Food is essential to life. It provides the calories and nutrients that your body needs to keep you breathing and moving, and your brain needs to keep you thinking and alert. Fasting is nothing new. For thousands of years, it’s been utilized as a healing and spiritual practice. However, in recent years, fasting has taken a new direction, one that has its focus on accelerating fat loss.
This new focus raises some questions about health and challenges some of our long-standing beliefs. In this post, I discuss 5 common myths about intermittent fasting.
Myths about Intermittent Fasting Debunked
- Fasting for part of the day is not a starvation diet and does not result in muscle loss
- Eating breakfast does not jumpstart your metabolism in a significant way. That job is done by a hormone surge in the pre-dawn hours.
- Hunger is common when we first start fasting, but we quickly adapt and experience an increase in energy and mental clarity.
- Unlike restrictive diets, people tend to stick with intermittent fasting because the effort is small, but the rewards are big
5 Myths about Intermittent Fasting [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- Five myths about intermittent fasting!
- How each of those myths can be proven untrue.
- Resources for getting started with intermittent fasting!
Myth #1: Fasting is Starvation (Causes Muscle Loss)
Let’s start with the belief that fasting is starvation. The dictionary’s definition of starvation is suffering or death caused by hunger. Since so many people appear to be thriving on intermittent fasting, it’s clear that we are not starving ourselves to death.
I think the fear here is that going without food will slow your metabolism, so, essentially, we are on a ‘starvation diet’ that may cause weight loss in the short-term, but will have long-term consequences.
However, intermittent fasting is not starvation. The forms of intermittent fasting that most people utilize allows them to eat something each day, just within a shorter period of time.
For instance, 16:8 intermittent fasting means that you fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8-hour window. During the hours of fasting, your metabolism runs off of the energy that is stored in your body.
There is plenty of stored energy on everyone’s body. Even lean individuals store about 2,000 calories of glucose in their liver and tens of thousands of calories worth of fat that it will use when the glucose is running low.
Protein, which is what makes up your muscles, is used to build and repair many things inside of you, so your body does not like to burn it for fuel. But, if fasting is taken to an extreme, it may cause muscle loss and a slowing of the metabolism. When that tipping point happens is hard to say. We do know that your body excretes more urea nitrogen after a 24-hour fast (1).
Urea nitrogen is a waste product that is excreted when protein breaks down. There are many proteins in your body, so this is not concrete evidence that you’re losing muscle. If you are looking to fast for longer than 24 hours, however, it is something to keep in mind. You should do extended fasts under a doctor’s supervision.
Myth #2: Breakfast Jumpstarts Your Metabolism
Eating does speed up your metabolism, but only a little bit. This bump up of your metabolism is due to the fact that digesting and absorbing food takes energy. You actually burn calories when you eat calories. How many calories you burn will depend on many factors that are unique to your body, as well as the amount and types of foods you eat. But, the ballpark figure is around 10% of the calories in the meal are used to digest the meal (2).
However the amount and types of foods you eat at breakfast also impact what your body does with those calories. For instance if you eat a breakfast that is high in refined carbohydrates like pancakes, cereal, muffins, or toast, your body will produce more of the fat-storing hormone called insulin, which offsets the small metabolic boost you got from eating.
What really gets our metabolism going in the morning is a surge of hormones, including cortisol. These wake up hormones start ramping up in the pre-dawn hours, helping you wake up and prepare for your day.
Myth #3: I’ll Be Too Hungry to Focus Mentally
One of the most common fears of fasting is that you’ll feel so hungry that you won’t be able to think clearly. Hunger is something that few of us avoid when we first start fasting. However, as you continue to practice intermittent fasting, you’ll likely find that hunger is very manageable and not something that distracts you.
One of the reasons that hunger becomes less of a factor is because it follows a habitual pattern. Your body likes the repetition of habits because it can run on autopilot, which requires fewer resources. If you’ve been a breakfast eater for years, then your body learns to expect food in the morning.
When you disrupt this routine by skipping breakfast, your body reminds you by stimulating hunger. But, since habits can be learned, they can be unlearned and after a few days to a week of skipping breakfast, many people notice a drop in hunger.
You’ll also find that your food choices impact how much hunger you experience. For instance, pairing intermittent fasting with a high-quality low-carb diet stabilizes your blood sugar, which naturally reduces hunger and cravings.
The interesting thing is that many people report that once they break the habit of eating breakfast and clean up their diet that they experience a significant increase in productivity and improvement in mental clarity.
Myth #4: If I Fast, I Won’t Have Any Energy
Food is energy, but if humans had to rely on eating every day to meet their energy needs, we would have been extinct long ago. As I mentioned earlier, we have tens if not hundreds of thousands of calories stored as body fat.
By fasting, we can tap into that abundant source of energy, thanks to the fact that fasting lowers your insulin level. When you eat, insulin is released to move the energy from the food into your cells where it is either burned or stored. If you eat every few hours, you meet all of your body’s energy needs with food and stay locked in fat-storing mode.
When you fast, insulin drops, allowing the stored fat to be released. Fat is energy rich and abundant and the longer you practice fasting, the more efficient your body becomes at burning it, giving you a steady level of energy. But, getting to this point of efficiency will take some time.
Your body will need to produce the enzymes and metabolic processes needed for this transition. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to feel tired when you start fasting. To limit this, start with the easiest form of intermittent fasting, which is a 12 hour overnight fast. When you feel comfortable at that level, increase your fasting window to 14 or 16 hours.
Myth #5: I Won’t Be Able to Stick with Intermittent Fasting
Even after hearing about the benefits of intermittent fasting, you might be concerned that you won’t be able to stick with it long enough to get results. However, one of the nice things about intermittent fasting is that it does not rely on willpower.
The most common way to fast is to skip breakfast. For most people, the morning is a busy time with a lot of things to occupy your mind, making it easy to go without food. In fact, instead of quitting, many people discover that once they try it, they stick with intermittent fasting because the results are big, but the effort is small.
Even with the reassurance that you will not starve, ruin your metabolism, or zap your mental clarity or energy, you may be a bit lost about how to get started.
I have a free report that you can download to get started with fasting and avoid common mistakes available through the link.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Elia, Marinos. “Metabolic response to starvation, injury and sepsis.” Artificial nutrition support in clinical practice. London: Greenwich Medical Media Limited (2001): 1-24.
(2) de Jonee, Lilian, and George A. Bray. “The thermic effect of food and obesity: a critical review.” Obesity Research 5.6 (1997): 622-631.
About the Author:
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.