Is timing everything? The hype and hope of Intermittent Fasting and Meal Timing.

I went to a local Farmers Market this past weekend and came away with more than I paid for. I did get a lot of local fresh produce including some awesome garlic, but I came away with this sense that I was constantly saying no to the food temptations that were in front of me. As I approached the first line of vendors all I could smell was cinnamon buns, and I could see a family of 5 close by digging their mouths into fresh buns they had in hand with the icing still warm. This was all in the first minute and it was followed by many more opportunities to eat non nutritionally relevant food!

It got me thinking about just saying no! The concept of saying no to food for periods of time has been around for many years and it’s time! that I explored what the terms “intermittent fasting” and “meal-timing” really mean. Have you heard of them?

Intermittent Fasting (IF)

IF can be defined as the abstention or minimal ingestion of food for a period of time.(-1) I found various types of fasting protocols in the literature typically ranging from 12 hours to three weeks. There are many combinations of fasting restrictions that use time windows to restrict yourself to ingesting anything. Random fasting without strict modifications, and fasting for religious reasons are also common.

Whether you love it, hate it, or do it for religious reasons, I want to know what’s really going on with it. Are there implications for weight control and athletic performance that are worth looking at?

It’s not something that I’ve done or that appeals to me but I’ve heard a lot of talk about IF and considering the problems our society is having with weight control I wonder if there is more to it. Like most things, it seems to come down to individuals and not a magic system that will work for all of us.

A lot goes on when we fast, and how your body deals with it can have good and bad results. Technically speaking the burning of fat (fatty acid oxidation) and other fancy reactions at the cellular level go on while you are fasting.  It all really means that your body is now eating the food that’s already on your body in terms of storage.

Talk centered around whether this concept is harder physiologically or psychologically is interesting to note. I think because there are a lot of traditions and generalizations that come to mind surrounding food we must be careful with what we say these days. Who says what works for them will work for you, and who made the rules in the past that hold up today?

Quicker than the textbooks can catch up to the technology and research that surrounds our eating, I want to know when and what I should eat. Will somebody just clear this matter up for me?

I heard Dr. John Berardi speak at the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s National Convention on this topic two years ago. In his presentation “Intermittent Fasting: Science or Fiction” (Full link below) he discusses both sides of the many common questions surrounding IF and introduces the concept of “metabolic flexibility.”

This term metabolic flexibility means the body has the ability to access the stored energy that you have under any conditions. This is the ideal so that we don’t get hypoglycemic and feel hungry. If we have food we eat it, and if we don’t we eat what’s on our body. Think of the military and their need to be able to function for long periods of time without food when under restricted conditions.

Metabolic inflexibility is when we are overfed but our tissues are starving. We are not regulating our systems well.

Meal Timing

Haven’t we been told not to skip breakfast for years? Have you heard if you don’t eat, you put yourself into starvation mode giving your body a chance to burn less and store more the next time you eat? What about eating breakfast king-size, lunch queen-size, and dinner like a popper? Don’t we think eating regularly will help to regulate blood sugar, decrease hunger, and avoid the metabolic slowing we fear? The concept of stoking the fire to keep the fire from going out comes to mind.

Berardi presents research to the contrary and although he states that responses are individual, and do not work for everyone, he has seen some incredible changes with intermittent fasting and meal timing, including with himself.” One fast can make you become more “metabolically flexible”, he states and then explains fasting can increase chemicals in the body such as epinephrine which actually increase your metabolic rate.

Women Read this part….

He had me hooked and dumbfounded with the compelling research and anecdotal stories of the success of IF until he got to the part about it not working for women. Some women have a problem with fasting because they are more sensitive from a hormonal and energy balance perspective. Metabolic damage may be inevitable for about 80% of females that try it. For this reason, Berardi cautions this is not something you should try yourself.

Because of the obesity epidemic, because of sedentary lifestyles, I suggest even the researchers are scrambling to find the right answers to help us all achieve and maintain healthy weights.

Berardi fasts, but states 95% of his clients do not. He admits we don’t know the answers yet. Is it the actual fast or the reduction in calories that provide the benefits?  The data is compelling and appealing to try but he cautions that until we find the answers it is not for frivolous experimentation.



Intermittent Fasting and Meal Timing – Hype, Hope or In-Between

Author Sean Casey writes in his blog that the concept of Intermittent Fasting “goes against popular dietary recommendations of the early to mid 2000’s which promoted the “small frequent meals every 2-4 hours” approach for weight and fat loss.  Casey states, “If look at well controlled metabolic studies, few show any significant differences in metabolic rate regardless of daily meal frequency.”

Is hunger an emergency?

The more I think about food the more I want it!  Am I hungry or thirsty? Is what I’m feeling right now a feeling that is an emergency? Food marketing is very powerful, more than we might know. Perhaps we should listen to our bodies and not the advertising. “I’m tired of thinking about food 24/7,” states one of my clients recently. What if I just eat two meals a day? Is that a good idea? Is that better than never letting myself get hungry?

Trial fasting is a great way to practice managing hunger. This is an essential skill for anyone who wants to get in shape and stay healthy and fit. This is stated at the #1 takeaway from Precision Nutrition’s e-book “Experiments with Intermittent Fasting.”

The International Society of Sports Nutrition’s position statement on meal frequency states definitive conclusions cannot be made. However it’s backed by some powerhouse names in the field of nutrition science who reviewed the current scientific literature and published their position statement that the age old advice is indeed old and outdated. It states, “Increasing meal frequency does not appear to favor change body composition in sedentary populations.”

Loss of Muscle

Another important concern with IF is the loss of lean body mass (muscle) as a result of prolonged periods of time without nutrients. To stabilize blood glucose levels, fasting will produce a shift in metabolism when glycogen stores are depleted. This process, known as gluconeogenesis, yields glucose at the expense of protein and fat substrates. So if you want to lean down and maintain muscle IF may present some challenges. Drinking lots of water and consuming branched chain amino acids have been documented strategies to avoid muscle loss during fasting.

I can’t eat with the family because I don’t eat anymore!

The social aspects of fasting makes it very limiting. Berardi jokes,” I can’t eat with the family ’cause I don’t eat anymore!” IF could affect your cognitive ability. Do you have any important decisions to make? (Like when you are going to start eating again;) Your decision making skills and judgement may be altered during a fast so Berardi cautions us to be aware of this for work and life responsibilities.

Excessive lifestyle stresses? A big question here as to coping might be better served with nutritionally relevant food vs. no food at all.

The fast or lower calories overall for weight loss?

Has a lower calorie intake been linked to longevity? Yes, but because of lower calories overall not through the restrictions of time with IF.

Could we just modify our existing lifestyle choices to trend us in the right direction? More great advice from Casey, “It’s foolish to impose a diet on yourself that you HATE doing! Thus choose the one that works best in YOUR life.”

I see the art of making good nutrition choices a lot easier than IF. It’s scaling the choices to reasonable levels for weight management and health that most struggle with. Eat to satisfy, with appropriate quantities and nutritional relevance. Eat at times that suit your lifestyle both socially and with performance activities in mind.

So just when did I eat and what??

No cinnamon buns today for me. It ended up being a sushi stop after the market but it’s not without a lot of thinking around why this was so difficult. Guess I should have packed a snack!

Key Finishing Point: Please consult a professional registered dietitian with education, experience, and credentials behind them if you need more information on this topic. Scope of practice is important to me. Providing you with information to make informed decisions is what is intended with this blog. A personalized nutrition program must take into consideration the demands and goals of an individual. Seek out professionals for professional advice. You can do it – and you should!

Written by: Sheila Hamilton July 2017

Click here to listen to Sheila discuss this topic on the Jon McComb show.  The Fitness Segment airs live every Thursday at 9:05 on CKNW 980 am.


The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition Certification Manual and Workbook: p. 222

Intermittent Fasting – Intro FASTING – AN UPDATE ON ITS EFFECTS ON ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE Author:ANDRES AYESTA, MS, RD, CSCS (-1) Evidence for Efficacy and Effectiveness of Changes in Eating Frequency for Body Weight Management Authour; Sean Casey International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency