In previous posts, I’ve looked at the merits of something they’re calling Alternate Day Modified Fasting (ADMF) as a way to lose weight. But the word “fasting” appears to have a lot of baggage–to many, it implies extreme, dangerous, or even disordered eating.
ADMF is not really fasting at all. A more accurate term, Calorie Cycling, is now gaining traction and this rebranding may allow people to get beyond their assumptions and preconceived notions for long enough to evaluate this approach on its merits.
There seems to be a deeply entrenched–but completely arbitrary–notion that we should eat the same number of calories every day. Fans of the evolutionary nutrition movement would point out that primitive man certainly did not have the luxury of constant, consistent access to food. We now suffer from an epidemic of over-nourishment. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box a little?
The Logic Behind Calorie Cycling
If you were to cut your normal daily caloric intake by a third, you would lose weight–and fairly quickly. But there are problems with this approach to weight loss:
1. You will probably experience hunger.
2. Staying on the regimen requires constant vigilance, monitoring, and self-control.
3. After about 72 hours of sustained caloric restriction, your body will adjust by slowing its metabolism (slightly).
So, let’s say we take the same reduced number of calories. But instead of spreading them evenly throughout the week, we alternate very low calorie days and normal or slightly above normal days.
Instead of this:
you have this:
Over the course of the week, you’d consume the same number of calories on either regimen and experience comparable weight loss. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that in both scenarios, you are eating a well-balanced array of nutritious foods.
Does calorie cycling offer any advantages?
Well, for one thing, because there is no sustained calorie restriction, your body does not adjust its metabolism or start catabolizing lean muscle tissue as it would on a sustained low-calorie diet. Additionally, some people report that calorie cycling requires less will-power than constant restriction. Although you may feel hunger on your low-intake day, you can eat to satisfaction on your high-intake day. Contrary to assumptions, research shows that most people will eat only slightly more calories than normal following a skipped meal or fast.
As a bonus, some studies suggest that calorie-cycling may have benefits unrelated to weight loss, such as reducing oxidative damage, improving insulin resistance, and slowing mitochondrial aging.
Calorie cycling clearly isn’t for everyone, and I’d strongly encourage anyone considering it to check in with their doctor or nutrition professional first. Those suffering from hypoglycemia, pregnant, or with a history or risk of eating disorders are not good candidates, for example. Aside from health issues, some people may simply prefer or be more successful on a more traditional approach.
But for some, it may be a helpful alternative strategy. At the very least, I think it’s worthy of further investigation and study.