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Fasting Myths & Tips for Healthy Intermittent Fast

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 9 August 2022

To fully understand how you can incorporate intermittent fasting into your life, certain fasting myths need to be debunked. Although they are backed by science, preconceived notions can lead to an unhealthy narrative surrounding fasting and ultimately derail progress.

Carbs Are Evil

We have an untrue diet statement burnt into all of our brains – you need to eat carbs to get energy, stay lean, and have enough energy. The myth of eating carbs to get lean is one of the main reasons why people tend to “carbo load” before sports games, incorporate a type of starch into every meal, and think that eating a slice of bread will provide them with more energy than a protein. 

In reality, this is a complicated fasting myth to bust because carbs are complicated. If we are thinking in absolutes, processed carbs are evil – processed starches, white breads, white pastas, refined sugars, flour tortillas, and junk food is extremely detrimental to a person’s health. This type of carbohydrate can cause a higher level of insulin resistance leading to a much higher chance for mood disorders, obesity, and high blood pressure [1]. 

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates can be successfully incorporated into an intermittent fasting dieting plan. Complex carbs are NOT evil – instead, they are extremely important to provide us with the right balance of nutrients and energy during fasting. Eating a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates is essential to providing you with the right type of energy.

You Have To Exercise

Exercising while on a fast can be helpful to distract yourself from thinking about food, boost your endorphins, and help you sleep better at night. However, exercise is not necessarily required for those who are intermittent fasting.

Instead of focusing on high-intensity workouts every single day – which may be hard to sustain for long periods of time – you can simply focus on incorporating more physical activity throughout your day and affirmations for dream body can’t hurt either [2]. Instead of taking the bus to work, consider walking. Little changes throughout the day can help you burn more calories and increase your physical activity without feeling forced to schedule intense exercise sessions. 

A Healthy Breakfast Is Needed To Lose Weight

Everyone has a different preference when it comes to eating breakfast – some people enjoy bigger breakfasts and smaller dinners, whereas others choose to skip breakfast altogether. So which method is the best option for those who are focused on intermittent fasting? 

If you have heard that eating breakfast is a MUST for those who want to lose weight, this is not necessarily true. If you eat breakfast as soon as you wake up at 7 in the morning, this is a large eating window. Those who have a larger eating window may eat more during the day – in this case, eating breakfast immediately after you wake up can actually be detrimental to fasting [3].  

The best advice? Eating breakfast – and when you eat breakfast – depends on the person and their schedule

Not Eating Enough May Prevent Weight Loss

Although skipping meals and ignoring hunger pangs may seem like it would directly correlate to weight loss, it is the opposite. This is yet another fasting myth. 

In fact, ignoring your hunger pangs is directly choosing to avoid listening to the natural signals of your body. Listening to the signals of our body that help us determine hunger and fullness is essential to developing a better relationship with food and making healthier diet choices [4]. 

Ignoring hunger pangs lowers your metabolism – when your body recognizes what is happening, it will try and protect you by lowering your metabolism even more. This is a diet and fasting fact – eating less simply lowers your basal metabolic rate (calories needed to maintain essential bodily functions). 

Since you have ignored your body’s triggers, your brain may now have difficulty interpreting the full “feeling” after being in starvation mode. In this case, you are more likely to eat carb-high and fatty foods, reducing the chance of long-term weight loss and a healthy relationship with food. 

Not to mention, ignoring the hunger signals that your body is sending you can directly affect your health. Skipping meals means you are not getting through nutrients to provide energy to your body, leading to a lower metabolism, low blood sugar levels, and nutritional deficiencies [5].

Signs You Need to Eat More

As you can see, fasting can be a helpful way to lose weight, cut body fat, and develop a better relationship with food and exercise. However, there is a fine line between starvation and fasting. So be careful not to develop an unhealthy relationship with calorie counting and unhealthy dieting. 

If you are fasting unhealthily or starving yourself, this will lead to a slower weight loss process or stop the process completely. When you are in such a severe calorie-restricted diet, this will make it harder to lose weight, as your body will slow down your metabolism, increase cortisol production, and break down lean muscle tissue [6]. 

If you are worried about the mental and physical balance between starving and fasting, make sure that you do not have any of these warning signs:

  • Mental dependence – If you are always thinking about your next meal, this can be a sign of mental dependence on food resulting from a lack of nutrients.
  • Cutting out meals – If you are only drinking coffee in the mornings instead of breakfast or sipping your lunch at work, this increases the likelihood of choosing unhealthy meals later in the day.
  • Menstruation has stopped – If your menstruation cycle has stopped, this is an immediate cause for concern that you need to alter your fasting regime.
  • Migraines and headaches – Headaches and migraines result from a lack of nutrients in your body. If you are functioning on very little calories, your energy levels will plummet and your blood sugar levels will significantly drop.
  • Irritable and sleepy – If you no longer have fun with your friends, you can’t concentrate at work, and you have no energy, these are all signs that fasting has turned into starvation. 

All of these warning signs are indicators that the fasting plan has turned into an unhealthy and negative relationship with food. Even though intermittent fasting can be helpful for short-term fixes and health concerns, it might not be the ideal option for a sustainable diet. 

How To Fast in Healthy Manner

If you are considering doing intermittent fasting for health benefits, you drop the question of “If I starve myself, how long to lose weight” and learn how to make healthy food choices for lasting success. 

How Fasting Works In Your Body

The basic premise of intermittent fasting is to eat only during a specified time slot  – the time slot will depend on the specific type of intermittent fasting you choose, such as alternate-day fasting or 12-hour fasting. There’s also OMAD or one meal a day and many dieters go back in forth on which one is best: alternate day fasting vs OMAD.

Fasting for a specific number of hours per day or per week can increase your body’s ability to burn fat and reduce the risk of other lifelong diseases, such as obesity or heart disease [7].

So how does intermittent fasting work? Fasting works by focusing on a process in your body called metabolic switching – instead of your body burning sugar stores held in your body after eating, your body will eventually begin burning stored fat. Since your body does not have any food to digest, your body has no choice but to start burning fat – leading to a reduction in body fat and body weight. 

Where Should I Start As A Beginner?

One of the best ways to start intermittent fasting is by using a method known as the 16/8 method but there’s several other eating window ratios [8]. Since this fasting plan is one of the most sustainable – especially for beginners learning to fast – it is considered the optimal choice. After you have successfully completed the 16/8 fast, you feel good, and you want a bigger change in your diet, you can consider using more intense fasting methods, such as the 5:2 diet. 

The different intermittent fasting plans all have various approaches as to when you can eat and the optimal eating times. These times for eating, known as eating windows, are the periods in which you can consume calories in food and drink. The eating windows vary on each fasting method, with some incorporating fasting every single day for between 6-8 hours and others focusing on a very low-calorie diet 2 days per week. 

However, if you are considering following a low-calorie diet during one or multiple days per week, looking into the adverse health effects of eating less than 1200 calories per day is warranted since an extreme caloric deficit is very unhealthy. 

One to two days of a slight caloric deficit between 200-1000 calories is okay for long-term health, but individuals should still avoid fasting myths and focus on consuming over 1,200 calories per day for long-term adherence to a fasting plan

References

[1] Robinson, L., Segal, J., & Segal, R. (2021). Refined Carbs and Sugar: The Diet Saboteurs. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-carbs.htm

[2] Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021). Exercise: 7 Benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

[3] Adam Bornstein. (2021). 10 Unbelievable Diet Rules Backed By Science. Retrieved from https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/tagged/health/healthy-living/10-unbelievable-diet-rules-backed-science-154500466.html

[4] Bingeman, B. & Neid-Avila, J. (2018) Learning to Listen to Hunger and Fullness Cues. All Current Publications, 1831. 

[5] Lindsay Boyers. (2018) Does Ignoring Your Rumbling Tummy Make You Thinner. Retrieved from https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/ignoring-rumbling-tummy-make-thinner-11140.html

[6] Sarah DiGuilio. (2021). 7 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough to Lose Weight. Retrieved from https://www.prevention.com/weight-loss/g20451681/not-eating-enough-for-weight-loss/

[7]  Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work? Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/intermittent-fasting-what-is-it-and-how-does-it-work

[8] Kris Gunnars. (2021). Intermittent Fasting 101 – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide#getting-started

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.