Intermittent fasting is a very powerful method of weight loss (fat loss). Although fasting was widely practiced historically, most of us today grew up believing some fundamental myths about the dangers of fasting. They are repeated so often that they are often perceived as infallible truths. This is why most people today still mistakenly believe fasting is detrimental to health. The truth is quite the opposite—there are a significant number of health benefits, as we’ll explore in this article.
Therefore, it’s time to finally break all the myths about intermittent fasting so you can benefit from this weight loss method without any fear and confusion. Hopefully, after reading this article you will no longer believe false claims such as: intermittent fasting will put your body in starvation mode, you’ll lose muscle mass, you’ll feel lethargic and without energy, you’re gonna feel weak, etc.
Here are some common myths about intermittent fasting that will hopefully clear up any questions you may have. So let’s examine these myths one by one.
Myth #1: Fasting Makes You Burn Muscle
One persistent myth of fasting is that it burns muscle, that our body, if we’re not eating, will immediately start using our muscles as an energy source. This does not actually happen.
The human body evolved to survive periods of fasting. We store food energy as body fat and use this as fuel when food is not available. Muscle, on the other hand, is preserved until body fat becomes so low that the body has no choice but to turn to muscle.
This will only happen when body fat is at less than 4 percent. For comparison, elite male marathon runners carry approximately 8 percent body fat and female marathoners slightly more. If we did not preserve muscle and burn fat instead when no food is available, we would not have survived very long as a species. Almost all mammals have this same ability.
Real-world studies of fasting show that the concern over muscle loss is largely misplaced. Alternate-day fasting over seventy days decreased body weight by 6 percent, but fat mass decreased by 11.4 percent and lean mass (muscle and bone) did not change at all.
At baseline, eating normally, energy comes from a mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. As you start fasting, the body increases carbohydrate oxidation. This is just a fancy way of saying that it is burning sugar, in the form of glycogen, for the first twenty four to forty-eight hours after you stop eating, until it runs out of glycogen. With no more sugar to burn, the body switches to burning fat. Fat oxidation increases as carbohydrate oxidation decreases toward zero.
Myth #2: Eating More Often Keeps Hunger Away
There is the belief that eating smaller meals more often helps decrease intense hunger and food cravings. This is another case in which individuality will affect the outcome. It’s not true for everybody, but it may be for some. This variability is why some people find fasting for longer periods easier than others. Their body may just be more adept at functioning for longer periods without food and without triggering hunger. Others may find it harder to get into the swing of intermittent fasting because their bodies are the opposite.
Myth #3: Fasting Triggers Your Body’s Starvation Mode
This is a common myth about fasting. it is also a frequent argument against it. The theory is that going without food puts you into starvation mode where your metabolism is slowed down to a crawl for supporting only essential functions, which makes burning fat difficult or nearly impossible.
While fasting for extended periods, and think days and not hours, it is possible that your metabolism may naturally slow down. This is a natural survival reaction to going days without food. However, short periods of fasting puts your body into ketosis, whereby fat is broken down into ketones for energy in the absence of glucose. This may, actually, temporarily increase your metabolism.
Myth #4: Fasting Causes Low Blood Sugar
Sometimes people worry that blood sugar will fall very low during fasting and they will become shaky and sweaty. Luckily, this does not actually happen. Blood sugar level is tightly monitored by the body, and there are multiple mechanisms to keep it in the proper range.
During fasting, our body begins by breaking down glycogen (remember, that’s the glucose in short-term storage) in the liver to provide glucose. This happens every night as you sleep to keep blood sugars normal as you fast overnight.
Myth #5: Brain Cells Can Only Use Glucose For Energy
This is incorrect. Human brains, unique amongst animals, can also use ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are particles produced when fat is metabolized – as a fuel source. This allows us to function optimally even when food is not readily available. Ketones provide the majority of the energy we need.
Consider the consequences if glucose were absolutely necessary for brain function. After twenty-four hours without food, glucose stored in our bodies in the form of glycogen is depleted. At that point, we’d become blubbering idiots as our brains shut down.
In the Paleolithic era, our intellect was our only advantage against wild animals with their sharp claws, sharp fangs, and bulging muscles. Without it, humans would have become extinct, long ago.
When glucose is not available, the body begins to burn fat and produce ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are able to cross the blood-brain barrier to feed the brain cells. Up to 75 percent of the brain’s energy requirements can be met by ketones. Of course, that means that glucose still provides 25 percent of the brain’s energy requirements.
Myth #6: Fasting Results in Overeating
Does fasting provoke compensatory overeating? Many authorities warn against missing even a single meal because it could make you extra hungry and unable to avoid temptations, leading to overeating and ultimately no weight loss. This is not entirely untrue, but it is also not true for everybody. Some individuals may find themselves compensating for their fasting period by overeating in quantity or calories during their eating window. This isn’t always the case,
Studies of caloric intake do, in fact, show a slight increase on the first day after fasting. On the day after a one-day fast, average caloric intake increases from 2,436 to 2,914. But if you factor in what would have normally been consumed during that two day period, 4,872 calories, there is still a net deficit of 1,958 calories.
The increased calories don’t come close to making up for the lack of calories on the fasting day. Interestingly, with repeated fasting, you may see the opposite effect. Over time, appetite tends to decrease as the fasting duration increases. In other words, by watching your intake and eating a healthy, balanced diet, you become accustomed to cycling between fasting and eating so that your body adapts. When your body adapts, your hunger pangs are likely to subside, and the urge to compensate should do the same.
Myth #7: Fasting Deprives the Body of Nutrients
There are two main types of nutrients, micronutrients and macronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamin and minerals that are provided by the diet and are required for overall health. Macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Micronutrient deficiency is rare in the developed world. With shorter fasting periods (less than twenty-four hours), there is ample opportunity before and after the fast to eat nutrient-dense foods to make up for missed meals. For longer fasts, it is a good idea to take a general multivitamin.
Of the three major macronutrients, there are no essential carbohydrates that the body needs to function, so it is impossible to become carbohydrate deficient. However, there are certain proteins and fats that we have to get in our diet. These are called the essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and essential fatty acids. These cannot be manufactured by the body and must be obtained in the diet.
The body normally loses both essential amino acids and essential fatty acids in urine and stool. During fasting, it reduces these losses to hang onto much of the necessary nutrients. Bowel movements usually decrease during fasting—since no food is going into the stomach, there is less stool formation—and this helps to prevent loss of protein in the stool.
Of course, no matter how good the body is at compensating, fasting means we’re not consuming essential fatty acids and amino acids. Before and after fasting, it can be helpful to follow a low-carbohydrate diet, which increases the percentage of fats and proteins consumed, so the body has more stored up for a rainy day.
Myth #8: Eating Frequently Promotes Good health
Health, for the most part, comes from diet and lifestyle. If you are feeding your body the correct nutrition and living a generally healthy lifestyle, you are likely to be healthy.
Short-term fasting does offer your body one possible health benefit over more frequent meals. Fasting for short periods triggers autophagy, which is the breaking down of old or faulty cells to be used for fuel and replacing them with healthy ones.
Myth #9: Intermittent Fasting is Unhealthy
Intermittent fasting affects different people in different ways. It is important to always keep that in mind. However, fasting has been associated with a variety of health benefits. This alone kicks the idea that it is universally unhealthy to the curb. Whether intermittent fasting will be healthy for you, personally, can only be determined by a medical professional.
Myth #10: “It’s Just Crazy”
This always seems to be the fallback position of those who can’t think of any other reason why fasting should not be attempted. The science is clear. Obesity, at its very core, involves some form of overeating. This is true whether you believe it is caused by consuming too many calories, carbohydrates, or fats.
Fasting helps in all these cases. Its effectiveness is unquestioned. After all, if you don’t eat anything at all, don’t you think you would lose weight?
The only two remaining questions are:
- Is it healthy? The answer to this is yes.
- Can you do it? Absolutely. Millions of people worldwide have fasted for weight loss (and many other reasons).
Closing thoughts: Myths About Intermittent Fasting
For the simple fact that not everyone can undergo fasting or because some people cannot sacrifice their meals, myths and unreal things begin to emanate. We have heard many and laughed at them while some simply irk you because they discourage those who genuinely intend to fast from doing so. This isn’t to say people’s opinions on fasting don’t matter or that they are all false, but some myths need to be cast aside so those with the interest to fast can do so.
Even experienced fasters battle with these myths and even find themselves struggling at one point or the other with their fasting because they just could not fathom what exactly is true and what isn’t. To this effect, we are here to cast aside such unfair myths, and tear off any veil of naivety that come with some of them. We hope that with this article we succeeded in that mission.