Beyond Weight Loss
Many intermittent fasters report experiencing something not often associated with calorie restriction: relief. Those who have struggled with trying to eat five to six meals a day (or with counting calories) report feeling eased of those burdens. Intermittent fasters also say they have more patience around food, and a stronger preference for eating high-quality fare on nonfasting days.
“Eating six meals a day can train you to get hungry more often,” says strength coach John Romaniello, founder of Final Phase Fat Loss. “Once you start practicing some sort of fasting, you usually eat less on nonfasting days, too.”
Fitness enthusiasts have discovered that fasting makes exercising for fat loss more efficient, and, in turn, exercising makes fasting easier. “Athletes performing long endurance activities while fasting actually burn more body fat than athletes who are fed (because the fed athletes are burning through food energy before they get to the stored energy in their body fat),” writes fitness guru Brad Pilon, MS, in his e-book, Eat Stop Eat (Strength Works, 2012). “The very act of burning fat also releases something called ‘glycerol’ from your body-fat stores. When the fatty acids are released, so is the glycerol. Glycerol is a valuable precursor for gluconeogenesis [a metabolic pathway] in the liver that helps keep blood glucose stable.”
If you tend to get hungry before working out, Pilon notes that the sensation might be more psychological than physical. “Most likely, what we call hunger is really a learned reaction to a combination of metabolic, social and environmental cues to eat,” he says. “Consider that most people get noticeably hungry or irritated if they have gone more than two to three hours without eating. But during this time, metabolically speaking, they are still in the fed state.”
While the case for fasting as a general-health tool is compelling, the case for fasting as a longevity booster may be even more compelling. Studies have shown that severely restricting calorie intake can increase the lifespan of rats and mice. (Data published this year in the journal Science Translational Medicine showed that mice with cancer improved their survival rates when they fasted during chemotherapy.)
The National Institute on Aging announced earlier this year that fasting for one or two days a week may also help stave off Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other degenerative brain conditions. When fasting, the researchers said, brain cells are mildly stressed, benefiting the brain in a similar way to how the mild stress of exercise benefits muscles.