Intermittent Fasting Is Insane...ly Great (For Me, At Least)

This article entitled Intermittent Fasting Is Insane is an excellent example of modern journalism. It's sad that semi-respectable mastheads like the LA Times run articles that are little more than a copyedited version of a Facebook screed. However, given many of the other articles I've read recently, particularly on matters of current events, it's sadly the norm.

Many hours or days between meals has been the norm since humans first walked the earth. We wouldn't be here as a species if we weren't built for this reality. It's only in the last several decades that many of us had access to three meals a day plus snacks, not to mention a constant barrage of advertising that tells us the kinds of foods we should be eating.

So to call intermittent fasting "insane" shows tremendous ignorance of:

  • What intermittent fasting actually is
  • Human history

The first reason the author gives:

It sounds extremely uncomfortable.

Normal eating and normal hunger cues tell us to eat every three to four hours. This is what most people do. For example, they might eat a breakfast around 8 a.m., lunch around noon, some snacks before dinner, and a nice evening meal. When I put it like that it sounds obvious. That's because it's balanced. It's intuitive. It works.

Anytime you try to make a change to your habits, it's bound to be uncomfortable. For example, exercise is definitely uncomfortable if you're out of shape. And yet, you don't see too many articles suggesting you shouldn't exercise. And yes, the first few days of doing this were a little rough, no question. That said, it did not take long to adapt to eating one meal a day.

Also, what this clearly very thin woman doesn't realize is that for some of us, those natural cues that tell us when to eat are completely out of whack. Prior to changing to intermittent fasting, I could and would eat ridiculous amounts of food multiple times a day, plus snacks. Now? I still probably eat a little more than the average person eats at a meal, but I do it only once a day. I've also made other dietary changes that have surely reduced the amount of calories I consume in a day.

She continues:

During periods of fasting, black coffee, calorie-free sweeteners, diet soda, and sugar-free gum are permitted. I'm going to take this opportunity to point out that these calorie-free "hunger remedies" are flagged as warning signs of anorexia by the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

First of all, she links to an article on Livestrong, which does not provide a link to this research. Based on what they're talking about, I'm guessing it's Artificial Sweetener Use among Individuals with Eating Disorders. I can't read the full article without paying for it, but I have no doubt this is definitely true. I know from my own experience that artificial sweeteners, particularly in gum, are bad news and should be avoided, whether or not you have an eating disorder.

Second, she's clearly labeling intermittent fasting as an eating disorder by associating artificial sweetener use and anorexia, which I'm sure exists. Anorexia is defined as:

  • Abnormally low body weight
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • A distorted perception of body weight

Considering my doctor has given me an official diagnosis of morbidly obese and telling me to lose weight, anorexia is the farthest thing from my mind.

Black coffee has no sweeteners in it. Neither do espresso shots. And yes, one should be careful about overconsumption.

There are a few different iterations of the plan

One is to alternate days of eating. Eat whatever you want one day, fast for the entirety of the next. I've practiced Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday where we communally fast for one whole day, and I can tell you from experience that that s—- is not fun. For the holiday, it's not meant to be. You're lethargic and sorrowful, and you spend the day in religious services atoning for sin. But to do that to your body every other day in the name of weight loss? No, thank you.

She's basing her entire opinion of fasting on a single day where she fasted for Yom Kippur. Yes, if you've never fasted, it's tough. However, if she tried it herself more than once or, I don't know, asked someone who fasts regularly, she'd find out it gets a lot easier with practice. Or maybe it wouldn't for her, who knows. But there's no evidence to suggest she tried it for more than one day.

Also, the people who do alternate day fasting don't necessary eat whatever you want the next day, they may only eat a single meal, or maybe two.

Such an extreme dietary regimen is unsettling. Prioritizing a diet over the usual practices of everyday life is a cause for alarm and concern for the mental health of the dieter.

Actually, this diet is surprisingly easy to fit in with the rest of your life. The meal I specifically choose to eat every day is dinner, because it's one of the only meals I eat with my family. The fact I don't eat the rest of the time? They don't notice. When I travel? Same thing: I will eat certain meals (usually dinner) with other people. I might also have lunch with them. For long times in transit, I fast.

Imagine sitting through a workday without having eaten in 30 hours. Imagine skipping dinner with friends because you'd eaten your day's worth of calories at 2 p.m. These are some very plausible realities of intermittent fasting - and I haven't even dared to think about the digestive nightmare it could cause.

I don't have to imagine as I just did a 48 hour fast! It's not difficult at all. If she'd bother to talk to someone who's actually done intermittent fasting for any length of time, she'd know this. Also, if I know I am going to dinner with my friends, I plan around it and move my eating window accordingly (either fasting more or have an extra meal).

And digestive issues? What digestive issues? If anything, my digestion has been much better since I started eating less food. I definitely spend less time on the toilet as well!

"Skipping meals ramps up your stress hormone cortisol, which I consider a dark lord of metabolism," Sara Gottfried, M.D., told the Huffington Post. Essentially, it messes with your system. Who knows what happens to your metabolism when you practice this diet in the long-term?

Everything linked in the linked article was "could" or "may". And yes, if you're stressed, and you're already predisposed to eat, you'll want to eat more. What I've found is by practicing intermittent fasting, I am stressed far less, particularly when traveling. It's one less thing I have to stress about.

As for how this diet works long-term? The whole of human history tells us that, in moderation, fasting will not harm us. Muslims fast during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan, which acts as a variant of One Meal a Day. This has been part of the Muslim tradition since the 7th Century, and they still do it today. Do you hear of health problems as a result of this fasting from the Muslim population? I certainly don't.

And of course, then she quotes a study that supposedly shows that intermittent fasting is no better than a conventional diet. The study is described as follows:

Participants were randomized to 1 of 3 groups for 1 year: alternate-day fasting (25% of energy needs on fast days; 125% of energy needs on alternating “feast days”), calorie restriction (75% of energy needs every day), or a no-intervention control. The trial involved a 6-month weight-loss phase followed by a 6-month weight-maintenance phase.

Which is not how I've read most people intermittently fast. Also, the study has an interesting caveat that I was able to find thanks to a Reddit thread:

It’s worth noting that adherence was a problem in this study, especially with the alternate-day fasting group. This made it harder for the authors to draw good statistical conclusions and likely affected the outcome.

Which tells me, the "official" science is far from settled. That said, I've done my own "N of 1 Trial" of intermittent fasting, and the results speak for themselves:

  • Best weight in 10 years, and dropping
  • Lower average blood glucose readings and lower A1c

I'm not going to claim intermittent fasting is for everyone, but I'm pretty sure she had made up her mind long before she wrote the article, only doing minimal research to back up her claims that took me minimal research and my own personal experience to debunk.

See also this comment thread on Reddit