Well, folks, we made it through the candy holiday and the pie holiday in one piece! Last up on the 2023 docket is the candy, pie, and cookies holiday we like to call Christmas.
Is it any wonder digestive supplements and detox teas fly off the shelves during this festive time of year? From enzymes to probiotics, gut health has been top of mind as we stuff our gourds with delicious eats.
But alongside the data-backed GI supplements (like digestive enzymes), we see a lot of debunked B.S. (like detox teas) getting hype, too. In the spotlight today is one member of the latter group, a controversial practice that has steadily gained popularity since 2012.
Is it really the hope-inducing, weight-management miracle cure it’s touted to be? Or is it a hoax? We took our nuanced inquiries to Dr. Neal, holistic health genius and notorious loudmouth, for the inside scoop on this diet trend.
Scroll on for the truth about intermittent fasting: what it is, why some people love it, and why Dr. Neal never recommends it.
In This Article:
- What is intermittent fasting?
- Why is intermittent fasting controversial?
- The risks of intermittent fasting
- What to do instead of intermittent fasting
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a diet that says, “The best way to lose weight is to just not eat sometimes.”Dr. Neal Smoller
While intermittent fasting (IF) has only recently popped off, humans have actually revered the practice of abstaining from food and drink for centuries.
But rather than using fasting to overcome illness, induce prophetic visions, or prepare for religious rites, modern humans have started using intermittent fasting to lose weight. Besides perspective and end goal, the core differences between ancient people’s fasting habits and contemporary IF are the duration and execution.
In practice, intermittent fasting refers to the prolonging of the natural fasting period throughout the day.
And yes, we do have a naturally occurring fasting session that happens every day — it’s the 8 hours that we’re (hopefully) in deep sleep. Intermittent fasting extends this period of food-less time by a few hours on each end. Most people who practice intermittent fasting pick an eating window and stick to it, only ingesting food from 7 AM to 7 PM, for example.
Atkins Keto diet, this particular fad is about when you eat, not what you eat.
The hype around IF has risen to a fever pitch in recent years as more people struggle to maintain a healthy weight and a happy gut microbiome.
Intermittent fasting, according to its proponents, allows individuals to experience the advantages of fasting (like weight, inflammation, and disease risk reduction), without the body getting wise to our tricks. By following an eating schedule that breaks the extended fasting period for a few hours, the body is unable to adapt to the fasting and slow metabolism.
Why is Intermittent Fasting Controversial?
Fasting – not intermittent fasting – has been shown to improve markers of disease like weight, blood sugar, oxidizing compounds, and more. The data around fasting, though, is mostly in animals. I take this with a grain of calorie-restricted salt, because animal results may be VERY different from human results. In animals, for example, the Keto diet worsens cholesterol.Dr. Neal Smoller
Before we dive into the truth about intermittent fasting, let’s get one thing clear: If it works for you, keep it up.
While Dr. Neal doesn’t recommend IF to anyone who is interested in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and energy production, that doesn’t mean it has no benefits whatsoever. In fact, one aspect of intermittent fasting that aligns with Dr. Neal’s whole-body approach to digestion is not eating right before bed.
As long as you have the go-ahead from a medical professional or nutrition specialist, you can skip the rest of this blog and get back to doing what feels right for your body specifically.
That being said, if you’re trying to lose weight, support your metabolism, increase nutrient intake, or just generally get healthier, intermittent fasting might not be the way to go.
Our beef with this diet trend can be organized into four distinct categories:
1. It Doesn’t Account for Food Type or Quality
Some fans of intermittent fasting say you should, generally, “eat healthier” when practicing IF, but the guidelines around what is considered healthy are vague at best. Education is extremely important when it comes to nutrition, so we can’t overlook this obvious oversight. If your food lacks nutrients, then eating less of it less frequently might be doing more damage to your body than the alternative.
2. It Doesn’t Address the Body’s Ability to Rapidly Adapt
While intermittent fasting can fool your body into thinking you’re starving, this isn’t actually a positive thing to experience regularly. Some studies have shown an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol, as a result of fasting. This cortisol would be really handy if we were actually starving and needed motivation to hunt down food, but that’s not the case with IF.
3. It’s Based on Restriction, Not Nutrition
Anyone who’s attempted the Paleo diet can attest to the difficulties of restricted eating. As a result of these physical and emotional difficulties, humans often ricochet to the other extreme — binging or overeating — as a way to soothe themselves after the turmoil of fasting.
Dr. Neal recommends taking everything in moderation, including moderation, to implement change that’s simple and sustainable, not torturous and temporary.
4. It Ignores the Importance of Blood-Glucose Levels
Last but certainly not least: Intermittent fasting wreaks havoc on blood sugar.
This is extraordinarily important to understand because in order to actually feel our best and live our healthiest lives, we have to give our blood sugar our full attention. Optimal blood sugar levels are maintained through small, frequent meals that are balanced with all three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs), making it the exact opposite approach to intermittent fasting.
What to Do Instead of Intermittent Fasting?
To boil it all down: Intermittent fasting isn’t going to kill you (probably), but it isn’t going to make you a superhuman, either. And it might have some seriously negative side effects, depending on your unique physiology.
Can’t the same be said for almost all diets and eating trends? Yes, definitely.
But if we sift through the misinformation and marketing tactics that inundate the online wellness sphere, there is scientific evidence that supports one particular way of eating. That is, of course, eating to fuel your fire.
Eating to fuel your fire addresses all four of our issues with intermittent fasting in one fell swoop.
By eating small, nutrient-dense meals that contain proteins, fats, and carbs frequently, we can maintain healthy blood sugar levels without sending the body into a shock response. And then, with our blood sugar taken care of, we get to experience all the benefits of balanced blood-glucose levels.
Having frequent healthy snacks and filling meals can help us stay satiated, too, therefore side-stepping the risk of binging and hunger-related stress responses.
Is Dr. Neal really saying you should eat more frequently to support weight management and overall health? Yes, he is, because the clinical data says the same thing.
IF It Works, Great — IF Not, That’s Okay
Intermittent fasting is a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. But that’s okay! Now that you’re equipped with a scientific framework for food habits and blood sugar maintenance, you can make choices that make sense for you, personally.
Need a little more guidance on your eating hours and fasting window? Let’s chat! Our Counterside Consults are always free and always open for direct, personalized advice on all things wellness.