For ages, health and nutrition professionals claimed “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and that “we must eat on a consistent interval throughout the day to keep our metabolism revved”… but is this actually the case? My answer: Not necessarily.
Intermittent fasting is something that has become popular in the media in the past couple of years and for good reason.
Intermittent fasting is a WAY of eating that focuses on how much time is spent each day or each week eating versus fasting.
Intermittent fasting does not require you to follow any rules around WHAT you eat and instead it focuses majorly on WHEN you eat.
Intermittent fasting can be done a number of different ways, including:
Your meals during your "eating window" can be spaced however you please - it can be 2 large meals with no snacks, 1 large meal with 3 snacks, etc.
People who follow an intermittent fasting eating style claim that this is a very traditional method of food consumption. Historically humans did not have access to food all year long. Throughout the year humans would go through periods of time where there was little to no food and other times of the year (after a kill or a summer of abundant fruit and vegetable growth) where there was a significant amount of food available.
Further research on the benefits of intermittent fasting is still needed, however current research is quite promising. The latest research on intermittent fasting suggests that this style of eating can potentially increase levels of human growth hormone and decrease insulin levels, both of which favor weight loss.
Levels of human growth hormone decrease as we get older (levels are highest in childhood as levels of this hormone are responsible for growth in children). However, some research suggests that if we can increase our levels of human growth hormone as adults we could potentially increase our muscle mass and decrease our body fat. Tip: human growth hormone is produced when we sleep, so make sure your sleep hygiene is on point!
Research also suggests that intermittent fasting can potentially slow the progression of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and aging.
Many people who choose to follow an intermittent fasting style of eating claim that it is easy to follow than a traditional lower calorie diet for weight loss. People following this diet often find that restricting your intake 1-2 days each week and then eating without restriction the remaining days of the week is easier mentally than following a slightly restrictive plan (aimed at weight loss) everyday.
Short answer, no. Eating 5-7 meals a day does not increase your metabolism any more than eating 3 larger meals a day. I typically recommend snacking between meals to clients who otherwise may be tempted to indulge between meals. Say for example, you have a staff meeting at 10:30 am everyday and your co-worker always brings donuts or muffins. This is a situation where it can be extremely helpful to have your own snack available. This way you have a healthier (and typically more filling) snack on hand so that you don’t feel like you’re missing out and you are much less likely to indulge in a treat “just because it’s there”.
It comes down to personal preference and what works best for YOUR body. Some people feel great eating two meals a day, and as long as those two meals include all of the nutrition your body needs and you don’t lack energy throughout the day, that is A-OK with me!
Before you go out and give intermittent fasting a try, I must touch on a couple of things. There are a few groups of people who I would not recommend long periods of fasting.
I wouldn’t recommend intermittent fasting beyond a 12-hour hours for women who are trying to get pregnant, women who are pregnant or women who are struggling with hormonal imbalances and irregular periods.
I would also not suggest intermittent fasting for people living with low thyroid function, particularly Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and people with adrenal fatigue.
And finally, although I am a big supporter of a non-traditional diet for diabetes, please do not try intermittent fasting if you have diabetes and need assistance adjusting your oral medication or insulin dosage.
What I recommend to my clients is to focus on a 12-hour fasting window and for most people, this is quite simple to maintain long-term! For example, if you finish your dinner at 6:30 pm then your first meal the following day should not be before 6:30 am. You can manipulate the hours however you’d like to fit your own schedule but just focus on the 12-hour window of fasting. If a 12-hour window sounds simple, maybe work up to a 14- or 16-hour fasting window.
If you try intermittent fasting and it impacts you negatively, stop. Like I always say, eating must be individualized and one method does not work for EVERYONE.
Do you naturally intermittent fast? Let me know in the comments below!
Yours in Health,