Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good Pointers on IF and Cheat Days

Thanks to so many of you who comment and have helped me out!

I was asking about fasting (I was doing it too much-unintentionally) and about a planned Cheat Day.

I have one commenter (Hi Joseph!) who is really knowledgeable and has graciously given some time to answering my questions. He says it so well, I thought I would just re-post what he says.

Regarding Intermittent Fasting: 

"Yes, prolonged calorie restriction (by any means) will lower your metabolic rate. If you are fasting that often, even if inadvertently, it will slow your metabolism. One of the weird things about being a paleo/primal eater is that we easily switch between fasting and eating without ever really feeling ravenously hungry-- it's a blessing and a curse. If you want to increase your hunger response, throw in an extra fruit or starch (sweet potato, yam, squash) in a meal or two and I guarantee you won't be missing meals again.

Basically, you're probably borderline (or actually actively in) ketosis most of the time if you aren't eating that many fruits or starches. So, when you go into a short fast, the hunger mechanism essentially switches off very easily. While it is nice for this to happen when we deliberately fast, it isn't so good to happen all of the time. While there is a lot of debate over this (hormesis), I favor the line of thought that says that long-term ketosis is not generally a natural state of the human metabolism (it is a survival adaption).

Like I said, try adding a fruit/starch to a meal or two (start slowly and see what happens) and it will bring you out of this near/at ketosis level a bit and your body's hunger mechanism will kick in when it is supposed to. Then, if you want to intermittent fast, you can easily dip into ketosis without ravenous hunger, but you can do it at will rather than being there all of the time and slowing your overall metabolism.

As I mentioned earlier today, you can now experiment a bit to find out how your body responds to things. As long as you're still in an overall calorie deficit, you'll still take off fat. Also, as long as you're eating a good deal of proteins and good fats, you won't be hungry all of the time as with low-fat/high-carb diets.

Just as a rough guideline, one fruit/starch will be equivalent to roughly 20-30 grams of carbs. So, start with adding one a day for 2 weeks and see what happens. If no change, then add another per day. Like I mentioned in the other post, there is no need to actually count calories or grams, but it is good to have a rough idea or guestimate. This method is used to see if maybe your metabolism responds better to slightly higher carb/calories over a longterm calorie restricted diet.

Another option is to deliberately pull yourself out of ketosis and increase total calorie ingestion by simply adding two fruits/starches a day immediately, then maintaining that for a few weeks, and then dipping back into ketosis (i.e. taking away fruits/starches). It is kind of like hitting a reset button on your metabolism. Granted, this is assuming that fat loss is your overall goal. Also, you can start with the first option and then move into this option very easily-- they aren't entirely mutually exclusive, it is just how they are implemented that differs.

Either way, you body soon gets used to something if it is done long enough. From what it sounds like, you're currently in or near ketosis. Get out (of ketosis) for a while and see how your body responds. After being out of it for a while, you can always dip back into it in the future for some real quick fat loss. 

  1. I almost forgot to mention that if you increase your carb intake as suggested above that you will see an increase in weight of a few pounds. Don't worry about this, all that is happening is that your glycogen stores are being restored (assuming that you were indeed in ketosis). For every gram of glycogen that your muscles store, there is about 2-4 grams of water that gets stored with it. That is why I recommend that if you increase your carbs that you observe any changes over the course of two weeks, because this is plenty of time to allow the initial increase in weight due to glycogen/water to show itself and then observe whether or not the change then has any effects on fat storage/loss. Many people who don't understand this will see the initial increase in weight and then get scared and cut the carbs back immediately. The fact is that you need to eat in order to loss weight effectively, the hard part is finding the sweet spot, so to speak."

Regarding Cheat Days:

"It was me, I think. When I was telling you that it is ok to cheat every now and then I mentioned that during a cheat that you will gain weight really quick, but that it will shed quite quickly (a day or two). There are a lot of things going on, but probably the most important is glycogen and water storage. Most cheat meals tend to be either high in carbs, high in sodium, or both. High carb meals will spike insulin, thus causing your muscles to be topped off (fully saturated) with glycogen. For every gram of glycogen stored, there is an additional 2-4 grams of water that is stored with it. Regarding the sodium, well everybody knows that ingesting large amounts of sodium will cause you to retain water. So, almost all of the weight gained is in the form of retained water.

It is also true that if you eat enough during your cheat that you will put on a little bit of fat, but it is quite minimal compared to the water weight. The reason is that it takes 3500 calories of energy to add one pound of adipose tissue (fat). So, let's say that you normally burn 3000 calories every day. On your cheat day you eat 4500 calories (a 50% increase). As you can see, the most that you can gain in adipose tissue is less than half a pound (0.43 pounds, to be exact). Further, this is assuming that your glycogen stores are already completely full, which probably is not the case. So, if after a cheat day you put on 3 pounds, more than likely only about 0.10-0.43 pounds of that will actually be in the form of fat (not enough for most scales to even register). Also, since you're eating primal 80-90% of the rest of the week, your insulin and leptin sensitivity is awesome, so whatever fat you do put on will be gone just as quickly as it came (i.e. the body realizes it didn't need to store the fat).

As you can see, a cheat day isn't going to screw up your progress because the actual fat that is stored (if any) is so minimal compared to the 2-3 pounds being shed week in and week out. Also, as I have mentioned before, the benefits to both metabolism and mental stability far outweigh any detriments.

Now, you did ask about how extensive a cheat day really is, whether it meant a cheat meal for every meal, or just a few sweets here and there, etc. Essentially, it really is up to you. However, most people go into it thinking that they are going to binge on twinkies and bonbons all day, only to find that they barely cheat at all. The fact is that even though you have cravings for these foods every now and again, since you've been eating clean for so long, those foods end up tasting like crap when you actually get the chance to eat them on your cheat day. Further, some people feel guilty after their first cheat, thus precluding them from eating more cheats. Then there is how the foods actually make you feel.

The fact is that the extent of a cheat day can only be determined by you."

Thanks Joseph! 


  1. No problemo, Heather. Also, I am pretty sure that I have all of my ducks in a row, but if there are any errors then I surely invite others to correct me.

    I must admit that I am not a nutritionist, nor do I have a degree in dietetics, I just have studied this subject on and off over the course of the past 10 years or so. Also, I have put much of what I know to practical use and have essentially used myself as a guinea pig to see what works and what doesn't. Thankfully, I eventually found that primal/paleo is the most effective diet/lifestyle thus far for both health and fitness goals-- no more Mr. Guinea Pig.

    Also, what I am describing above regarding the increasing of carbs may sound similar to carb-loading. Yes, it is similar, though it isn't quite as drastic and seems to work better for those who still have a decent amount of weight to shed. For most people a "steady as she goes" approach with slight tweaks here and there tends to work just fine, especially if they don't know how many grams of this or that they are taking in, or how their metabolism responds to certain things. I'd certainly rather somebody who isn't steeped in this stuff make small adjustments than do something drastic that can possibly cause problems for them.

  2. P.S. Just keep in mind that if you are going to cheat, that if you ingest an ungodly amount of carbohydrates that this is going to play havoc with your insulin response and blood glucose levels, which isn't very healthy. However, as I mentioned, most people who go into it thinking they're going to binge, actually end up being pretty responsible in practice. Your body will let you know either way, because you'll feel like complete crap afterward.