We must eat 6 or more meals a day which keeps blood sugar even and revs up your metabolism. We’ve all heard this before. Or how about, starvation mode will kick in. Both of these statements are false. Muscle mass is the main factor in basal metabolic rate and unless you deprive yourself of food for 3 or more days there will be no starvation mode.
There are so many diets out there or ways to eat as I prefer to call it, and as a skeptic, I have to try the ones I could potentially believe in and share.
I have been studying and using various was of eating for about 7 years now and have seen results based on my goals for that time. I have gone from being 145 lbs when I was 19 to about 180lbs for a steady two years and then up to 210lbs, back to 160lbs and now I’m at about 180lbs all using various ways of eating. (Getting to 210 was unintentional).
My favorite along the way has been intermittent fasting (IF). I like how Todd Becker explains it best. “This is not about weight loss. “The key is to adapt the body to be able to run on stored fuel”
So what is the 5:2 Diet?
Most diets out there fail. The may work for a time, you lose the weigh you want, but once you get off the diet you pile the weight back on simply because it’s not flexible, sustainable, rational or feasible . The 5:2 diet or way of living is not so much a typical diet. You are not calorie restricted (CR) every day and you don’t have to make your life revolve around your diet.
You in fact, make this diet work around how you live. You eat normally for 5 days a week and restrict your calories for two days a week. (500 for women and 600 for men)
How does it work?
Working out breaks down muscle and the body then repairs and grows. The same happens with vegetables. We have been brainwashed that vegetables are good for us and rightly so, but how are they good for us?
Bitterness in vegetables is warning signals to humans to not eat them. The likes of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli have toxins in them that, in large doses can cause serious harm; however, in small doses they activate stress responses that switch on genes that protect and repair, the same repairs and growth cycle that occurs with the muscle. This is the theory of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. This process is called hormesis.
Hormesis is the exposure to stimulus in small doses that promotes defense and repair mechanisms. Other forms of hormesis are allergy immunotherapy and cold showers which helps with weight loss, energy and acts as an antidepressant.
The same goes for intermittent fasting. When we fast or deprive ourselves of food our body activates fuel sources in the form of fat to give us the energy needed to function. The first question most people ask when they hear this is “won’t your body eat muscle for fuel”. The answer, according to research is no. These studies have shown very little to no lean mass loss while fasting.
Science and benefits?
1. Increased Autophagy which is a recycling process of killing off damaged cells and using that cell as energy.
2. Mitohermesis. By fasting, a gene is turned on, which ramps up the mitochondria or power house of every cell which provides a better defense against oxidative stress
3. Brain derived neurotropic factor or BDNF is more adaptive and plastic which stimulates connections between neurons and offers more protection against stresses like dementia, Alzheimer’s etc. and may also improve your mood and suppress anxiety.
4. Decreased IGF1. Insulin like growth factor 1 is a growth promoting hormone in almost every cell in your body. These cells are constantly active and necessary when young. When we eat as we typically do in the western world IGF1 levels increase and when they are constantly going at high levels we are more susceptible to accelerated aging and cancers.
We can decrease our levels IGF1 by intermittent fasting. This gives our digestive system a break, as well as our adrenal glands and pancreas.
5. IF also decreases blood glucose level which in turn decreases levels of insulin (a fat storage hormone) being pumped into the blood stream. Less fat storage hormone means less fat storage, which gives an opportunity for our fat burning hormone glucagon to thrive.
6. Decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol
7. Increased adipose tissue lipolysis (fat break down)
What do I eat on the restricted days?
On your restricted days, eat foods that are low on the glycemic index in order to keep your insulin levels from spiking too high. The idea is to get to the point where your cells are very insulin sensitive and you can then become a fat burning machine. A good example would be eggs in the morning and a breast of chicken and vegetables in the afternoon. Some people eat all of their calories at once.
Some split their calories in 2 and others graze all day. Personally I like to keep the time between meals as long as possible in order to ensure low levels of insulin for longer periods of time. This will ensure more time in a fat burning zone or ketosis.
As you see in the graph below the more frequently you eat the less time you spend burning fat.
Other forms of intermittent fasting?
I have tried various aspects of IF. I have tried 16 off 8 on where I fast for 16 hours a day and eat all of my calories in an 8 hour window. This worked for about 6 months and then my body began to adapt. I began to feel tired in the afternoon no matter what combination of food I ate.
I have tried alternate day fasting. This is a very rigid regime that doesn’t allow for much spontaneity. If someone asks you out for lunch on a fast day you are in a bind.
Now I am trying the 5:2. This seems to have the most flexibility. As long you plan which days you are going to fast (which do not have to be consecutive days) you will reap the benefits quickly. Unlike the alternate day or 16/8 fasting you know that the very next day you can go back to eating as you please without too much compensation.
Because there is only two days of restriction your psychology changes about food and studies have shown that people that have done the 5:2 for 6 months or more have subconsciously changed their food preferences and palette. They eat less meat, more veggies and don’t crave the ice creams and cakes anymore.
So is IF or the 5:2 diet worth doing?
It is flexible, sustainable, rational and feasible for the long haul. It fits into your life as is, not as you want your life to be. It may not work for everyone, but you can expect to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. Sometimes you may lose more, sometimes less and sometimes you will plateau, but you will continue reap the other benefits that we spoke about above.
Once you reach your goal you can cut it back to 1 day and ramp it back up after Christmas if you over indulge, but to answer the question I would say why not give it a go.
Most of the research on this subject has been done on animals and some may say it’s just another way of restricting calories, but I have done IF for myself at various times in the last 18 months and in my experience it was hard at the beginning, but I saw sustained results. I would invite you to try it with permission from your doctor and do some measurements and before pictures.
Give it 10 weeks and see what results you come up with. Let me know how your experiment goes and I will continue with mine.
What do you have to lose?
To read more about intermittent fasting go to http://www.precisionnutrition.com/intermittent-fasting