Weight Loss: Busting 4 Myths About Intermittent Fasting

Think you'll starve or you'll be on a fasting diet forever? Think again.

Weight Loss: Busting 4 Myths About Intermittent Fasting

Curious about intermittent fasting? Perhaps you’ve seen the best-sellers about fasting diets, but they seem too difficult.

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Don’t be fooled by myths surrounding this easy and effective approach to weight loss. Here are the facts.

Myth 1: Intermittent fasting is a starvation diet.

Fact: You won’t starve if you skip a meal — or even if you fast for 24 or 48 hours. Research suggests you have to fast more than 60 hours straight before your resting metabolic rate drops. In fact, one study showed this rate increased from 3.6 to 10 percent after 36 to 48 hours of fasting.

We humans know how to fast. It’s helped us survive famines for centuries.

But starvation is something different. It’s defined as suffering or death caused by hunger. In starvation, your fat stores are depleted, so your body must break down muscle tissue for energy.

In intermittent fasting, your body releases energy stored as fat — and muscle and lean tissue are spared. So unless you’re constantly running marathons and have fat levels below 4 percent, intermittent fasting won’t affect lean tissue — as long as you do it correctly and work with a dietitian or physician.

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Another reason you’re unlikely to starve is that an alternating pattern of eating and then fasting is beneficial. In one study, animals that feasted on fatty foods for eight hours and fasted for the rest of the day did not develop obesity or dangerously high insulin levels.

Myth 2: You’ll be hungry all day long.

Fact: Research shows that on fast days, hunger can actually decrease. By the second week of intermittent fasting, obese individuals experienced less hunger, and their hunger remained low.

Other research shows that eating enough calories on non-fasting days is actually more of a struggle than hunger.

Myth 3: On off days, you can eat whatever your want.

Fact: You won’t lose weight on a fasting diet if you exceed your maintenance calories on off days. On off days, you still follow a healthy eating pattern, but you don’t need to restrict yourself to a specific number of calories. I suggest that my patients listen to their hunger, rather than measure and limit.

To keep from overeating, eat a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you don’t have dietary restrictions, consider lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.

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But focus on real foods. Avoid processed products, and don’t be fooled by “healthy” or “organic” marketing claims. Scan the ingredients list on every label for refined carbs, hidden trans fat, chemicals and added sugars.

Myth 4: Once you start an intermittent fasting plan, you’re stuck doing it for life.

The beauty of intermittent fasting is that it alters your cravings and hunger. So after you’ve gone without that midnight snack of potato chips or licorice long enough, you’ll eventually no longer want it — without having to work hard to not want it.

The key is training your taste buds to love good food and to reject the foods most likely to lead to weight gain and chronic disease.

Ready to try intermittent fasting? Now that you’re armed with the facts, you’ve got a much better chance of success.

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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
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