Indians don’t need an introduction to the concept of fasting. From ancient times to modern times, from virtuous housewives to virtue-signalling politicians, everyone has fasted for one reason or the other.
In recent times, there’s been a lot of buzz around a new and wondrous method for losing weight fast and gaining control on the munchies: INTERMITTENT FASTING aka IF! But as is the case with most other weight-loss methods, the lines between fact and fiction get increasingly blurred as more and more people adopt the practice.
So is IF really the Holy Grail of all weight-loss techniques? Or is it simply the Ponzi scheme of the fitness industry, promising a pot of gold at the bottom of a fictional rainbow? Let’s investigate.
What is Intermittent Fasting NOT?
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat – IF is not a diet, it is simply a method of eating. Specifically, it is a type of time-restricted eating. You can follow any diet of your choice and combine it with IF.
Here’s what a typical IF day looks like: You stay hungry for a part of the day called the “Fasting Window” and then, you consume your daily diet-approved caloric intake (also known as “food” in layman’s terms) during the “Feeding Window”.
For example, a very popular form of IF is the 16:8 method where the Fasting Window lasts for 16 hours and the Feeding Window lasts for the remaining 8 hours of the day. If this doesn’t appeal to your inner masochist, there’s also the 20:4 method.
The Myths About IF
As Intermittent Fasting gained more and more adherents, a lot of tall claims and scary tales started emerging about it. (If you want to know how IF really works, then check out the May 2016 issue of Fitmag here). Let’s look at some of these myths:
# 1 – You don’t need to watch your calories on IF
Sorry to ruin the party folks but this is simply not true.
This is probably the biggest misconception about IF – and the reason for its growing appeal. After all, if you can convince people that they can eat to their heart’s content and not grow a gut, you’ll have them eating out of the palm of your hand.
The truth is even on IF, you WOULD need to count your calories because what matters is your total daily caloric intake – irrespective of when you consume them! Whether you eat this food throughout the day or during a 4-hour Feeding Window is immaterial: if you consume more calories than you burn, you WILL put on weight.
#2 – IF makes you lose muscle mass
Gym “trainers” have long insisted that you need to eat at least 5-6 meals a day or else you’ll lose your hard-earned guns. So does that mean someone who stays in a fasted state for 16 hours a day will lose all those lean gains?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Muscle growth happens when muscle protein synthesis exceeds the amount of muscle breakdown.
Most gym-rats have read about the 20-minute anabolic window post-workout (another myth that was busted by Fitmag here) and so rush to eat their eggs or drink their shakes right after hitting the weights.
This really isn’t necessary. There is plenty of research that shows that the anabolic window can last for anything from 24 to even 48 hours post-workout.
So you really needn’t worry about losing muscle on IF.
#3 – IF can lead to starvation and death
These days, food is so abundantly available and in so many different forms that it’s hard to imagine this wasn’t always the case.
Humans used to be hunter-gatherers not so long ago in our evolutionary past. Our bodies are well-adapted to enduring periods of food deprivation. In fact, most lifestyle diseases can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution when man became a sedentary animal who ate 3 and more meals a day.
New research has also started suggesting that fasting could actually promote longevity by altering the activity of mitochondrial networks in our cells! Now you know how the Rishis of yore lived for hundreds of years!
#4 – IF creates hormonal imbalances
Hormonal imbalances have been linked to a number of health risks such as early onset menopause, PCOD, impaired insulin sensitivity, among others. Getting proper nutrition, exercise and rest are vital for correcting these imbalances.
But does IF help or hamper? The good news is that Intermittent Fasting seems to positively impact a number of factors that promote good health and hormone regulation:
- Decreased insulin resistance, thus lowering your risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- Enhanced Growth Hormone Secretion in men (Buff Dudes – take note!)
- Helps correct and balance the secretion of Adrenal Hormones such as Cortisol
- Reduced oxidative stress and inflammation in the body
Having said this, do consult a doctor if you have a pre-existing condition before you start IF.
Final words: Intermittent Fasting is neither a magic pill that will cure everything nor is it a dangerous practice that could kill you. Whether or not IF is right for you would depend on your lifestyle and your fitness goals. While it may not be a mandatory requirement for good health, it can certainly be a great asset provided you know how to use it properly.
Author Credits – Jaideep Bhide