Intermittent fasting is becoming one of the hottest topic in nutrition and diet space lately. Intermittent fasting helps with weight loss, overall mood, and fitness. One of the main goals of Intermittent fasting is to tackle a bunch of myths that humans believed in for over 30–40 years. Some of the myths that it tackles include
- “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You should never skip it”
- “Don’t skip meals, your body needs energy throughout the day from it.”
- “To keep your metabolism going, you will need to eat 6 mini meals a day.”
Most of us have spent the last 30–40 years believing these statements to be true. But what if I told you all of these common beliefs might be wrong? That is where intermittent fasting kicks in. When you ask people to break down the science behind those beliefs, most people would just say that “research said so”, but there is no actual data behind what works and what doesn’t. Nutrition research changes rapidly and the most accurate data comes from people who’s been there and done it.
With that said, let’s dive into it!
What is Intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting means eating your calories during a specific window of the day, and choosing not to eat food during the rest. How long each will be tends to vary heavily, depending on which intermittent fasting protocol you select and there are several of them that we will discuss later in this article.
The fasting period on specific plans can range from 16 hours all the way up to 36 hours, and each of those specific plans will have benefits. One thing to take note is that everyone does some sort of intermittent fasting that we’re probably not aware of. For example, when we are sleeping, we are technically fasting. A fun fact is that “breakfast” is called breakfast because we’re technically “breaking our fast”.
Now, intermittent fasting has a lot of hormones and health benefits, but it is also a way to keep your calorie intake in check. By skipping breakfast, you’re allowed to eat more during your other meals of the day which can help with body recomp and weight loss. We’ll talk more about bulking on intermittent fasting later in this article.
The benefits of Intermittent Fasting
There’s a lot of benefits to Intermittent fasting. One of the biggest benefits is weight loss and it’s the main reason why a lot of people start fasting. By only eating during a certain window of the day, you are less likely to overeat. Additionally, intermittent fasting enhances hormone function to facilitate weight loss.
Lower insulin levels, and higher growth hormone levels all increase the breakdown of body fat and facilitate its use for energy.
According to a 2014 review of the scientific literature, intermittent fasting can cause weight loss of 3–8% over 3–24 weeks.
Helps reduce Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is defined as the accumulation in tissues that are not designed to store fat (mainly the muscle and liver).
When you restrict intake of all carbohydrates, fat and protein, tissues all across your body have no choice but to burn their stored onboard fuel for energy. When you fast for an extended period of time, the fat deposits that have accumulated over time become the fuel that cells need to operate. As a result, the size of the excess fat droplet gets smaller over time.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to have major benefits for insulin resistance and lead to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels. In a study on intermittent fasting, fasting blood sugar has been reduced by 3–6%, while fasting insulin has been reduced by 20–31%
Skyrockets your human growth hormones
The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing as much as 5-fold. This has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain. Another thing is that intermittent fasting helps with the repair of cells. When fasted, your cells initiate cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells.
When it comes to hormones, fasting also helps with brain hormones to help you function better. That is why a lot of people feel an increase in brain focus and performance when practicing fasting. What it does is increase a brain hormone called BDNF. BDNF acts on certain neurons of the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system, helping to support the survival of existing neurons, and encourage the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses.
This one is a bit controversial since test have only been done on rats. A lot of religions practice fasting and people have seen anti aging results.
From my experience, it’s a bit difficult to get started on fasting because your body is so use to eating meals frequently. You might feel a lack of energy in the beginning, we at least I did, but I noticed that my body slowly adapts to the pattern and now I don’t feel hungry anymore. Something that I like to do when fasting is drink coffee in the morning to help with hunger. Coffee with a tablespoon of MCT oil is good enough to keep me running until my eating window starts. In the long run, intermittent fasting can help with controlling hunger.
Here’s a list of other resources and benefits that intermittent fasting can help with:
● Reduce risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, as well as employ significant, positive changes to blood cholesterol in healthy and pre-diabetic populations.
● Improve markers of longevity that could contribute to a longer lifespan.
● Benefit children with severe epilepsy, reducing seizures beyond the reductions seen using a ketogenic diet alone.
● Override the harmful effects of a high fat diet by preventing obesity and liver disease.
● Improve brain health and help stave off Alzheimer’s Disease.
● Protect cells, slow tumor growth and reduce side effects of chemotherapy treatment in cancer patients.
How does Intermittent fasting work?
Now that you have a breakdown of the benefits behind intermittent fasting as well as what it is, let’s talk about how and why it works.
As mentioned above Intermittent fasting helps with weight loss for two main reasons. One is because you can control your hunger and stay at a caloric deflect and second it pushes your system to burn fat rather than the energy that you have consumed.
When you eat a meal, your body spends a few hours processing that food, burning what it can from what you just consumed. The first go to source of energy that your body digs from is the sugar or glucose from the carbs. Because of this, your system tends to grab energy from food before it goes into grabbing energy from your fats.
When you are fasting, your body doesn’t have energy from food to consume, so it will go for the fats that’s stored in your body first. This is also why some people choose to work out in a fasted state in the morning.
From my experience this helps with fat loss. This is another to help you jump start your day by depleting your glycogen stones. Another big win
The only downside is that you might not have as much as energy as if you had a strong pre-workout meal to pump through your workout, but your body slowly adapts to it and you will feel good after a while. Essentially, the more sensitive your body is to insulin, the more likely you’ll be to use the food you consume efficiently, which can help lead to weight loss.
The different types of intermittent fasting
There are different types of intermittent fasting, none of which is better than the other. I’ve tried a few and not everyone is the same. It depends on which one you personally like the most and which one you can actually adapt to. In other words, outcomes can vary widely based on age, sex, activity level, underlying illnesses and weight.
16/8 — Popularized by Martin Berkhan, LeanGains or 16/8 is a style of I.F. where the fasting period is 16 hours, and the feeding window is shortened to 8 hours. During this time, users may eat as few meals as they like, with the most frequent iteration being two/three meals.
Here are some keypoints to 16/8
* No calories are to be ingested during the fasted phase, though coffee, calorie free sweeteners, diet soda and sugar free gum are ok (even though they might contain trace amount of calories). A tiny splash of milk in your coffee won’t affect anything either (½–1 teaspoon of milk per cup at the most — use sparingly and sensibly if you drink a lot of coffee). Neither will sugar free gum in moderation (~20 g).
* The fast is the perfect time to be productive and get things done. Don’t sit around, get bored and brood about food.
* Meal frequency during the feeding phase is irrelevant. However, most people, including me, prefer three meals.
* The majority of your daily calorie intake is consumed in the post-workout period. Depending on setup, this means that approximately 95–99% (fasted training), 80% (one pre-workout meal) or 60% (two pre-workout meals) of your daily calorie intake is consumed after training.
* The feeding window should be kept somewhat constant due to the hormonal entrainment of meal patterns. We tend to get hungry when we’re used to eating and maintaining a regular pattern makes diet adherence easier. If you’re used to breaking the fast at 12–2 PM and ending it at 8–10 PM, then try to maintain that pattern every day.
* On rest days, meal one should ideally be the largest meal, as opposed to training days where the post-workout meal is the largest meal. A good rule of thumb is to make meal one on rest days at least 35–40% of your daily calorie intake. This meal should be very high in protein.
To view the entire guide on 16/8, you can check out — http://www.leangains.com/2010/04/leangains-guide.html
16/8 is actually my personal favorite intermittent fasting because it’s sustainable and it works. You pretty much just have to keep yourself busy throughout the fasting window and then eat all you want during your eating window. It’s sustainable and allows me to enjoy the food that I want while having the benefits of fasting.
Eat Stop Eat — I recently came across this type of intermittent fasting and it was recommended by a friend. This was created by Brad Pilon. Fast for 24 hours once or twice per week. During the 24 hour fast, which creator Brad Pilon prefers to call a “24 break from eating,” no food is consumed, but you can drink calorie-free beverages. After the fast is over, you then go back to eating normally.
As mentioned many times in this article, any type of fasting is a way to control your caloric deflect. Eating this way will reduce overall calorie intake without really limiting what you’re able to eat. The good thing about this type of fasting is that there are no restrictions aside from the 24 hour break for your stomach to reset.
I tried this and usually it’s not a problem for 24 hours as long as I can keep myself busy and distracted. It’s a bit hard in the beginning, but think of it this way; “it’s only one day per week!!”
I suggest that you find a day where you are extremely busy and loaded to start the 24 hour fasting as this can aid with distractions.
The warriors diet! — The Warrior’s diet is another type of intermittent fasting that is quite similar to 16/8. Simply, the diet is a 20-hour fast followed by a 4-hour feeding period. The theory sort of revolves around how warriors use to eat in the past. Usually this consist of eating one huge meal during the 4 hour feeding period.
The good thing about this diet is that you can actually snack in that 20 hour fasting window, but a lot of people choose to go all out and only eat during the 4 hour eating window. When it comes to snacking though, this type of fasting method usually only allows raw veggies, small fruits, nuts and smaller snacks to keep your energy level going.
Much like a 24-hour fast, a 20-hour fast allows you to reap the hormonal benefit of increased growth hormone. And, like all fasting, generally will result in fewer calories being consumed.
The hardest part about this type of fasting is trying to consume that amount of calories in one big meal. It was quite difficult for me to consume 2500+ calories all in one meal and I would usually end up feeling quite bloated.
Eating at night may also help the body produce hormones and burn fat during the day.
5/2 — This one is quite simple and some people don’t really consider this as intermittent fasting, but it works for weight loss. Eat what you want five days a week, send your body to starvation mode for two. The part-time diet that still allows you to eat anything yet lose weight.
Dieters are recommended to consume a ‘normal’ number of calories five days a week and then, for two, non-consecutive days, eat just 25% of their usual calorie total — 500 calories for women and 600 for men.
There are no restrictions on the types of food you can eat and it is suggested as more of a weight loss method. One of the biggest questions when doing 5/2 is how much to eat on normal days? You can eat at maintenance during these days. It is usually suggested that you consume about 2000–2500 calories during your normal 5 days.
BulletProof Intermittent Fasting — This is one of those type of fasting that is becoming super popular. As mentioned in the Bulletproof blog, “Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting is NOT intermittent fasting. It’s a whole new ball game. It lets you fast for hours without feeling hungry; it torches fat; it builds muscle; and the odd effects on your hunger are likely because it helps you into a hard to maintain biological state, where you’re almost in full-blown ketosis. You achieve this with one special ingredient in Bulletproof Coffee: Brain Octane Oil.”
This type of fasting requires you to skip breakfast like the others mentioned above. Usually your breakfast would consist of a basic “bulletproof coffee”, which is a regular coffee with a few tablespoons of MCT oil.
This is suppose to keep you full until your eating window starts. The bulletproof diet believes that the right amount of Brain Octane can drive your blood ketone measurements to at least 0.5. This will help you “dip into ketosis”. If you can just dip into ketosis a little bit, you automatically reset your hunger hormone (ghrelin) and your satisfaction hormone (CCK). Taking Brain Octane oil can send you into the goldilocks zone of ketosis, resetting your hormones so you stay in high-energy fat-burning mode without feeling hungry.
Most people that follow this diet also follows the Bulletproof diet. Below is a picture of how the Bulletproof Diet roadmap works:
There are a lot more different types of intermittent fasting that I didn’t mention in this list, but a quick Google search will bring you up a few more.
Tips for Intermittent Fasting
Yep I know it’s hard, but here are some tips that can help you start the process and improve your overall health.
Stay busy like a busy bee — Regardless on the type of intermittent fasting method you choose, it is extremely important to stay busy throughout the non eating windows. This was a bit difficult for me at first because I use to be on that, “3 meals and 3 snacks” a day concept. The good thing is that if you can keep yourself busy with work during your fasting hours, then you won’t have a problem getting through the initial phase. Once your body adapts to it, then your hunger cues will go away. So stay busy!! Find something to do and distract yourself. For me, it is work and constantly drinking coffee, water, and tea.
Don’t overthink it — One of the biggest problems people come across when it comes to fitness, nutrition, and dieting is that they overthink it. I noticed that the more that I think about it, the harder it is to keep my mind away from food during the fasting hours. Keep it simple and make it a lifestyle.
It’s okay to break your fast once in a while — I use to be paranoid about eating during the fasting period. Is it okay to have a fruit during my fasting period? Ughh, I’m feeling weak…and so on…The truth is that it’s always okay to break it once in a while. If you wake up one day and you feel extremely hungry then go for that breakfast. Just make sure you go back to your routine afterwards.
Drink zero calorie liquid — This helps me feel full and keeps me in check. I like to drink coffee, green tea, and sometime I go for diet sodas as well.
Keep testing — Remember what works for others might not work for you. Intermittent fasting is proven to work, but not every method will work for you. Start off slow and test different types to see which one works best for your body.
Use the Zero app — Well known entrepreneur Kevin Rose put together an app to help people track their fasting. It has one of the best user interface that I’ve seen and I love using it myself. You can read about his app release here — https://medium.com/@kevinrose/introducing-zero-a-new-app-to-help-you-fast-209935e8245d
Thanks to everyone for reading.
I’d love to hear from you:
What are your questions with intermittent fasting?
What are your concerns? Have you tried it before? Did it work for you?