9 Myths About Fasting and Meal Frequency

Fasting and meal frequency
Fasting and meal frequency
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Intermittent fasting is a popular weight loss and diet program. It involves an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.

There are various myths about this type of diet, and it’s time to clear things out, and debunk these myths using science and facts. 

1. Skipping breakfast will make you fat.

A study was published in 2014 and compared eating breakfast versus skipping breakfast in 283 overweight and obese adults. After a 16-week study period, there was no difference in weight between groups.

This study shows that it doesn’t make any difference for weight loss whether you eat or don’t eat breakfast, although there may be some individual variability.

While eating breakfast can have a positive effect on your mental health, it has nothing to do with whether you gain or not. Indeed, breakfast is beneficial for some people, but not others. It is not essential and there is nothing “magical” about it.

2. Eating frequently boosts your metabolism.

Many people believe that eating more meals leads to increased metabolic rate, so that your body burns more calories overall. Well, this is not completely true. The thing is, there is no difference in calories burned if you eat more frequently. Total calorie intake and macronutrient breakdown is what counts.

This is termed the thermic effect of food (TEF), and amounts to about 20-30% of calories for protein, 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fat calories.

Eating six 500-calorie meals has the exact same effect as eating three 1000-calorie meals. Given an average thermic effect of 10%, it is 300 calories in both cases.

This is supported by numerous feeding studies in humans, showing that increasing or decreasing meal frequency has no effect on total calories burned.

3. Many, but smaller, meals can help you lose weight.

Frequent meals do not boost metabolism, frequent meals also do not reduce hunger. So, if eating frequently has no effect on the energy balance equation, then, it shouldn’t have any effect on weight loss.

As a matter of fact, studies show that meal frequency has no effect on weight loss at all.

4. The brain needs constant supply of glucose.

If we don’t eat carbs every few hours, our brain will stop functioning properly. That’s what many people say assuming that glucose is the brain’s only fuel.

This is plainly wrong. The body is capable of easily producing the glucose it needs via a process called gluconeogenesis. Moreover, our body has stored glucose in the liver which can be used to supply the brain with energy for several hours.

Even during long-term fasting, starvation or a very low-carbohydrate diet, the body can produce ketone bodies from dietary fats – ketone bodies provide energy to the brain reducing its glucose requirement significantly.

5. Eating and snacking often is good for your health.

Well, this is not absolutely correct. There is evidence that short-term fasting induces a cellular repair process called autophagy, where the cells use old and dysfunctional proteins for energy.

Autophagy may help protect against aging and diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, and may even reduce the risk of cancer.

In fact, eating often or snacking often can be bad for you. One study found that, coupled with a high calorie intake, a diet with more frequent meals caused a greater increase in liver fat, indicating that snacking may raise the risk of fatty liver disease.

In fact, fasting is good for your health.

6. Fasting puts your body in “starvation mode”.

One common argument against intermittent fasting is that it can put your body in “starvation mode.” These claims say that not eating makes your body think it is starving, thereby shutting down its metabolism and prevents you from burning fats.

This processes is technically called thermogenesis. And it is true that long-term weight loss can reduce the amount of calories you burn – the state of “starvation mode” or thermogenesis.

This happens with weight loss no matter what method you use. There is no evidence that this happens more with intermittent fasting than other weight loss strategies.

In fact, the evidence actually shows that short-term fasts increase metabolic rate. Studies show that fasting for up to 48 hours can actually boost metabolism by 3.6-14%. However, if you fast much longer than that, the effect can reverse and metabolism can go down compared to baseline.

7. Your body can only use a certain amount of protein per meal.

There claims saying that we can only digest 30 grams of protein per meal. Hence the need to eat every 2 to 3 hours in order to maximize muscle gain. This, however, is not supported by science.

Studies do not show a difference in muscle mass if you eat your protein in more frequent doses.

The most important factor for most people is the total amount of protein consumed, not how many meals it is spread over.

8. Intermittent fasting makes you lose muscle.

If we fast, the body will use the muscle as fuel instead, so we lose muscle in the process. That’s what others are saying.

In fact, some studies even suggest that intermittent fasting is better for maintaining muscle mass. Intermittent fasting is even more popular among many bodybuilders, who find it to be an effective way to maintain high amounts of muscle with a low body fat percentage.

9. Intermittent fasting make you overeat.

Fast now, eat much later. That’s what they say. This will render your fasting useless, they say. And there’s some truth to this as people automatically tend to eat a little bit more than if they hadn’t been fasting.

It’s like compensating for the ‘lost’ calories during fasting. But is this accurate? No. One study showed that people who fasted for a whole day, lost 2400, only ended up eating about 500 extra calories the next day.

Again, intermittent fasting reduces overall food intake while boosting metabolism. It also reduces insulin levels, increases norepinephrine and boosts human growth hormone as much as 5-fold. This will make you lose fat, not gain it.
The truth is, intermittent fasting is one of the world’s most powerful tools to lose weight.

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