When they look at me like I’ve lost my marbles, I refer them to acclaimed German philosophy scholar Kelly Clarkson’s translation “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
In other words, sure, go for it. A little deprivation is a good thing. I often do training rides in a semi-fasted state in an effort to decrease my constant need for feeding. However, I don’t pitch fasting as some end-all-be-all nutrition secret weapon. Not eating is hard. And if you have a weight problem, it’s probably a little harder for you than most. Because of this, I’m a little cheesed off at the latest Hoover study extolling the virtues of fasting.
What’s a Hoover study? I thought you’d never ask. It’s research that exists in a vacuum with no consideration for the confounding factors of the outside world. It’s okay science in and of itself, but when you look at the big picture, Hoover studies kind of suck.
This new study, appearing in the journal Cell Metabolism, subjected obese mice to 8-12 hour intermittent fasts. They were also allowed to completely pork out on the weekends. Despite these binges, the fasting mice lost weight and halted or reversed the progression of metabolic issues such as type 2 diabetes. A separate study also showed the fasting improved gut flora.
It all seems like common sense to me. A mouse gets fat and diabetic from eating too much crap. A mouse eats less crap. A mouse’s body returns to a healthier state. Surprise! If anything, this study is a validation of cheat days (part of the 80/20 rule, where 80% of what you eat is clean and 20% can be a party). Not only does the occasional indulgence help maintain sanity, but it knocks you out of nutrition and fitness plateaus that often come with deprivation.
All that aside, this still seems like Hoover science to me. According to the study’s press release, “the results will prompt new studies to test if a change in eating patterns is a cost-effective first step towards prevention and treatment of obesity-related metabolic diseases.”
That’s great and all, but do you really think the solution to reversing obesity is to tell overweight people to stop eating? If they have a hard time eating less food, how the hell are they going to handle no food? Generally speaking, telling an overweight person to just stop overeating is like telling the Israelis and Palestinians to just stop bickering. Or telling Batman to just stop fussing about his parents. Or telling iron to just stop oxidizing in the presence of moisture. (I could go on all day.)
Maybe if this study would have compared fasting/binging with healthy, balanced eating–and then had a follow-up study when the mice were 60-years-old (in mouse years), this would have been more interesting. Even still, I think the point of confirming that eating less may benefit overweight people (and rodents) is already pretty well-established. So now let’s focus our energy on strategies that will enable them to eat less. Admittedly, this is a much bigger challenge, but isn’t that what ground-breaking science is supposed to be all about?fasting