Asking someone who does intermittent fasting whether skipping breakfast is important is like asking someone who does CrossFit about exercise or a vegan about protein. Approach with caution because you are about to get a long-winded, passionate, and maybe not-so-correct answer.
Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained much popularity over the past few years. According to a recent International Food Information Council survey, more Americans today than ever claim to follow a specific diet or eating pattern. And as recently as 2020, intermittent fasting has ranked as the most popular diet choice.
For anyone unfamiliar with IF, this diet plan focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat. To follow IF, you would set daily fasting and eating windows that dictate when you can and can’t have food. One of the most common approaches to IF is a 16-hour fasting window followed by an 8-hour eating window.
In this case, most people end up skipping breakfast and giving themselves an eating window of 12 pm to 8 pm, followed by a fasting window of 8 pm to 12 pm the next day. Proponents of IF argue that a prolonged fasting window can help with weight loss and other physical benefits, such as autophagy, which is basically the recycling of old cell materials and the rebuilding of new ones.
However, the science backing some of these IF claims is pretty thin. All signs seem to point towards the fact that people are successful on IF simply because the shortened feeding window puts them in a caloric deficit.
It is also likely that people are successful on IF because the diet is not restrictive, meaning someone can still enjoy the foods they crave as long as they eat them during their allotted eating window. This can lead to better adherence than if someone followed a more restrictive approach like low-carb, which we broke down in the newsletter yesterday.
So is skipping breakfast during intermittent fasting the key to successful weight loss?
Maybe for some people, but not for everyone. This recent study looked at whether meal timing had any impact on weight loss. Researchers found that even though meal timing did not impact weight loss, participants that ate a bigger breakfast and a smaller dinner reported less hunger.
So maybe breakfast is the most important meal of the day if you are trying to lose weight. After all, the most effective diet will be the one you can stick with most consistently. If having a big breakfast can help you feel less hungry, you are more likely to stick to your diet plan.
The key takeaway? Over the past few newsletters, we have broken down low-fat diets, low-carb diets, and now intermittent fasting, aka skipping breakfast. At the end of the day, every approach to weight loss is going to have its list of pros and cons.
With low-fat, you have to be wary of cutting out too many healthy fats and the impact that would have on your hormonal health. With low-carb, you have to be careful that your approach isn’t too restrictive, cutting out all your favorite foods and eventually leading to binge eating and yo-yo dieting. And finally, with intermittent fasting, you should consider that skipping breakfast may lead to more hunger later in the day, which is a recipe for disaster if you are already tempted by late-night snacking.
The best thing to do is to be patient with weight loss and make small, incremental changes that always consider food quality. I would be very skeptical if anyone tries to sell you a fix-all diet that promises quick results. Sustainable weight loss takes time, but unfortunately, a patient approach to anything just doesn’t sell.
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