Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. No skipping meals. Eat often. Hunger is to be avoided. We’ve all heard these truths. They’re repeated to us and every health and fitness magazine recycles this advice in their headlines in some form or another, month after month. The advice all seems sound. Logical. Even intuitive. Except it’s wrong.
So what if everything you thought you knew wasn’t true? What if breakfast is not essential, and in fact, maybe while you’re at it you don’t need lunch or dinner either? Sure, I know, skipping meals is not the American thing to do. Rather, the American thing to do is eat and eat and eat. Then eat some more.
Case in point: I recently had to visit a furniture store. Which, in my mind, is almost as bad as going to a used car lot. Halfway through the showroom of this furniture store was the unmistakable smell of movie theater popcorn, all heavily salted and artificially buttered up and nestled in those colorful giant buckets.
But wait, this isn’t a movie theater. WTF? Lo and behold, there is an actual food court in the middle of this furniture store. You know, just like Target. Just in case you or your offspring can’t make it through a couple of hours picking out a new La-Z-Boy and require some sustenance in the form of good old-fashioned junk food. We’ve got you covered with popcorn, candy and hot dogs. There there now. We can’t have people starving, right?
So how is this practice of near constant eating helping us? Based on the obesity epidemic in this country, not that well. We’re getting fatter and unhealthier by the minute. Could the solution to this problem be the opposite of what we’ve been told? Could skipping meals be a good thing?
The opposite of eating too frequently is fasting. True fasting is abstaining from food completely, while taking in just water in a state of rest. The practice of fasting is not new. It’s been practiced for hundreds of years and by many different religions as a way to cleanse the body.
Done correctly, with proper supervision, fasting is both therapeutic and healthy. Studies have shown that skipping meals results in leanness, a longer life and even more robust brain cells. Some even show that intermittent fasting can prevent heart disease.
Fasting gives your body an opportunity to heal itself without being distracted by the work of digesting food. By eating every few hours, the body has little time to do anything other than process this food.
While the research is certainly there as to the benefits of fasting, people are so entrenched in their beliefs of the way things are based on their limited life experiences, they would never consider such a departure. Surely it must be bad for you not to eat. Everyone knows that, right?
I began an experiment with intermittent fasting recently. I am over 11 weeks into my experiment with fasting and I’ve been more successful at losing weight by doing this than anything I’ve ever tried. In total, I’ve lost 12 lbs, or 9.1% of my body weight.
As a runner and cyclist, I’m acutely aware of my weight. If you’ve ever ran a marathon you realize the importance of being as lean as you possibly can be. In the latter stages of an endurance race, every extra pound you carry feels like 20. Also, every pound over your ideal weight will affect not only how fast you can run (important), but also the rate at which you suffer injuries (essential).
For this reason, and because I’m a bit of a health food nut, I do worship at the altar of ideal body weight. No, it doesn’t rule my life. I don’t have an eating disorder. I don’t obsess over it. But I do consider it very important, perhaps more so than 99% of the population, to be as close to my ideal body weight as I can.
So I started intermittent fasting to lose weight and body fat. I began by skipping breakfast. I eat 2 meals a day, and I eat from 11am to 7pm. I then fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day.
Skipping breakfast at first was difficult. I felt like I was hungry but as soon as I drank some water or became busy the feeling disappeared. So I became busy being very busy. Bees looked downright lazy compared to me. After a few weeks, I wondered what the heck I was doing eating breakfast at all for all those years. I didn’t miss it.
Now, I don’t typically feel hungry until late morning. The other day I didn’t feel hungry until around 1pm.
How is it that someone who has always eaten breakfast can, after a few weeks, give it up entirely? Was I really that out of tune with my body? Apparently so. I responded to my external environment, like the availability of food, the smell of food and a 45 year old habit of consuming food at a certain time (in the morning). I wasn’t responding to an actual feeling of hunger, but something I thought was hunger.
When I do eat my midday meal now, I am truly experiencing hunger. I feel the sensation in my mouth and throat, not in my stomach. The other benefit? Food tastes absolutely AMAZING when you’re actually hungry. It really does. It’s hard to put into words but being hungry adds a whole additional flavor profile to foods. I can taste lettuce now. I have a new found obsession with papaya, which never appealed to me before. Foods have such complexity of flavor, now that I am actually hungry when I eat. What a concept.
Admittedly, the general public won’t run out and begin fasting anytime soon. It does require a good amount of self-discipline, as well as the desire to educate yourself on the benefits of the practice of fasting. A good place to start is this recent article by Keira Butler in Mother Jones. Then there’s this article by Jennifer Marano from TrueNorth Health Center about intermittent fasting and weight loss.
You can choose to believe what you want, of course, about fasting. You can believe that skipping meals isn’t healthy, or that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Or you can review the research and perhaps give intermittent fasting a try to see what effect it has on you.
Regardless, the important takeaway from an experiment with fasting may just be the ability to understand what true hunger feels like and to only eat when you’re experiencing it.
It’s truly as simple as that.