Debunking 5 IF Diet Myths: What You Need to Know About Intermittent Fasting

There's a lot of misinformation on intermittent fasting or IF diet floating around. Let's debunk some of the most prevalent myths about this diet.

A street sign pointing in two directions, saying ‘Myths’ and ‘Facts’

Intermittent fasting, or IF, involves partial or complete abstinence from food for a set duration of time without depriving the body of essential nutrients. IF diet plans include alternate day fasting, modified fasting, time-restricted fasting, and religious fasting.

An alternate day IF diet plan involves switching between fasting days and days where you can eat as much as you want or need. A modified fasting diet plan like the 5:2 IF diet involves abstaining from food for 2 non-consecutive days and eating freely for 5 days. Time-restricted fasting focuses on consuming foods during a specific time window daily. Religious fasting involves abstinence from food for religious purposes. 

IF diet plans are known for providing several health benefits. However, there are a few negative allegations surrounding them.

Here are 5 of the commonly known IF diet myths debunked and a healthy diet according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Myth #1: IF Will Cause Weight Gain

A woman with a measuring tape on her shoulders biting a salad leaf happily
One of the popular myths about IF diet is that eating uncontrollably during a window may lead to weight gain.

Contrary to the belief that eating as much as possible during a fixed window can lead to weight gain, clinical trials that involved the consumption of IF diets showed that they could promote weight loss in overweight and obese people. “It seems that short-term intermittent fasting does, in fact, boost your metabolic rate. Some people think, during the 8-hour eating window, maybe you can eat anything you like, even unhealthy foods. But, if you want to use it as a weight-loss mechanism, you should stick to a healthier diet,” explains Anita Pee, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician for Eu Yan Sang.  

A separate study compared the efficacy of daily calorie restriction and intermittent calorie restriction. It showed that both diets were effective in decreasing body weight and fat mass. Thus, it suggests that IF diet plans can help treat obesity.

Myth #2: An IF Diet is Not Recommended for Women

Another myth associated with IF diet plans is that it can lead to negative implications in women. This attributes to the common belief that a woman needs to consume calories consistently throughout the day to ensure the healthy functioning of her body. 

However, studies on obese, post-menopausal women have shown that an IF diet is as effective as a continuous diet in inducing healthy weight loss, regulating blood sugar levels, and reducing cholesterol levels.

To reduce the severity of post-menopause symptoms whilst practicing IF, you can choose to supplement your diet. A herbal formulation can modulate the endocrine — a collection of glands that regulate several important hormones in the body — and immune system. 

Myth #3: IF Can Increase Your Stress Levels 

Many also believed that adhering to an IF diet plan can increase your stress levels. Yet, a study on the effects of alternate day fasting on overweight adults shows that the diet caused a significant reduction in oxidative stress levels and inflammation.

In addition, a different study on the effects of modified IF shows similar results. This indicates that you can potentially adopt IF diet plans to treat asthma and other health disorders that develop due to oxidative stress.  

You may also choose to supplement your food intake with a herbal concoction that uses Brazilian green propolis. Made by honey bees, propolis is an antioxidant that mitigates cell damage caused by free radicals in the body. It also has anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, and antiviral properties, and can enable cell regeneration.

Myth #4: IF Will Slow Down Your Metabolism 

IF diet plans have also been purported to slow down your metabolism. You may feel inclined to believe that gorging on different foods during an eating window will impair your metabolism. Yet, clinical investigations into this theory proved it to be untrue. 

One study on the effects of partial and complete IF on participants’ health finds that IF diets could positively alter a person’s metabolism. It can also regulate glucose levels during or after a meal. Similarly, another study on the effects of a modified IF regimen has demonstrated the ability to improve metabolic health.

A shirtless man using a resistance band to perform a shoulder exercise
It is believed that IF can cause muscle degradation, but this is not true.

Myth #5: IF Can Cause Muscle Loss

Interestingly, IF diets have also been claimed to cause muscle degradation and loss. This claim holds no water, though, as several studies show that IF links to the retention of lean mass. This is because of hormonal and metabolic adaptations that reduce the breakdown of muscle protein. 

Alternatively, combining IF with resistance training may potentially preserve lean body mass and promote fat reduction. To ensure healthy growth and maintenance of muscle mass, you can supplement your diet with whey protein. 

There are multiple reasons why you should consider an IF diet to improve your well-being. This guide can help to separate the myth from the facts. It can also ensure you have the correct information before coming to a decision. Please don’t hesitate to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet program.

A Healthy Diet, According to the Beliefs of TCM

From a TCM perspective, an ideal dietary consumption solely focuses on balance. Specifically, this focus revolves around the five colours — red, green, yellow, black, and white — and natures of food — cold, cool, warm, hot, and neutral. It also considers the different food flavours — bitter, sweet, sour, pungent and salty. They can nourish the different organs in their own unique way.

Certain herbs can treat imbalances in the body. Physician Anita says, “If your diet is excessive in certain areas but lacks in other areas, then TCM can use some herbs that complement the current diet you’re consuming. For example, if your diet is generally cooling, perhaps you can use warm-natured herbs. This can create a balance and ensure neutrality. But if you take too many cooling herbs, then you might get digestive issues like cold hands and feetdiarrhea, or gastric acid. And if you go for a lot of spices, you might get symptoms like a sore throat, fever, or constipation. You cannot go overboard with these herbs, because everything must be in balance.” 

People who have poorly controlled chronic diseases, liver or kidney disorder, or are on blood thinners should be cautious when consuming Chinese herbs. Physician Anita adds, “If you’re taking herbs like ginseng or Dang Shen (Codonopsis root), don’t take it together with white radish. This may diminish the tonic effect of the herbs. Medications and supplements are generally okay but take them two hours apart. If you’re taking blood thinners, maybe don’t use certain herbs like Dan Shen (Salvia root).” 

References

  1. US National Library of Medicine. 2015. INTERMITTENT FASTING AND HUMAN METABOLIC HEALTH. [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  2. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. Intermittent fasting and weight loss. [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  3. National Library of Medicine. 2011. Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss? [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  4. National Library of Medicine. 2012. Short- and long-term effects of continuous versus intermittent restrictive diet approaches on body composition and the metabolic profile in overweight and obese postmenopausal women: a pilot study. [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  5. National Library of Medicine. 2012. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  6. US National Library of Medicine. 2015. Practicality of Intermittent Fasting in Humans and its Effect on Oxidative Stress and Genes Related to Aging and Metabolism. [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  7. National Library of Medicine. 2016. Investigation into the acute effects of total and partial energy restriction on postprandial metabolism among overweight/obese participants. [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  8. US National Library of Medicine. 2020. The Effects of Intermittent Fasting Combined with Resistance Training on Lean Body Mass: A Systematic Review of Human Studies. [Accessed 9 June 2021]
  9. National Library of Medicine. 2001. The protein-retaining effects of growth hormone during fasting involve inhibition of muscle-protein breakdown. [Accessed 9 June 2021]

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