Wellness Blog

10 Myths About Intermittent Fasting, Busted

Jun 28, 2018 8:00:00 AM / by The Essential Health and Wellness Team

Intermittent fasting, a popular health and fitness trend, involves alternating cycles of eating and fasting.

There are many types of intermittent fasting, but the diet pattern focuses on when you should eat instead of just what or how much you should eat.

Because intermittent fasting has gotten so popular, there are plenty of naysayers who feel that intermittent fasting is a waste of time or even dangerous.

Let’s talk about some of the common myths of intermittent fasting so you can find out if this diet pattern is right for you.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is more than a popular health and fitness trend. It is a dietary pattern that involves alternating cycles of eating and fasting.

Studies show that intermittent fasting can cause weight loss, improve your metabolic health, protect against disease and even, potentially, help you live longer.

Unlike a diet, intermittent fasting doesn’t focus so much on the types of food or how much food you eat. This is about when you should be eating.

If you are trying intermittent fasting, you might try the 16/8 method (only eating in an 8 hour window each day, and fasting the other 16 hours) or a more spontaneous fasting method (skipping meals when you don’t feel hungry or are too busy).

But whatever method works best for you, there are many health benefits to intermittent fasting. Research has shown that intermittent fasting helps burn fat, staves off the effects of aging, and promotes healthy brain function.

Intermittent Fasting Myths

As with all popular fitness or health trends, there are many myths out there about intermittent fasting that aren’t quite right or simply aren’t true at all.

A few of the most common myths about intermittent fasting are:

  1. Your Body Enters Starvation Mode
  2. Skipping Breakfast = Weight Gain
  3. You Should Eat Small Meals Frequently
  4. Fasting Slows Down Your Metabolism
  5. You’ll Get Too Hungry
  6. You’ll Lose Muscle
  7. Your Brain Needs Fuel
  8. You’ll Gain The Weight Back
  9. You’ll Overeat Between Fasting Periods
  10. You Won’t Get Enough Nutrients

1. Your Body Will Enter Starvation Mode If You Fast

Even if you’ve never heard of intermittent fasting before, you’ve probably been warned against skipping meals because your body will go into “starvation mode.”

According to this idea, not eating makes your body think it’s starving, which shuts your body’s metabolic processes down.

Your body is saving energy because it’s not sure when it will get nutrients again, which prevents you from burning fat.

While it’s true that your body does change when you are fasting, evidence shows that short-term fasting actually increases your body’s metabolic functions.

Starvation mode is a real thing, but it takes long periods of actual starvation – not short periods of fasting intermittently.

2. Skipping Breakfast Causes Weight Gain

We’ve all been told since we were children that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?

A popular claim that opposes intermittent fasting is that if you don’t eat breakfast, you’ll gain weight.

Skipping breakfast will make you hungrier throughout the day, so you’re more likely to gorge on food later, the claims say.

When you’re a child or a teenager, breakfast is definitely important – it helps you do better in school because you’re not concentrating on being hungry.

But as long as you are health conscious with the rest of the meals you eat later in the day after skipping breakfast, you should have no trouble skipping breakfast while fasting.

3. You Should Eat Small Meals Frequently

Eating small meals throughout the day instead of eating three large meals is supposed to help lose weight, keep weight off and avoid the effects of feeling hungry.

There is no evidence that frequent meals boost your metabolism or reduce hunger. Therefore, it can’t be proven to have any effect on weight loss.

Some people personally may feel that eating small meals a few times a day instead of three large meals (or instead of intermittent fasting) is better for them.

If you are likely to make unhealthy choices when you’re hungry, this might be a good method for you. 

But if you make healthy food choices every day, there is no reason to eat multiple small meals many times a day.

4. Fasting Slows Down The Metabolism

Many people associate intermittent fasting with crash diets, so the claims go that when you don’t give your body the food it needs, your metabolism will slow down and adapt to survive on less calories.

But because you are eating and fasting intermittently, instead of going without eating at all, your body is getting the calories it needs – just at a different time than it’s used to.

In that same vein, many people believe eating more frequently will boost your metabolism. But numerous studies show that there is no difference in calories burned if you eat more frequently.

5. You’ll Get Too Hungry

Many people believe that fasting intermittently causes your body to get too hungry, and in response, you will feel compelled to overeat between fasting periods.

After beginning intermittent fasting, you will feel hungry, but your body adapts to the change and your feelings of hunger decrease over time.

There’s also a chance your feelings of hunger throughout the day aren’t true hunger pains but a mental focus on the lack of food.

You know it’s lunchtime, so you feel hungry. Or your body is thirsty, so you feel hungry. Your body isn’t crying out for food, but you feed it anyway.

6. You’ll Lose Muscle

Some people do believe that fasting will lead to starvation mode, which will cause your body to begin burning muscle and using it for fuel.

This does happen with all sorts of diet plans and patterns, but there’s no evidence that intermittent fasting causes it more than others. It’s also more often associated with crash dieting than intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting doesn’t involve cutting out exercise or not giving your body the calories that it needs to function – just changing when you eat.

7. Your Brain Needs Fuel

Because studies have shown that children and teenagers function better at school after getting a balanced breakfast, the idea has formed that not eating will lead to your brain not getting the fuel it needs to function.

The claims say that if you are fasting, your brain can’t function properly, and you will experience poor concentration and memory loss.

Not exactly. The brain does need glucose (blood sugar) to operate, but it can also get this from proteins. Your brain will not stop functioning if you don’t eat every few hours.

Even during long-term fasting or starvation diets (which we don’t recommend, by the way!) the body can produce what it needs for brain function from.

8. You’ll Gain The Weight Back

Again, people tend to associate intermittent fasting and other popular health trends with crash diets.

Many people who participate in these crash diets lose a lot of weight but gain it all back after the diet is over.

However, it’s not because of the diet itself.

Rather, diets often do not teach people how to make better decisions or build better habits – they only help to lose weight in the short term.

People who are intermittently fasting could still gain back any weight that they lose if they don’t follow a maintenance plan in between fasting periods.

9. You’ll Overeat Between Fasting Periods

Some people claim that intermittent fasting will cause you to overeat between fasting periods, so you will actually gain weight or maintain your weight instead of losing it.

This may be partly true. People do tend to eat a little bit more than they would’ve normally after fasting.

But studies show that most people who are intermittently fasting do not eat such an excessive amount after a fast that they cancel out the benefits of the fasting.

It also has to do with the choices you make between fasting periods.

If you are eating slightly more than usual but still making healthy choices, there is a huge difference than if you are turning to processed foods or fattening choices.

10. You Won’t Get Enough Nutrients

If you fast intermittently and then make unhealthy choices during the eating periods, then this myth may hold true.

But all intermittent fast diets require the participant to eat healthy during the eating periods, both to ensure the body gets what it needs and also to prevent gaining back any weight that is lost.

Is Intermittent Fasting Right for Me?

Intermittent fasting is not right for everyone.

If you are struggling to lose the last few pounds before you hit your goal weight or you are prediabetic, intermittent fasting might be the right way to jumpstart your body.

Intermittent fasting is also a good fit for people who want to fight the effects of aging. Many benefits of intermittent fasting that have been researched help the body ward off the effects of aging, as well as increase brain function.

If you don’t like the idea of fasting, that’s OK. Fasting isn’t for everyone, and there are many ways to burn fat and live a healthy lifestyle that don’t involve intermittent fasting.

Who Shouldn’t Intermittent Fast?

There are a few situations where intermittent fasting might not be the right fit for your body, or it might even be harmful for your body.

If you are concerned about intermittent fasting impacting any of your medications or currently diagnosed medical issues, always consult a doctor before beginning.

Intermittent fasting is not a good fit for you if you...

  • Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
  • Have a history of disordered eating.
  • Experience chronic stress or don’t sleep well at night.
  • Are new to diet and exercise.

Avoid Intermittent Fasting If You’re Pregnant

Unless your doctor has told you otherwise, pregnancy (or if you are planning or trying to become pregnant) is not the time to worry about losing weight and burning fat.

Pregnant women have extra energy needs, so this is not the time for intermittent fasting. You may also want to consult your doctor about intermittent fasting if you are breastfeeding.

Avoid Intermittent Fasting If You Have A History of Eating Disorders

If you have struggled with an eating disorder in the past or currently have an eating disorder, you should steer clear of intermittent fasting.

The periods of eating and fasting could be a psychological trigger for your eating disorder.

Avoid Intermittent Fasting If You’re Stressed or Don’t Sleep Well

If you are experiencing chronic or severe stress, intermittent fasting is not for you – at least not during this period in your life. The same goes if you aren’t sleeping well or have a history of sleeping issues.

Your body needs additional energy and care during this time, so taking away energy during the day or for specific periods would be unwise.

Avoid Intermittent Fasting If You’re New to Exercise and Dieting

If you have never been one for exercising or dieting in the past, intermittent fasting may be tempting but probably isn’t the right fit for you.

After focusing on your diet and insuring your body is getting the right nutrients, then intermittent fasting might be a good fit for you.

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

While intermittent fasting certainly isn’t for everyone and might not be the right fit for you, many of the popular myths that disparage this health trend just aren’t true.

Truthfully, intermittent fasting is one of the world’s most powerful tools to lose weight, and there are many other health benefits besides, including but not limited to:

  • It actually changes how your cells, genes and hormones function.
  • It can help you burn fat.
  • It can lower your risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
  • It may help you live longer.
  • It’s good for your brain.
  • It can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

If you are interested in learning more about healthy lifestyle choices and intermittent fasting, we would love to work with you.

At Essential Health & Wellness, we believe that you reach your optimum health through a healthy lifestyle and a strong relationship with your doctor.

Contact us today to learn more about our clinics in Raleigh and Cary and to schedule a consultation with one of our nutrition specialists.

We can’t wait to meet you!

The Essential Health and Wellness Team

Written by The Essential Health and Wellness Team

As integrative and functional medicine providers, the Essential Health & Wellness team will always take a personalized approach to your care. Our board-certified physicians and advanced care practitioners believe in treating people, not symptoms, and place wellness and prevention at the forefront of our practice.

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