Intermittent Fasting: Is It Really The Weight Loss Miracle It’s Advertised To Be?

I’m sure you’ve heard all about Intermittent Fasting and all its touted benefits by weight loss “gurus” and experts” such as:

  • Faster weight loss
  • More energy
  • Less hunger
  • And more
Intermittent-Fasting-to-Get-Ripped-1024x538
Oh wow, who knew the only way to get ripped is not eating for 16-20 hours a day? 😉

However, are all of these claims really even true? Is there actually any scientific evidence that proves these claims?

Well, let’s not waste any time here.

Intermittent-fasting
Aha Zach, I see what ya did there

What is Intermittent Fasting Anyway?

Well before we figure out if it works, we have to know a little bit about it. There are many versions of fasting out there, but the “intermittent” part of fasting, meaning occurring at regular intervals, is the most common form of fasting in the fitness realm, so that’s where we will focus our attention. This includes eating all of your meals within a 4-8 hour “feeding window” and fasting for the remainder of the day (Chaix et al. 2014).

The theory for this type of diet is that, with calories equated (equal to another group), it is more effective at fat loss and muscle mass maintenance/growth when compared to a standard calorie-restricted diet. However, the answer is not so black-and-white.

Adherence

There’s no point to a diet if you can’t stick to it. In the scientific literature, we call this “adherence” or “compliance”.

In a 2016 study, subjects that were part of a fasting group ate less total calories than the traditional diet group over an 8 week time period. A questionnaire was given to participants of the fasting group after the conclusion of the study. The majority of participants claimed that the only difficulties that they had with adherence was during the weekend due to differences in one’s schedule and the social opportunities that presented themselves (Tinsley et al. 2016).

Capture
This may look confusing, but all this table tells us is that the fasting group (RT-TRF) ate less total calories than the traditional diet group (RT-ND) across both calories and all macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats). The ± symbol simply means how much the totals differentiated from the average in both directions (positive and negative). The p-values and effect sizes are simply thresholds (has to be below .05) that need to be reached in order to reach statistical significance (meaning that the results shown actually show a change). So in this scenario, there was only a difference in the results BETWEEN GROUPS, not due to the duration of the study or interactions between the groups. However, the details of this are outside the scope of this article. However, if you would like to know more about it, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments!

In a study concerning obese subjects, individuals became used to the fasting protocol in as little as 2 weeks (Johnstone, 2015). This used a fasting every other day approach, which is even more difficult to follow for most people. This was measured every fasting day by asking the subjects about their changes in perceived hunger, satisfaction with the diet, and satiety (feeling of fullness). The conclusion was reached after a majority of the subjects reported very little hunger on the fasting days. The data also illustrates that the subjects became increasingly satisfied with their diets after 4 full weeks. The only parameter to not increase significantly was the feeling of fullness; however, for obese subjects undergoing a caloric deficit, this is common.

Now, even though the focus here is primarily on athletic populations, the fact that significant amounts of adherence are seen in the obese is a great indicator for athletes to have success with this type of diet. This is because athletes are stereo-typically more determined than most populations, especially the obese, as it pertains to achieving their physical fitness goals. If obese subjects are able to adhere to a diet in as short of a time as 2 weeks, than the possibilities of success with this same type of diet for athletes looks positive.

Effects on Testosterone and Other Anabolic Growth Factors

One primary concern about beginning a fasting plan (particularly for men) is the effect fasting has on ones’ anabolic hormonal levels. Moro et al. (again, “et al.” means that others were included in the research besides Moro himself) discovered that after 8 weeks of fasting, the growth factors of insulin, IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1), and testosterone decreased. However, no negative changes in body composition or muscular strength were detected when compared to the traditional calorie restriction group, which is a good sign. And this trend is seen across the board among various studies as well.

Capture
Here’s some more practice reading those fancy shmansy tables. IF represents intermittent fasting and ND represents the traditional diet. Pre and post simply means before the study started and after the study concluded respectively. All the other complex numbers you see are not a cause for concern.

But Do You ACTUALLY Burn More Fat When Fasting?

A 2011 article in the Strength and Conditioning Journal describes the examination of stored body fat burning only during an exercise session itself as extremely shortsighted (Schoenfeld, 2011). The body is ever-changing and it continually adjusts its energy utilization due to a host of factors such as hormonal secretions, enzyme activity, etc. Ultimately, if one burns more carbohydrate during training, than fat will be utilized more greatly during the post-exercise period, and vice versa.

So unfortunately, the answer is no. There is simply not enough evidence out there to make a decisive answer to this question. However, the research shows that many people can better stick to this diet as compared to a traditional calorie-restricted diet. Therefore, it’s up to the person, if you can better stick to this diet compared to any other, then yes, this diet will help you burn more fat FOR YOU, but probably not for somebody else. Give it a shot, if you don’t like it, that’s okay, there’s definitely another diet out there for you. But as for the physiology behind it, no, there is nothing magical about it.

References

  1. Chaix, A. Zarrinpar, P. Miu, S. Panda (2014). Time-restricted feeding is a preventative and therapeutic intervention against diverse nutritional challenges. Cell Metabolism, 20, pp. 991-1005
  2. Johnstone, A. (2014). Fasting for weight loss: An effective strategy or latest dieting trend? International Journal of Obesity, 39(5), 727-733. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.214
  3. Schoenfeld, B. (2011). Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 23-25. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e31820396ec
  4. Tinsley, G. M., Forsse, J. S., Butler, N. K., Paoli, A., Bane, A. A., Bounty, P. M., . . . Grandjean, P. W. (2016). Time-restricted feeding in young men performing resistance training: A randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Sport Science, 17(2), 200-207. doi:10.1080/17461391.2016.1223173
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s