Intermittent Fasting

As many of you have noticed, I am periodically implementing Intermittent Fasting into my dietary regiment.  This is a controversial diet method, so I expect to get lots of feedback.  I thought it might be easier to post some general points about Intermittent Fasting, as well as some great links to read more, in one central place.  I encourage you to read up on the subject and offer your feedback.  My studies have intrigued me, and I am sure many of you will be intrigued too.

First of all, what is intermittent fasting?  Intermittent fasting is basically alternating periods of eating and periods of fasting.  Some of the most common forms of intermittent fasting include Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) (see description here), The Warrior Diet, LeanGains, Fast-5, Every Other Day Diet, Banta Diet or Eat Stop Eat. There is even a version called Paleo Fasting.(I am not endorsing any of these diets, just showing the options.)  Most intermittent fasting programs have you do a water only fast for a certain number of hours a day, and then eat pretty much whatever you want the remaining hours.  An example of this is Fast-5, which has you fast 19 hours a day and eat for 5.  Other fasting programs have you fast for a certain number of days a week.  This could be every other day or maybe even just a day or two.

One of the strongest arguments against intermittent fasting is that it will slow down your metabolism.  For short-term fasts this is simply not the case.  Alot of scientific references are given at A to Z Diet Reviews.  Fitness Spotlight also covers this very well in their article Eating More Meals Does NOT Speed Up Your Metabolism.  I suggest you read both of these pages, especially the second one, to better understand this.  You can also read an article of someone who has changed their opinion on this in the article Eating and Metabolism Revisited.

If you are like me, you kind of understood what intermittent fasting was, but you would like to know if it is really a healthy dietary choice.  Fortunately, there are several studies out there that indicate it is indeed a healthy diet.  The following are some of the more intriguing bits of information about intermittent fasting:

The following quotes come from an article titled, “Running on Empty, The Pros and Cons of Fasting“.  This was published in the Los Angeles Times.

According to Mark P. Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging: “In normal health subjects, moderate fasting — maybe one day a week or cutting back on calories a couple of days a week — will have health benefits for most anybody.”

Dr. Marc Hellerstein, a professor of endocrinology, metabolism and nutrition at UC Berkeley, who studies fasting states, “We’re brilliant at this (referring to humans’ physical reaction to not eating). We’re not good at responding to too many calories, but we’re very good at responding to fasting. Fasting, in itself, is not an unhealthy process.”

Among 448 people surveyed, intermittent fasting was associated with more than a 40% reduction in heart disease risk. Fasting was also linked to a lower incidence of diabetes. The study was published in October in the American Journal of Cardiology.

According to a PNAS study on Intermittent Fasting, “The only environmental variable that has been shown to markedly affect the rate of aging in a wide range of species is caloric intake”.

While the study targets Asthma patients, there are some interesting results in this 2006 study on Alternate Day Calorie Restriction.

Another great study to read is at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  It is titled, “Alternate-day Fasting and Chronic Disease Prevention: A Review of Human and Animal Trials“.  The one thing this study really points out is that the human evidence is sparse at best.  Unfortunately, most of the studies have been performed on animals; however, there are some promising conclusions that have come out of some of the human studies.  When you read the results of the human studies which do not seem to support the positive conclusions for humans, keep in mind the variables of the study, which are disclosed.

This study at PNAS compares the differences in Intermittent Fasting and Calorie Restriction (which has more supporting evidence).

While just an abstract, this study on The Effects of Intermittent Fasting and Calorie Restriction on Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Systems is interesting.

You might be interested in listening to an online NPR show on Intermittent Fasting which points out many of the benefits.

Michael R. Eades (of Protein Power) has some interesting things to say about Intermittent Fasting and Protein Power.

A couple of good overviews can be found at Fitness Spotlight and Mark’s Daily Apple.  Of course, Wikipedia is also a great place to start.

In November 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition did a study on alternate day fasting.  What did they find?  After just eight weeks, participants had lost an average of 12 pounds, their total cholesterol dropped 21%, their LDL cholesterol dropped 25%, and their blood pressure dropped five points.  Pretty impressive.

This is really just barely scratching the surface.  There are many, many resources about intermittent fasting out there, just head to your favorite search engine and check it out.  I will also update this page as I run across other interesting studies or other information.

With all this being said, how am I implementing intermittent fasting in my dietary regiment?  At this time I am choosing to follow my chosen diet, the South Beach Diet, any time I am eating.  Two or three days a week I choose to fast.  I either do a full day without eating, which ends up being about 36 hours, or I go from supper to supper without eating, which is about 24 hours.  I think there are benefits of eating low-glycemic foods as part of a fast.  Foods that are cause your blood sugar to spike (high-glycemic) tend to cause you to have feelings of hunger.  As a result, I think these are best to avoid.

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43 Responses to “Intermittent Fasting”

  1. What a very informative post. You have some very useful information here that I wish I could try. I have to follow my trainers program though. That is one good thing about not having a trainer, you can do and try so many different things. I just feel obligated to keep to the program he has for me.
    It sure seems to be really working for you so keep it up.

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    Rob, you are doing just fine. Sure, you don’t have the liberty to change the program, but what you are doing is working. Just keep it up! BTW, your results this week are awesome!

    [Reply]

  2. When I came back from SD in July, I fasted for nearly 30 days. A skin prob I had battled for years totally disappeared, I lost a ton of weight, my joint pain disappeared and my energy level tripled. I’m thinking of a shorter fast after the first of the year because I got so many benefits from the last one.

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    Thirty days?! WOW! That is one long fast! I am convinced that there are some definite health benefits though. You won’t see me criticize it.

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  3. Hi Steve,

    Interesting topic. For me the worry would be losing muscle as part of the “weight” instead of just fat. I can appreciate that eating a lot of small meals might not speed up the metabolisim but I would worry that the one day fasts might start up slowing the metabolisim and starvation mode sets in (the body eating fat and muscle stores).

    Not sure of the science behind my assumptions other than “some” diet experts in the 1980′s have stated that.

    I did see an interesting video on the the topic of fasting (in this case because a guy fell into a cave) where the body did not eat its own muscle until 30 days into the fast (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyYB64qsXIk), leading me to believe the state of the science in the 80′s was off a bit as they were stating that if you eat less than a 1000 calories a day, the body burns muscle as well as fat.

    I’ll be reading to see how it goes for you Steve.

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    John, this is a good point. I can’t recall where I read it right now, but it seems that I read some information that indicated the body doesn’t begin using its own muscle for some time. I am not sure it was 30 days, but I am also not sure my source was any kind of authority. It has been too long since I read that. Regarding the slowing of the metabolism, I also read something on that, again, I can’t point to where I saw this. Anyhow, it said that the key is to stop the fast within 24 hours, which is the point starvation mode kicks in. I wish I could substantiate that for you, but I don’t have the time to look it back up this morning.

    I’ll have to check out the video. I am quite interested in the topic. So far I have appreciated the occasional intermittent fasting approach. I have a physical this week though, and I will be curious how my bloodwork has changed.

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    The video was interesting John. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Wow, a very informative post on intermittent fasting indeed! I wrote a post about “why we don’t need to eat every three hours” on my blog a few weeks ago, but definitely didn’t dig deep enough into the benefits of intermittent fasting. When I do, I’ll definitely be using this post as a reference.

    Sometimes I feel like I have to be careful about posting stuff that isn’t mainstream…but it seems like the reaction from people here has been pretty positive…?

    Thanks a lot!

    [Reply]

  5. Starvation mode only kicks in when your body reaches the skeletal stage. Your body is very smart and it would not be in its best interest if it were to eat all the muscle and vital organs first and leave the fat. Some people fast for 60 and 90 days even longer, it all depends on how much fat you have in reserve.

    Your metabolism does go down in an extended fast because your weight is going down and you don’t need so many calories to function, but if you are just fasting for 1,2 or 3 days it doesn’t go down.

    [Reply]

  6. have you read the warrior diet? i just ordered it yesterday and im anxiously awaiting its arrival

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    I haven’t read it, but I have read some things about it. I should probably pick a copy up sometime. Be sure and let me know what you think of it.

    [Reply]

  7. http://julie-thegoingtobenewme.blogspot.com/2010/08/63-hours-2-to-go.html

    I tried a 3 day fast and fell a few hours short but I did feel wonderful after my fast. I used to do a day a week and that worked out pretty well but since my goal is a life style change not a diet I’m not sure how to really add fasting to this.

    Thank you for all the great information. If you get a chance to read my fasting posts yeah, if not well that’s fine too. I know life is busy.

    Take care and God Bless!!!

    [Reply]

  8. This is very interesting. There is a Christian version of this type of diet called the Lord’s Table: Setting the Captives Free. I don’t know how much information about the diet you can get from this website, http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com/courses/lords-table/
    but the book is very detailed and those Christians who are interested in Intermittent Fasting should take a look at it. I think I will get mine back out and begin studying it again after looking at some of your links.

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    I appreciate the link Stef – I’ll check it out this weekend.

    [Reply]

  9. Intermittent fasting rocks!! I’m living proof that i-fasting works. Great information here Steve.

    [Reply]

  10. I currently follow Eat Stop Eat and I LOVE it! I’m planning to do a post on my blog about my experience with it. I haven’t talked a lot about the specifics of my diet yet on my blog, maybe bc of the controversial aspects of fasting. I’ve had great progress with it though and I think if you do it right it is perfectly fine :D Great Post! I might reference this in my post if that is okay?

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    Feel free to reference this page BM. IF is controversial, but as I tell others, we have to find what works for us. For me, IF works.

    [Reply]

  11. Thanks for giving me the link to this–I was not following you when you posted it. I was just wondering how hard it is for you to not eat for a day? I don’t think I could do it even if I wasn’t diabetic. When I was a teen, I thought it would be cool to be anorexic (I know!) and by the time I hadn’t eaten for twelve hours, I was vomiting. I get sick to my stomach when I don’t eat. I think this sounds great but not for me. It would be difficult to figure out how much insulin to take on a fasting day without getting low blood sugar. :(

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    I don’t find it hard most of the time. There are tougher days though. I think it really is something that is not for everyone though. I know people, many of them, who are like you and could not go without eating.

    [Reply]

  12. I’ve been doing Fast-5 for a couple of weeks. I was amazed at how easy it was. I don’t get hungry at all until the last couple of hours, then it isn’t unbearable. No problems with low energy, lack of focus, or sleep. If anything, I have more time to do my work and the things I want rather than spending time fixing food and packing for work the next day.

    [Reply]

    South Beach Steve Reply:

    I was surprised at how easy it was too. I think most people are more worried about how hard it will be than how hard it really is. Congratulations on success thus far!

    [Reply]

  13. Thanks for the recommendations shared in your blog. Another thing I would like to express is that fat reduction is not all about going on a fad diet and trying to shed as much weight as possible in a couple of weeks. The most effective way to shed pounds is by having it gradually and obeying some basic ideas which can help you to make the most from the attempt to drop some weight. You may realize and already be following many of these tips, nonetheless reinforcing knowledge never damages.

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  15. Fantastic photos Angie and Scott. Scott you have forced me to step up my game. And Angie shows what can be done AFTER having two kids including a c-section. I think too many women have a self-defeating attitude that just because they’ve had kids or have had a c-section, that they can never get their stomach flat and defined. That’s just an excuse and Angie has destroyed this myth. Great job both of you!

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  16. Hi, I am just getting into these IF stuff.. I am drawn to the eat stop eat method. How much weight have you lost with this IF method? I would love to hear more “REAL” testimonies.. thanks

    [Reply]

  17. I started fasting 3 days per week 3 weeks ago. I realised it was stupid to think I could fast on a weekend so I decided to do Monday,Tuesday and Thursday. I know this isn’t alternate day fasting and probably wouldn’t suit most people but I thought this was my only hope of success. And guess what? I was right. This is the first diet I have stuck to for ten years. I’d go as far as to say it’s simple.
    As I write this I am fasting and who cares as I’ll eat what I want tomorrow!?

    Ive lost 10 pounds but as I k ow mynbody so well through boxing and circuit training I know this diet is worth at least 3 pounds per week to me.

    I’ll keep updating.

    [Reply]

  18. Great post. I have been scared to try a fast. I am worried I won’t have enough energy during the day. I am already thin, but still think that fasting has many other benefits other than just for weight loss. I read The Miracle of Fasting by Paul Bragg (same person that makes the Bragg’s apple cider vinegar). Good book to motivate, but not very science based. http://bragg.com/books/mof_excerpt.html.

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