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Could Skipping Breakfast Lead to Good Health?

July 29, 2013

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How many times have you heard the following advice? “Keep your metabolism up and your weight down by eating at least six small meals a day.” This dietary theory has been popular since the mid-80s in the United States. In fact, it is so widely recognized, people seem to accept it as true without stopping to research other dietary theories. 

What if there was another theory, one almost completely opposite, that could help control your metabolism, regulate your digestion, and aid in weight loss? Dr. Andrew Weil would tell you that the key to feeling better and maintaining a healthy weight is intermittent fasting.

The theory behind intermittent fasting, or IF, is that by repeatedly giving your body a break from eating – this could be daily, weekly or even monthly – you allow it time to digest everything that you may still have in your stomach and focus on rebuilding dead or damaged cells. 

Just like any way of eating, IF looks different for everyone. You can choose to fast daily, which means you can eat regular meals for 8 hours of the day, and fast for the remaining 16. Health Coach Jenny Sansouci writes on her blog Healthy Crush about her daily approach to IF that involves not eating each day until 16 hours after her final meal the day before. If she had dinner at 7pm, she wouldn’t eat again until 11am the next morning.  

Some people choose to fast a few days each week; a theory that has become especially popular for weight loss in the United Kingdom following the release of Dr. Michael Mosley’s book “The Fast Diet”.  Others choose to fast just a few times a month.

No matter what the fasting schedule looks like, the results are the same. The body uses the time spent fasting to ramp up a process known as autophagy, which is essentially the clearing of waste produced by dead or damaged cells. Autophagy rids the body of toxins and helps to prevent chronic diseases. When we eat too much or too often, our body has to focus most if its energy on digesting food. Fasting allows the body to redirect its energy into the clearing of damaged cells and the creation of new cells.

Dr. Weil explains, “Occasional fasting seems to boost activity and growth of certain types of cells, especially neurons. This may seem odd, but consider it from an evolutionary perspective -- when food is scarce, natural selection would favor those whose memories ("Where have we found food before?") and cognition ("How can we get it again?") became sharper.” 

Like any diet, IF has its downfalls. In some cases, people who choose to fast for an entire day, or even longer, fall into the habit of over eating when they are not fasting, which could lead to weight gain. On the other hand, some people who choose to fast, especially highly active athletes, aren’t getting enough calories to sustain their lifestyle. Make sure you do your research before you start intermittent fasting and listen to your body along the way. It may be that fasting works great for you but your spouse or best friend thrives on 6 small meals a day. It’s important to remember that every body is different, and has unique food and nutrition needs.

Have you given intermittent fasting a try? If so, what was your experience?