This article is published for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Please consult a physician or other health care professional for your specific health care and/or medical needs or concerns.
If you’re a regular at your local gym or have tried a couple of different diets, you’ve probably heard someone say they’re doing Intermittent Fasting.
But what is that exactly? Is it even a diet? If not, what is it?
In this post, I’ll explain what intermittent fasting is, what the benefits are, and how you can start implementing it into your life.
I personally first discovered intermittent fasting when I went to college a couple of years back. I was on a mission to see my abs for the first time in my life, and I was looking for anything to help give me the edge to get there faster. I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled upon it, but luckily I did. I found this site called leangains.com founded by Martin Berkhan and was exposed to the awesomeness that is IF aka Intermittent Fasting. It helped me achieve the elusive six-pack for the first time in my life, and I have been using it ever since to help me lean down and stay fit.
1. So What is it?
Although in recent years Intermittent Fasting has been gaining popularity, it isn’t a new diet fad, in fact, it isn’t even a diet. IF's been used since the dawn of man, but it is now just gaining attention because of new research study results revealing how beneficial this style of eating is, which I’ll cover later. Instead of worrying about what you’re eating like most diet, with IF, it’s more about what times you are eating.
There are many styles of IF out there, but the method I learned is the 16-8 IF style.
With this method, you fast, meaning you don’t eat anything, for 16 hours out of the day, and the other 8 hours is your ‘feeding’ window. During your ‘feeding’ window you eat the proper amount of calories or food you would normally eat, but only during this time-frame.
It’s as simple as that, but people seem to want to make it more complicated than it need be. Many of us do this naturally and don’t even realize it. Have you ever finished eating dinner early, went to bed, woke up, skipped breakfast, and had a late lunch? Well, then you just did intermittent fasting. The reason why the 16-hour method is important and works is because the benefits of fasting doesn't begin until around that time-frame. The longer you go, the more benefits you receive, but there is a tipping point just like anything else.
For example, working out is great for you, but if you do it 8 hours a day, seven days a week, you’re hurting yourself. The same goes with fasting. If you fast 16-20 hours a day every day, you’ll be good, but if you're extending your fast 24 to 32 hours, three days a week, you’re probably doing more harm than good.
2. Why do I do it? And What are the benefits?
For most of my life, I have struggled with overeating. I can blame my parents for gifting me with candy or letting me eat all the junk food I wanted as a kid, but the truth is I love the taste of food. I tried following the six small meals a day approach, the low-fat, and low-carb diets, but I would never feel full. Very soon after my last meal I would become hungry again and end up over-eating. Never being satisfied, is not a good feeling, and not very encouraging when you’re trying to lose weight.
When I started to attend college to earn a degree in Exercise and Wellness, I learned that the majority of information that the fitness industry was publishing and sharing was false. Eating small meals throughout the day does not rev up your metabolism. All the food we eat has a thermogenic effect in our body (TEF). TEF means the amount of energy we have to expend to burn off the food. When we spend energy, we build heat. Think about exercise; you’re using energy, therefore, creating heat in your body, which is why we sweat to cool down. The Thermogenic effect of food does not change whether we eat 2,000 calories in 6 meals or 1 meal. It stays the same. Just like the calories of a banana doesn't change whether you eat in the morning or eat at night.
I needed to find something that would allow me to feel full while still eating at a calorific deficit; intermittent fasting was the solution I was hoping to find.
Having less time to eat, means less time to over-eat. The shorter time-frame requires that you eat bigger meals in one sitting (or a bunch of small meals if you’d like, it’s all preference), which gives you the wonderful feeling of being full. Finally, that sense of satisfaction I was longing for all along!
Fasting has a lot of other benefits, such as:
1. Helps you live longer
When you’re body is starving, it finds ways to extend its life. The good thing about IF is that you only enter the starvation mode temporarily, and immediately after get to eat like a barbarian. You get the best of both worlds.
2. Increased fat loss + muscle retention
Intermittent fasting lowers insulin levels, raises HGH levels, and releases increased norepinephrine into our blood stream. These chemicals facilitate increased fat loss, without having to do any extra work. You could eat the same calories you would eat at maintenance, but in an IF dieting window, and over time you would lose fat!
What about if you’re on a diet?
On a diet it would even increase the fat loss rate and the best part is that these same chemicals help you retain more of your muscle mass. That means no more having to lose your hard earned muscle when you decide to lean down!
3. Helps promote better overall physical health
Intermittent fasting reduces oxidative stress, which means you’ll stay looking younger for longer.
It reduces inflammation, so you’ll recover quicker from a workout or when you’re injured.
When you fast, your body still needs energy, and because our bodies are extremely intelligent, it'll target the infected and weak cells first. That's why when you’re sick, it’s better to fast to recover faster, which as you know contradicts what the general population has been telling people.
When you give your digestion system a break, all the energy that's typically used for digesting food can now be used to take care and repair the rest of your body.
4. Improved mental health
The reduced insulin levels can help prevent diabetes, and the combination of the reduction oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin helps promote better mental health.
I’ve found that when I fast I am more focused and can retain information more easily.
3. How can you start?
Starting is way and straightforward. The easiest way to intermittent fast is to stop a couple of hours before your bedtime and wait 4 to 6 hours after you wake up to have your first meal. You can experiment with this and find out what works best for you. The goal is to fast for at least 14 to 18 hours a day. You can stop eating 4 hours before bedtime and eat 4 hours after you wake up, or you can be like me and stop eating 1 to 2 hours before you sleep and fast 5 to 6 hours after you wake. Depending on your work, workout, and sleeping schedule, you’ll have to modify it to fit your lifestyle.
Note that you don’t have to start with a 16 hour fast right off the bat. I suggest that you stop eating 2 hours before you sleep and then wait 2 hours after you wake up. If you sleep 7 to 8 hours that will total around 12 hours and that’s a great start. Gradually extend the time that you stop eating before you sleep or extend the time you wait after you wake and pretty soon you’ll be fasting 16 hours with no problems at all.
Remember it’s okay if you mess up a day or two, just restart the next day and you'll be okay.
At first, you might get hunger pains, but it's important to realize that you’re not actually hungry. Your body is used to feeding at that time, so it’s sending signals to your brain to remind you to eat. Over time that will completely subside.
What I like to do is drink coffee in the morning to help blunt my hunger. Make sure to drink it black so that you don’t get any of the added calories. Another great liquid to drink is tea or sparkling water. I’ve found that sparkling water helps a lot with blunting my hunger. If you’re famished and feel like you need food, eat one or two pieces of fruit, like a banana or an apple to help blunt your hunger for a little while longer. These tips and tricks should help make your intermittent fasting protocol sustainable for the long-term.
Have any more questions about Intermittent Fasting or have any experiences with it that you'd like to share?
Comment below and let me know!