Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Not so fast. That old adage is facing more and more scrutiny due to increasing research. We have been told incessantly that skipping breakfast leads to fat gain, muscle loss, increased cravings, and moodiness. In fact, for some it could be quite the contrary. If you eat nothing but doughnuts and pasta and bread, yes, fasting cold-turkey would be a very unpleasant experience for you. However, if you are a healthy adult with a balanced, well-maintained diet and exercise regimen, skipping out on breakfast every now and again may actually be beneficial. I am not talking about simply skipping breakfast and eating a snickers at 10. I am talking about intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to be extremely beneficial, promoting leanness, helping with hormone regulation, and even possibly decreasing the risk for cancer and diabetes.There are many varieties, so if you have any interest in fasting you should consult with a professional to see what works best with your habits and lifestyle. Popular protocols range from the 5/2 method (fasting two non-consecutive days of the week), to sporadic fasting once or twice a month, to daily fasting, as detailed in the Leangains 16/8 protocol by Martin Berkhan. In a 16/8 protocol, a person fasts for 16 hours of the day, and feeds for 8 hours. Usually, people schedule the fasting window to start at 8 or 9 at night, continue through sleep, and break the fast at noon or 1pm. Essentially, a person has a much later breakfast (yes, the true origins of the word “breakfast” refer to the first food to break the fast of sleep–so technically your first meal of the day is still breakfast), and fits their normal daily sustenance in a smaller window of time.
In a recent experiment, two groups of mice were fed the same amount and type of a high-fat diet, but one group only had access to this food for 8 hours of their day. Although the two groups ate the same type and amount of calories, those who ate only during that 8-hour window actually lived longer, were leaner, and actually more alert than the free-feeding mice, who became overweight and unhealthy. How can that be possible? This suggests that when you put food into your body is equally if not more important to what food you put into your body. Mind blown.
This review from the University of California, Berkley concluded that alternate day fasting can decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease, decrease the risk for cancer, lower the risk of diabetes, and improve cognitive function while protecting against mental disease. Other potential benefits of intermittent fasting are…
Increased longevity. Fasting induces a state of autophagy in the body, during which cells maintain and repair themselves. They do not eat away at themselves, as is commonly misunderstood. It is this process that is thought to increase longevity. Check out these two UK articles–Express and BBC–about living longer with intermittent fasting.
Easy to follow. Intermittent fasting has been shown to be an easier-to-maintain lifestyle choice for people trying to lose significant weight than traditional dieting. Rather than constantly thinking about what you are going to eat next, it gets food completely off of your mind.
No “brain fog.” We have all heard that not eating every couple of hours can cause “mental fog.” If your body is wholly dependent on a constant intake of carbohydrates, this may be the case. However, while consuming a protein-and-veggie–rich diet, intermittent fasting can actually improve mental clarity, especially while in a fasted state. If our ancestors became foggy after a lack of food, that would be counter-productive for survival and their search for the next meal. Evolutionarily, it makes sense that our mental clarity actual improves in a fasted state, a la survival of the fittest.
Better insulin regulation. Do you get hungry soon after breakfast? This may be due to cortisol (aka your stress hormone) being at its highest around breakfast–about 30 minutes after waking. Cortisol has an effect on insulin that can cause a huge surge and rapid dip in sugar levels, leading to mid-morning, ravenous hunger in some people, regardless of a hearty breakfast. Recent research has also suggested that intermittent fasting can restore hormonal balance and possibly reverse Type II diabetes in some people.
According to this article from the New York Times, the studies between eating breakfast and thinness are misleading and not significant in their methodology. Skipping out on breakfast once in a while with the intent of fasting might actually be beneficial to your health. Give it a try! Of course, intermittent fasting is not for everyone. As with food, intermittent fasting is best done in moderation to reap its outstanding benefits. Always check with your doctor before making any drastic dietary changes.