True or False: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Most people have been consistently reminded since early childhood that breakfast and subsequent small, frequent meals are essential to a healthy lifestyle and optimal productivity. However, in recent years, nutritionists and scientists have called these seemingly factual eating times and patterns into question.
Currently, one of the world’s most popular fitness trends, a diet termed intermittent fasting, disputes this age-old adage about breakfast and metabolism maintenance. This new eating trend involves repeated cycles of fasting and eating—even feasting. One of the main attractions of intermittent fasting is that the phenomenon does not restrict which foods to eat, but rather the times at which food is eaten. Several studies show that these alternating cycles of fasting and feasting can lead to weight loss, lean muscle growth, improved metabolic health, disease prevention, and increased longevity.
Current University of Miami student and Exercise Physiology major, Sean Walson, personally witnessed the benefits of intermittent fasting by watching his sister try the eating plan. He said, “she loved it because as long as you eat all your calories in the window, you can still eat your favorite foods.” However, Walson highlighted that intermittent fasting may not be suitable for everyone. He states, “for me it’s not the best choice because I like to snack at all hours. In contrast, my sister prefers eating larger meals and she felt that it would be easier to abide by.”
There are several different methods of intermittent fasting; the most common of which, dubbed the 16/8 method, involves 16 hours of fasting with 8 hours of caloric intake. The key to this dieting pattern is that by purposefully decreasing the window of time in which food is ingested, an individual ultimately consumes less calories in a 24-hour period.
In BIL 360 (Comparative Physiology), Professor DuBois teaches that immediately after eating a meal, especially one heavy in sugars and carbohydrates, an individual’s blood glucose levels rise and insulin is secreted. Recently ingested meals provide the body with a readily available supply of glucose and glycogen to use for energy—as opposed to stored fat. The human body will spend several hours processing the food and utilizing these easily accessible energy reserves. After fasting for several hours, the body no longer has fresh and serviceable glucose and glycogen and eventually draws from fat cells for energy. Decreased insulin sensitivity is often linked to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In contrast, proper insulin production and sensitivity are linked to weight loss and muscle creation. When a meal is once again consumed after a period of fasting, insulin is produced. During this time, the body is most sensitive to insulin and possesses an increased ability to efficiently utilize the meal. This is especially true after a workout or strenuous activity when glycogen levels are depleted. As a result, the meal consumed after a workout and fasted state will be utilized most efficiently by restoring depleted glycogen and be subsequently less likely to be stored as fat. The intake of these larger and more satiating meals may result in increased vitality and productivity. Furthermore, during periods of fasting, growth hormone is increased. Thus, the periods of fasting followed by balanced and nutrient-rich meals, as suggested by intermittent fasting, result in increased growth hormone and insulin sensitivity and essentially prime the human body for fat loss and lean muscle growth.
When asked about traditional dieting, local personal trainer, Karina Figueredo, stated that individuals should strive to “make lasting and realistic changes to their eating habits,” and highlights that “usually people who start diets do not follow them through or simply revert to their old habits after their goal weight is reached.” The primary reason that intermittent fasting has gained such momentum among the health and fitness community is that it does not require individuals to renounce the pleasures of eating their favorite foods. She says that the benefit of intermittent fasting is that there is no need to “restrict food choices,” and purposefully include or exclude macronutrients, but reminds readers that the “goal should be to develop healthy relationships with food and their own bodies,” and that “everyone should be incorporating some form of exercise and movement in their life, that they enjoy, to compliment their healthy eating habits.”
From an evolutionary perspective, eating several meals per day is a relatively new development. Intermittent fasting, although fairly recently named, is not likely a new phenomenon. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were likely forced to undergo these periodic cycles of fasting and feasting as a result of their way of life. Similarly, religions have long maintained traditions of fasting and linked them with increased spirituality. Thus, the seemingly newfound eating pattern, with its multitude of health benefits, may simply be the way humans were meant to eat.
So, enough with the low-fat, no-carb, gluten, lactose and fun-free restricting diets. Intermittent fasting allows for proper nutrients, enjoyable indulgence, and a healthy lifestyle.