indicators of whether or not things are going well!). – Emily, FBM Team

  • James Shaw says:

    YES! I totally agree with this. I’ve found the best way to lose fat is to extend the nightly fast to 16hrs – from 6pm to 10am. I’m an early riser (at work by 6am) so I just have a fatty coffee at 5:15 which keeps me going and makes it easy to skip a “proper breakfast”.

  • James Meny says:

    I’ve been IF for about 3 months, now. I’m, also, a type2 diabetic and recently had my blood tested. The recent results have brought my A1C to target my doctor wanted and I don’t feel hungry now lose energy. I work out on an empty stomach and give about 2-3 hours after the workout before eating. Have lost 20 lbs and, again, blood cholesteral, A1C, etc…all into my target ranges. So, think I’m going to keep it up until I see things go the wrong direction.

  • Russ says:

    IF has become a routine for me, as well as fasting on occasion in general. I do partake in bulletproof coffee early morning and maybe a little bone broth for lunch, typically after 2pm. It works and there is no hunger to speak of. I feel better, function better, its not that hard BUT I am also fully keto adapted and the fat that is converted into ketones and those ketones are a natural appetite suppressant… so I am told. I typically work out, strength training/weights, during my lunch break, point being I am no couch tater and still no problems. Keto adaptation was a 2-3 week challenge but since getting thru that- eazy breezy. Calorie restriction seems to be working and IF is a great way to CR. Thanks Abel. I enjoy your podcasts. Keep it up….

  • Irene Partain says:

    I have had great success doing IF and incorporating the Paleo diet as well. Since July 2013 I have lost 45lbs and went from a size 12 to a size 2. My muscle definition has increased and I am getting stronger each day. I follow the Fast Five Diet by Dr. Bert Herring and would love to hear a podcast with him as the guest. Thanks :)

  • Mary M. says:

    What an interesting topic. I’ve never heard of IF before, or maybe just not as you have described it. For the past week and a half, I’ve been following a LCHF program with a good protein mix and my cravings for carbs have all but disappeared. My energy is back and my mind feels clearer. I’m even losing weight while strengthening my muscles with exercise. It’s a short duration program but I believe it will kick start my future eating patterns and change my food choices for the better. Looking forward to hearing more from you Abel.

  • His Dudeness says:

    Looks to me like IF causes sunburn. No thanks, Abel.

    Seriously though, skipping breakfast and not eating until 1 pm or so is not as difficult as I thought it would be. Plus, I sleep better after a big evening meal.

  • I thought I’d chime in, since there are some questions about IFing for women. I’ve never really been hungry in the morning, so IFing was a natural extension of my own metabolic process. I IF regularly, which for me means that on most weekdays I have a fat filled coffee early in the morning and a tea with almond or coconut milk a little later. Sometime between 12 and 3 I’ll usually eat a snack and then get the bulk of my caloric needs at dinner. However, this changes naturally for me twice a month – when I’m ovulating and when I’m menstruating. When I find that I have my “OMG I have to eat NOW, I don’t care what it is” hunger and then check the calender, it’s pretty much right on track with my cycle. Those times, I go with it, which generally means eating 3 meals or more for a few days. One more thing, I do follow a Paleo eating pattern, so I’m not Industrial Food addicted, which does make IFing easier. Sorry if that was long and a bit of an over share.

  • Paul says:

    Robert,
    I don’t know your health status or why your type 2 but commonly it’s plain old insulin resistance. Intermittent fasting can help you as much and maybe more than a person that is not type 2 If you are Type 2 and your cells are insulin resistant the best thing you can do for yourself is stop flooding them with insulin and give them a break and time to regain some of their sensitivity.

    Resistance training can help big time with this as well as a diet with fresh veggies, natural grass fed beef and free range chicken and fish and “yes” intermittent fasting. I fast from about 8:00 PM till about 1:00 PM the following day and the kicker is I get in a full 1 hour workout with heavy weights and cardio before I eat anything up until that point. I haven’t passed out yet.

    As someone mentioned. If your on meds to help with your type2 diabetes you might want to get off of them before trying this. This type of lifestyle can actually reverse your diabetes if your consistent and work at it. Give it 90 days. You will be surprised at the results.

  • Chris says:

    Interesting!

    I’ve always been under the impression of breakfast being the “most important meal of the day” especially since you’re already fasting through the night. So…

    1. Considering the nightly fast, is it MORE beneficial to also skip breakfast as, or prolong it?
    2. I’ve lost about 16 lbs in 7 months on the Lean Eating program through Precision Nutrition. Almost all of it fat. I don’t know that I necessarily want to lose more weight, but gain lean muscle and burn more fat. Will IF help with that? Will it benefit me at all?

    I eat VERY well too. About 95% of what I eat, I cook. So, there’s nothing in the house that is going to really kill me…

    • Emily Dewey says:

      A lot of folks do find the sustained fast through the morning to be beneficial for sure. Yes, you can definitely increase strength gains while IF. That’s exactly what Abel experienced. The thing with IF to remember is that is a VERY individual experience, and takes a lot of tweaking to make sure you are listening to your body and adjusting accordingly! – Emily, FBM Team

  • Stefan says:

    Thanks, Abel for that concise piece on IF. I have been tinkering with it for a couple of weeks now and the results are simply mind-blowing. After one year of following a paleo diet and losing approx. 20 pounds, the IF approach is now helping me to loose those last few percentages of excess body fat so that six-packs become visible from 3 feet away. In my case, the “traditional” 18hrs/6hrs approach seems to be optimal. This is where I have a large evening meal between 6 and 7 PM and then fast all the way until 12 noon the following day, which is when I take a medium-sized lunch. Between 12 noon and 6/7 PM I rarely eat anything else, sometimes the occassional Avocado or piece of butter – maybe even one Apple or other single-serving of fruits. The lunch consists of a medium-sized salad along-side a side dish of vegetables. For my main meal in the evening I will have a rather large portion of whatever meat or fish I feel like eating along-side a large serving of vegetables. This is only followed-up by full-fat joghurt or cheese (raw milk). Man, do I feel great!

    Thanks for everything you do and rock on!

  • Kristi says:

    IF just makes sense to me and helps keep me from bingeing (which was always my biggest health and weight problem). I naturally like larger meals, and when I used to follow “conventional advice” and had small meals and snacks throughout the day, they never satisfied me and made me even more hungry (like Abel said). I love being able to eat those larger meals until I naturally feel full…it keeps my mind at peace and it’s amazing to be able to “listen” to my body telling me that it’s satisfied. Plus IF is so much less stressful, and I can spend more time and care on each of my meals and boost the quality.

  • Jake says:

    I’ve toyed around with IF just a little. I workout at 6am (Crossfit or run/bike/swim). I’ve been taking Deep 30 protein powder right after a tough workout for muscle repair. If I stopped taking the protein powder and with nothing to eat for 4-5 hours after exercise, would I see adequate muscle rebuilding? Thanks for everything you’re putting out – great stuff!

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  • Rich says:

    If it’s a “system” you’re looking for, I would suggest having at least 8 ounces of cold water in the morning when you wake up regardless of how long you’re fasting through the day. Your body needs the water and it may even increase the weight loss rate. Try it!

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