Intermittent fasting is one of the most popular diet trends currently.
It had a moderate following a few years ago, but it’s blown up again thanks to fitness influencers, like Kinobody.
Always the scientist, I wanted to try it out. I was particularly intrigued by this diet because it’s how my body naturally wanted to feed itself for most of my life, but my Asian parents and grandparents wouldn’t allow it. Let me explain:
What is intermittent fasting?
Unlike a diet focused on what you eat, this diet is focused more on when you eat it. There are different forms, but the most popular and the form I tested, involves not eating anything for a 16-hour fasting diet window and eating within an 8 hour window every day.
Different types of intermittent fasting may reduce this window even further.
Why this may be my natural state (and why my family prevented it)
Before I knew what intermittent fasting was, I would always naturally want to skip breakfast, eat a moderate-sized, late lunch, and a huge dinner.
My Asian family, immigrants to America, somehow got in their heads that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This belief is common since nutrition classes have pounded this idea into our heads for decades.
My grandmother would go as far as to check in on me every breakfast and beg me to eat something before I left for school or work each morning. I always didn’t feel like it and would wake up late, so I felt like it was a hassle because it would make me arrive even later to where I was going.
Good intentions don’t always result in the best results. There are countless nutrition and bodybuilding ideas, like spot reduction for fat loss, that were debunked when science investigated.
I can’t conclusively say that my genetic inclination for intermittent fasting indicates it’s healthy or that my family and culture’s beliefs are right. I was curious to see the results or effect with a mini-test of my own, but only considered it after a couple of social media posts tipped the scale.
The intermittent fasting curiosity continues
I had heard about this form of fasting for a while and was skeptical. I tend to ignore most flashy trends because I knew they were ridiculous and would disappear in a few months. I stumbled across many YouTube videos on the topic by the raving Kinobody community but they did not convince me.
One of the big triggers was this Terry Crews video going around social media talking about it.
Now, the Kinobody community and its leader tend to have a more lean, athletic, CrossFit build. But Terry Crews is jacked. He’s fit, famous, and successful. My ears perked up when I saw him talk about it. He has such a positive attitude and achieved so much and he was a role model, so I started listening. He has more of the body that I’m after and if he thought it was worth it, maybe it can help me too.
Testing it out: the struggles
I set up my eating process so that I would not eat until noon. And then, from noon to 8pm, I could eat to my heart’s content.
It was flexible so that if I could wait until 1pm because I was busy, I would simply move my eating window from 1pm to 9pm.
An 8 hour window didn’t seem bad at all. That was a long time, so I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult. I intentionally tried the 8-hour window style as an easy test I could start out with as a beginner. It’s best to start slow and move up to more intense forms later.
The window was actually tougher than I thought but not too tough. I would eat a moderate lunch, sprinkle in a few snacks until 5pm, and then grab a hefty dinner around 8pm. I’m not a huge lunch eater, so I relied on the dinner to pull me through.
The obstacle for me was making sure I got in a hefty dinner before time ran out. I would go to the gym and not feel hungry yet. But by the time I felt the hunger, it was closing in on 8pm or it was already past.
I discovered that my natural dinner eating habits consist of a large dinner followed by moderately healthy snacking until 9pm.
There were a few times where I failed because I waited too long to eat dinner or I started getting hungry again after dinner and it was past 8pm. In these cases, I sometimes let myself eat a protein bar or something else to stave off the hunger.
Other than the end of the day, the early mornings were a bit difficult too.
As mentioned, I gravitated to intermittent fasting because it was similar to my natural way of eating when my family wasn’t around to enforce how they wanted me to eat. But the big difference now was that I had to keep an iron-clad system to make sure I never ate before noon.
When I was just doing my own thing, most mornings, I would not eat, but occasionally, I would grab a snack or eat something when hunger pulled at me around 11am.
But I started to consciously feel the struggle when this happened and I remembered I couldn’t.
I thought it’d be near-effortless in the mornings, but there were quite a few mornings where I found myself counting the last hour or two until noon.
My intermittent fasting results (or lack thereof)
The picture on the left of this Instagram photo is the “Before.” I took this photo before I started intermittent fasting. The picture on the right is the “After.”
Keep in mind this wasn’t a fully controlled experiment. During the “Before” picture, I went to Planet Fitness, every day and did some moderate, lengthy workouts on treadmills with weightlifting on the machines and with free weights. During the intermittent fasting period, I attended CrossFit classes four times a week.
In my opinion, there is little change in musculature and little to moderate change in belly fat loss. If anything, this is even worse news bad news for intermittent fasting fanatics because any fat loss we do see is more likely attributed to the intense, high-intensity-interval training from CrossFit than fasting. CrossFit classes have been some of the most intense, aerobic experiences of my life. I have never felt so out of breathe since Indoor Track in high school.
Results after a few months of “If it fits your macros” dieting
After stopping a rigid intermittent fasting routine, I tried out the macro-nutrients diet. I look better in this picture several months after than I did with intermittent fasting.
The truth and science about intermittent fasting
Let’s turn to science for the truth behind intermittent fasting benefits and if it actually works. Jeff Nippard is one of my favorite fitness YouTubers because of all the research he uses to back up his claims and debunk myths. Plus, I just love how he edits his videos. He’s influencing how I make my videos. He made a video addressing intermittent fasting:
His conclusion is that fasting, in rats, decrease cancer risks and improve fat loss. Intermittent fasting is a valid way of dieting to reduce hunger, but it has scientifically not been proven to be a better way to improve body composition than other types of dieting, such as controlling for the calories intake.
A study by Betts, Chowdhury, Gonzalez & Richardson found that morning fasting reduced energy expenditure in lean and obese adults compared to those who ate a prescribed breakfast. Therefore, the expected fat loss benefits of intermittent fasting may not be as great as reported given that the body is compensating from the fasting.
Intermittent fasting alone won’t work if you’re stuffing your face with junk food and depending on a fast to offset the extra calorie intake. You’re going to gain weight. I ate the same I had before trying intermittent fasting, and I would’ve seen more fat loss if I had just found a sustainable way to decrease weekly calorie intake. Intermittent fasting as a trend is likely hot and sexy right now because people love clinging onto new tactics for losing weight, even when they’re not actually better than old ways.
The science behind if breakfast is the most important meal of the day
According to Jeff, he concludes that the research proves that breakfast is not the most important meal of the day as long as you get the necessary protein and calorie intake in. Studies show that breakfast doesn’t stoke your metabolic rate compared to breakfast skippers.
A study by Morgan, Zabik & Stampley found that in general, having breakfast increased the overall diet quality of the U.S. population since it was correlated to lower fat and cholesterol intake and greater intake of under-consumed nutrients. That said, this study analyzed behavior based on the average American. If you track your macros and don’t just rely on junk foods for breakfast, you can probably get better results.
A 2017 scientific review article in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science pointed to potential psychological and health benefits to eating breakfast rather than skipping it.
If your goal is to live as long as possible and stay healthy rather than just to look as attractive as possible, maybe it is the most important meal. The best-selling author of The Blue Zones Solution, a book that details how the world’s longest-living people eat, he finds that breakfast is always the largest meal in these people’s days. He theorizes that this causes them to eat less during lunch and dinner. That said, Jeff Nippard points to a study in his video that illustrates that breakfast skippers do eat more to compensate, but the amount they overeat is still much less than the average calorie of the breakfast they would’ve had.
Does intermittent fasting work? My conclusion and why I stopped (but not completely)
The scientific literature on breakfast being important and results of intermittent fasting pushed me to believe that there was a lot of hype to the fad and less substance. Even successful celebrities like Terry Crews can fall for a new, shiny trend for improved fitness and physique.
Humans have bodies that are versatile and adaptable to many different environments and situations. Our bodies can function well in eras that demand a fasted state or in eras of plenty. Debating over the minutiae of if there’s a best time to eat or type of diet when you’re already mastered most of the fundamentals to healthy eating, such as avoiding junk food, is like asking if there’s a best genre of music. Once you hit that high level of excellence, there is no single right answer, but a gradient of possible good choices.