Using a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition is a mistake. There are so many different nutrition strategies that work based on preference, lifestyle, and personality.
Every diet that I know of has positive and negative aspects. There are no reasonable magic weight loss foods, but there are approaches that make it easier to be successful. Regardless of the strategy you ultimately decide on, there are points of consideration to help you determine the best approach for you.
At different times in your life, your strategy may need to change drastically (competing, recovering, building, repairing, weight loss, weight gain, managing disease conditions, etc.)
Removing the idea that there is one perfect style and one perfect approach may give you the freedom to try different strategies and determine what is most reasonable and effective.
I think it is helpful to know what options are available, what has been successful for other people, and to identify the pros and cons of each choice. Here is a simple table I made to outline the basic principles of how the approach works, along with the positive and negative aspects:
I’m not a registered dietitian (RD), but I wanted to share my personal experience in case it gives you another option to consider. Side note- it’s important that we get nutrition information from those who are true experts in their field. There is a big difference in reading opinion or experience and reading scientific information.
Especially because I have a lot of credentials after my name, it can be confusing to know if nutrition is in my field of study. I can tell you with all transparency that this is not my area of expertise. I’ve taken many nutrition classes, but my specialty is exercise physiology and it is important to practice within your scope. Please read the following information knowing that I just want to share my experience with you as Monique!
Recently I’ve been loving the intermittent fasting nutrition (IF) approach. IF has a significant amount of pros and cons. It works by shortening the time that you eat, and extends the amount of time in your day that you spend without food. I started this style due to the research that came out regarding the significant rise in colon cancer in my age demographic (I have a 4 x higher risk than my parents). I’ve struggled through my whole life with digestive issues and the more I can lower my risk, the better peace of mind (and quality of life) I have.
This led me to think about the amount of food that sits in my digestive tract throughout the day. I like to dig into research and actually test reasonable things for myself. I found that I wasn’t giving my digestive system a break, as I was used to eating smaller meals all day long. Initially I thought it was going to be a impossible to consistently go longer periods of time without food. I was so pleasantly surprised that I really liked the style, I feel better, and frankly I found that it is cheaper.
The huge benefits that I’ve noticed are a greater ability to recognize true hunger signals, improved digestive function (which may also be attributed to concurrent use of probiotics), clearer mental function, lower overall caloric intake, and due to those reasons I’ve had fat loss. Now to be totally transparent, I’ve lost weight plenty of times before. This was just much easier, and I felt less crazy in the process.
I'd like to point out one super important scientific point: Intermittent fasting does not provide weight loss based on magic or miracles. There isn't anything magical about shortening the feeding window, and eating late at night is not a problem unless you are overeating. Research doesn’t support IF as superior to the other styles. It is a strategy that helps me avoid overeating by feeling true gastric emptying, reducing caloric intake, and shortening the time period that I eat.
I'm not very good at having just one bite of something. I'm not proud of it, but I have to acknowledge that it is real to me. If I'm having dessert, I have not been successful having one bite and letting it go. Oh no, I eat the whole dang piece of cake. This style just gives me a little extra support to say no to the first bite.
The biggest change I made was eliminating breakfast (this was just an easy swap, not "mandatory.") My previous frame of mind was dead-set on “jump staring my metabolism first thing in the morning.” Oh boy. Once I finally used science and realized that metabolism is controlled by many factors that have nothing to do with digestion I realized how dogmatic and silly this approach was. The additional caloric expenditure from thermic effect of food (or dietary induced thermogenesis) varies by macronutrient, but overall contributes only to 10% of our overall caloric expenditure. Additionally, starvation-mode is a myth and our bodies do not respond by hoarding food after a period of time without food. I used to think this was true. Research repeatedly shows us that this is not how it works.
Calorically this eliminated about 200-400 calories every day compared to my previous style. Over the course of the week it adds up to about 1,600 fewer calories than before. I break my fast by eating around 11am. This leaves a window of 11am-7pm to eat my usual choices, mostly plant-based with leaner sources of protein, but I also enjoy treats without shame. I have found that I can eat slightly larger meals and enjoy more treats in the week because I removed on average 300 calories each day.
My resting metabolic rate (RMR) is around 1,800 kcals/day (my last RMR test was a while ago), and I use approximately 500 calories each day with activity for a total energy expenditure (TEE) of approximately 2,300 kcals/day. Important note: My resting metabolic rate was higher before IF. It naturally adapts when we diet. This isn’t metabolic damage, this is just energy conservation.
I actually had a whole paradigm shift recently about RMR. It was always my goal to have the highest RMR possible, so I could eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight. I realized that this is a bit gluttonous and expensive.
Consumption is a privilege. I don’t just want to have to buy more food, consume more food, just to live in a body that is capable of doing so. I’d like to eat really great tasting food that is in a reasonable portion. I’m not competing in any major athletic competitions anymore, and I don’t need that much to sustain my life.
Here are my current and previous average caloric intakes in case you’d like to see how this works over the course of a week! (Reminder: I’m not actively counting calories or macros. Because I counted for such a long time, I have a good grasp on caloric content, so this is a fairly accurate but not perfect representation)
Table 1: Time-Restricted Feeding Approach
In the summer, I ran into a ton of events and breaks in my schedule that lasted for longer periods of time. I found this schedule to work quite well when I had family in town, and I wanted to eat a bunch (birthday cake, potato salad, bread & butter, etc.) but I didn’t want to totally halt my progress.
Table 2: Time-Restricted Feeding Approach
My guts LOVE taking a break. It is a serious game changer. I don’t know why I didn’t try it sooner. Here is what a full day fast looks like for me:
Table 3: Whole Day Fast Approach
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the amount of calories we use doing general movements that don’t fit the “exercise” category.
I’ve found that when I lower my caloric intake I typically move less (lower NEAT) and therefore need even fewer calories to sustain my body mass. In the past, this created quite the cycle of needing lower and lower calories as I dropped body weight (including muscle mass which often is reduced with dieting), and body activity (because when I am super tired I move less), even if I still nailed my exercise each day.
Up to this point, I haven’t found this to be the case with IF. I have energy to move, be goofy, and work hard in my training, which is very important to me.
Hunger is real, especially on a full-fast day. At this point I've done about 8 total fast days. This month I tried doing two fast days in one month and I absolutely did not prefer that. I won't be trying that again.
Overall I love the IF approach. I helps me avoid the "I'm perpetually dieting" feeling when I count everything I eat. IF helped me to feel more free and still make progress! I never abandoned the plan because I felt good the whole time.
I don’t at all want to send the message that everyone needs to do intermittent fasting, because I don't believe that, it simply isn't the best approach for everyone. I also think it doesn't need to be a lifetime approach. I'm guessing I'll oscillate back and forth. I don't need to continually lose weight, and you don't either! I'd like to stay lean year round, and use IF when I'd like to get a little bit tighter.
I hope that sharing my experience helped you learn something new! Have you tried IF before? How did you feel about it?
Sending my love out to you today,
I often get asked about counting macronutrients. The best resource I know is Avatar Nutrition by Dr. Layne Norton.
I often get asked who I like to follow, to listen, and learn from for nutrition information. Alan Aragon, hands down.
I often get asked about swapping to a plant-based diet. My favorite is the CHIP program.
I often get asked about navigating the maze of fad diets. I highly recommend this video from Marie Spano.
About the Author
Dr. Monique Middlekauff is a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). She has been a certified personal trainer with the NSCA, ACSM, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) for over 10 years.
She is a certified Higher Education Teaching Specialist (HETs) and has instructed courses ranging from introductory to graduate level including Kinesiology, Exercise Physiology, Exercise Physiology Lab, Resistance Training, Fitness Foundations, Aging and Exercise, and Skeletal Mechanics.
She is a former NCAA DI volleyball athlete and loves to exercise outdoors. Monique is certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), and is an Exercise is Medicine Level 3 credentialed provider. Monique works for a major health system in Idaho.
Her goal is to pursue health and overall wellbeing through evidence-based practice. Physical wellness comes in many forms, and she seeks to celebrate where you are, and challenge you to be better!