Intermittent Fasting and Time Restricted Feeding

BASICS
his is the first of series of articles on intermittent fasting and time restricted feeding.

 

In this article I cover what IF and TRF is and how it works based on the evidence we have to date.

 

Intermittent fasting has been a popular dietary practice for some time now. Since 2010 it has been gaining in popularity with a peak in 2012 and follow then in recent years due to the rise of popularity of the ketogenic diet.

 

Although Intermittent fasting is connected with different benefits, most people do it because of aesthetic reasons – weight-loss. I suppose that the popularity of IF partially relates to the fear of carbohydrates because they have been blamed by several popular books for obesity epidemic, Type 2 diabetes and CVD (Cardio Vascular Disease) problems in the Western World.

 

As you can see in the graphs below, the interested groups are all in the western world.
Search Regions for IF
Interest over time

What is Intermittent fasting / Time restricted eating?

Intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is a meal timing schedule. Naturally, we have periods of time when we eat and periods when we don’t.
 
Key terms:
  • feeding/eating window – time during, which you consume food
  • postprandial state – time referring to after food has been consumed
  • post-absorptive state – time after a meal has been eaten and ingested, usually 8-12h after the meal
  • fasting/ fasted state – a period of time during which you voluntarily or involuntarily abstain from food, mostly used in religious practices like Ramadan.
Most people eat several meals spread throughout the day with some snacks in between the main meals. With food being available everywhere, people can easily be in feeding or postprandial state for the most of the day. That can be problematic as your body is constantly working on processing the food, your blood glucose is constantly elevated and you are likely in positive energy balance. Story told short, you gain weight.
 
Intermittent Fasting and Time Restricted Feeding (Eating) refer to having scheduled periods of day during which you eat and during which you fast. The most popular schedule is 16:8, which allows for 8 hours of eating/feeding time. For example from noon to 8 p.m. Then you fast for the rest of the day (16h).
 
Although 16:8 is the most popular fasting schedule, there are several protocols:
  • 16:8
  • 20:4 also called a warrior diet
  • OMAD (One Meal A Day)
  • 5:2 consisting of two non-consecutive days of low calories (500-600) and five days of higher calorie days
  • Extended fasts lasting 24+hours
Time Restricted Eating usually refers to shorter periods of feeding time (6-10h) during the day. The idea is that eating during daylight is aligned with our circadian rhythm and has more benefits for our health.
 
Most people prefer eating from noon to 8 p.m. due to ease of implementation.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting and Time Restricted Feeding

Some studies show IF may lead to:
  • weight loss,
  • stabilized blood sugar,
  • reduced inflammation,
  • improvements in memory and stress resistance,
  • slowed aging, and longer lifespan,
  • improved metabolic health,
  • improved hormonal health,
  • make better eating choices.
Besides that, having fewer meals throughout the day can help you to:
  • be more productive,
  • get more time that would otherwise be spent preparing food and eating,
  • it can help you make better nutritional choices
  • experience the real hunger,
  • reveal problems like food addictions.

Potential negatives of Intermittent Time Restricted Eating

Just like any other restrictive dietary approach, there are potential downsides to time restricted eating:

  • It can lead to chronically low energy intake,
  • Malnourishment,
  • Exacerberate disordered eating tendencies.
  • Lower performance in athletes, once again due to low calorie intake
  • Dogmatic adherence to fasting can mask other issues,
  • Digestive issues if you cannot handle bigger meals,
  • Hormonal disregulation, especially in women,
  • Can lead to restriction -> binge eating cycle,
  • Over long term can cause blood sugar issues in some people,
  • It is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ – you should still eat nutritious foods.
As you can see, there is a myriad of benefits linked to fasting practices, which often leads to misinterpretations, overexagerated information and false beliefs.
 
Most people who try fasting with positive results also start exercising and make better choices about what they eat.

Some of the changes in body induced by fasting

Insulin
After eating food, insulin increases at first to manage the influx of blood glucose. Several minutes later (depending on composition and quantity), your insulin drops as it is no longer needed to ‘clean’ blood glucose from blood. If your meal is high in fat and low in carbohydrates, insulin will be secreted in small doses and vice versa.
 
Why is lowered expression of insulin important? If we constantly keep producing insulin, our body can become resistant to it. It stops responding to insulin and we need to produce higher doses, which leads to pre-diabetic state.
 
However, it happens only in the state of positive energy balance (when you have more energy from food available than what you expend).
 
If you eat whole foods and stay active, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes will be greatly diminished regardless of your eating window.
 
Insulin causes weight gain in diabetic patients “…insulin simply restores healthy blood glucose levels and allows us to weigh what we should based on our diet and exercise patterns.” (source)
  • Physical activity helps with blunting insulin and blood glucose after meal.
  • Eating protein, fiber, and fat before carbohydrates helps with blunting insulin and blood glucose after meal.
Growth Hormone
Growth hormone is upregulated during fasted time, which lead to a big myth that fasting is anabolic (builds muscle). Fasting cannot be anabolic by definition as it is a catabolic process.
 
Increased GH serves to preserve tissues. It is increased by sleep, exercise, or trauma. There has not been proven increases in performance or strength when GH is supplemented. (source)
 
Growth hormone (GH) has no effect on human muscle size or MPS (source) but do have a positive effect on strengthening the collagen matrix in musculotendinous tissue (source).
Inflammation
Fasting can help to reduce systemic inflammation.
 
Why is it important to manage inflammation? We experience acute increase in inflammation after exercise or when fighting infections. However chronic inflammation leads to heart disease, gut problems, digestive issues, diabetes or joint issues. It is caused by the modern lifestyle when we are constantly exposed to environmental and mental stress.
 
Some of the new research suggests that chronic inflammation can be a cause of lowered mental performance resulting in slugishness and brain fog. (source)
 
Chronic inflammation can be downregulated by practicing fasting and time restricted feeding by restriction of caloric intake. (source)
Metabolic Flexibility

In humans, six months of a 25% CER has been shown to improve metabolic flexibility, as evidenced by increased shift in fasting-to-postprandial concentrations of acyl carnitine (important for transfer of fatty acids into the mitochondrion prior to oxidation). There are currently no data of the effects of IER on metabolic flexibility in humans. (source)

I suppose the effects of caloric restriction, whether continuous or intermittent will lead to the same metabolic flexibility.

Cognitive functions
Caloric restriction such as that induced by fasting or has been shown in animal models to reduce the risks of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases and stroke.
 
Moreover, it can stimulate the production of new neurons from stem cells and can enhance synaptic plasticity, which may increase the ability of the brain to resist aging and restore function following injury. (source)

Is it fasting / time restricted eating or calorie restriction that drives fat loss?

It is a well established fact that caloric deficit is the primary drive leading to weight loss and improved health outcomes. Some people claim that increased time without food leads to improvements of body composition, improved health markers and weight/fat loss even without reduction in caloric intake. Is is true?

Intermittent fasting is an equivalent alternative to continuous energy restriction for weight loss.”

Some studies concluded that continuous energy restriction and intermittent energy restriction give similar results (source, source).

Our results suggest that an intermittent fasting program in which all calories are consumed in an 8-h window each day, in conjunction with resistance training, could improve some health-related biomarkers, decrease fat mass, and maintain muscle mass in resistance-trained males.
But there are studies that show that you can lose fat even when you don’t restrict calories!
 
For example this randomized cross-over study compared 10 female and 5 men, 40-50y.o. with normal body weight at maintenance calories eating three meals a day vs. one meal a day. One meal a day group lead to weight loss (-1.4kg) with no changes in fat-free mass, while three meal group  did not lose any weight. (source)
 
 
 
This study in trained athletes show, it is possible to employ time restricted diets to reduce body fat, while maintaining muscle and performance! (source)
 
In obese people, “IF without calorie restriction can enhance health and cellular resistance to disease without losing weight and those effects may be attributed to different signalling pathways and circulating ketones during IF” (source).

Intermittent fasting / time restricted feeding and lifespan

As I discussed above, fasting, caloric restriction, certain foods, and exercise upregulates autophagy, which is connected to lifespan in several species.

Caloric restriction (CR) extends healthspan and lifespan in multiple organisms (,).

image

Escobar, KA, Cole, NH, Mermier, CM, VanDusseldorp, TA. Autophagy and aging: Maintaining the proteome through exercise and caloric restriction. Aging Cell. 2019; 18:e12876. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12876

Conclusion

To conclude, time restricted eating strategies are viable options for weight loss, improvement of health markers and prevention of several neurodegenerative illnesses.

More long-term studies on humans need to be made to come to viable conclusions, which could prove some of research to be at least partially wrong.

IF and PF, as well as TRF have emerged as potential strategies for avoiding major dietary changes while achieving strong effects not just for one diseases risk factor but for an array of factors that constitutes the foundation for metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and possibly neurodegenerative diseases. (source)

However, if time restricted eating works for your life style, it is a good tool to keep your energy balance in check and possibly reap other benefits as well. As we can see in the studies presented, there is a high probability that fasting comes with more benefits compared to traditional eating pattern.

There are many fasting protocols to choose from, so it is up to your preference if you choose to change your eating schedule. Most people do well with daily 16:8 but women should consider longer fasting periods, less often due to different physiology and hormonal patterns.

There is much more to cover

There is much more to cover like how yo break your fast or if it matters what time of day you fast and for how long or fasted training.

I will cover these topics in future articles as well as provide my experience with fasting.

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