Let’s be honest: dieting is hard work.
The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are always worth it, but sticking to a diet, workout routine or overall weight loss plan can be a challenge for even the most seasoned health advocates. It all about creating a new lifestyle and choosing the right tools to help you reach your goals.
“Ok, going on a diet is hard enough as is, so why should I try intermittent fasting?! Couldn’t that be more difficult?” you ask. Maybe you should try it and maybe your shouldn’t. AND, yes it could be more difficult. This is why I wanted to write this article.
The purpose of this article is to give you a “101” overview of Intermittent Fasting so that you can start your own research on the subject and decide whether it will work for you. Each situation is different. I’m not going to suggest that IF is the weight loss solution for everyone, but it’s worth investigating.
I’ve received more than a few transformation stories recently from women who have had success with Intermittent Fasting. Here are some examples;
- Kuziva lost 97 pounds
- Charli lost 68 pounds
- Tracy lost 70 pounds
- A’Janee lost 99 pounds
- Alante lost 100 pounds
- Jennifer lost 101 pounds
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
There are different forms of fasting. You’ve probably heard about juice cleansing fasts (seriously, juice bars seem to be popping up everywhere). There are those who practice religious fasting or use liquid protein fasts. (using shakes or smoothies)
To be honest, it’s a little difficult to classify or define “intermittent fasting” because there are so many variations of this type of fast. The general idea is that you alternate between periods of eating and fasting… intermittently.
For example, maybe you begin your fast upon waking up. No breakfast, no lunch, and certainly no afternoon snacks. But after 12 pm, you allow yourself to consume calories, eating normally until bed. You eating window may be an 8 hour timeframe, for example. Or maybe you eat normally five days a week, but dramatically reduce your caloric intake two days a week (non-back-to-back days).
You get the idea. Later in this article, we’ll explore the different forms that intermittent fasting can take.
So…Does Fasting Have Any Benefits?
One of the main reasons that Intermittent Fasting is worth a look is that there’s more and more evidence that fasting can have long-term health benefits for your body and your brain.
- NIH – Intermittent fasting: the science of going without
- Harvard – In pursuit of healthy aging
- Huffington Post – How Fasting Allows The Brain To Recharge Itself
- Some believe that blood levels of HGH (human growth hormone) may increase with fasting, which makes it easier to build muscle, which burns fat.
If you think about it, it makes sense that intermittent fasting could be beneficial for our bodies. Why? Because we’ve evolved that way. Consider this: eating whenever we want is a modern luxury. Refrigerators, for example, were only recently invented in 1834.
Compare this to our ancient ancestors: they had to hunt and gather food. Our ancestors couldn’t drive to the closest fast food joint whenever they wanted. Even looking a few decades back, three meals a day wasn’t a guarantee. (People didn’t typically eat the daily calories or portion sizes we consume either.) Food preservation wasn’t as advanced as it is today. Their bodies adapted and became efficient at dealing with periods of feast and famine. In a way, that was the earliest form of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent Fasting and Fat Loss
You see, every action you take requires energy. Going to the gym? That requires energy. Out for a run? You guessed it: calories are burned to fuel that run. The very act of being – simply existing – requires energy.
From a scientific perspective, our bodies run on glucose (simple sugar). Glucose comes from the foods we eat. This is why so many marathon runners and endurance athletes eat gels during races. The gels are packed with simple sugars that the body can quickly digest and use as fuel.
Harvard Medical School says…”Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.
Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.”
So what happens when you fast? Well, when you don’t eat for longer periods of time, your body needs to find another source of energy until glucose is readily available again. Because your body is searching frantically for fuel, it begins to burn fat instead! The body “flips the switch” from burning food for energy to burning fat. (SIDE NOTE: When the body burns fat as it’s primary source of fuel, ketones are produced, i.e Keto diets) This is a super simple explanation on what happens to the body. There is lots of info out there that can will help you understand how and why the body metabolises fat.
SO, the thought around Intermittent Fasting is that during the time frame that you don’t eat, your body has to use something other than food as fuel, so it will use stored fat. That may or may not happen depending on your bodies glycogen stores.
“Your body also uses fat for energy during periods of starvation, but not right away. At first, if you stop eating by fasting or from starvation, your metabolism breaks down muscle and other proteins, turning them into glucose. After several days without food, though, your body starts to burn your fat for energy.” [Source]
So the question is… Can Intermittent Fasting Actually Help You Lose Weight? And the answer is Yes… Maybe.
Intermittent fasting can be a very easy for some people to manage and very hard for others. This is why I say Maybe. Abstaining from food when you are used to eating is not the easiest thing. It also may not be practical or healthy depending on your work schedule, medical issues, etc.
Also, you still have to eat healthy food when using IF for long term weight loss. You can not binge on junk food or eat way outside of healthy calorie limits and assume that you are going to lose weight just because of IF. Sure, I’ve read about people who say they still eat all the foods they love on IF and lose weight, and that can be true in the beginning. However, it may not be the case long term because your body will adjust and you’ll face a plateau. In most cases, you need a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight, but you also want to fuel the body so it doesn’t turn to muscle for food. This means that along with fasting you actuall have to have some sort of understanding of how much food you are eating and what food you are eating along with practicing IF.
Bottomline: Can you have a cheat day from time to time or eat things in moderation? Sure. Is it a good idea to eat lots of junk and processed food while practicing IF? No.
Understanding the Different Forms of Intermittent Fasting
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to intermittent fasting. Here are some of the more popular forms:
- Eat Stop Eat. The idea of Eat Stop Eat was pioneered by weight-loss guru Brad Pilon. It’s fairly simple: commit to one or two 24-hour fasts per week. For example, from 7 pm on Monday to 7 pm Tuesday, don’t eat anything. For every other day that week, women can eat 2,000 calories a day and men can eat 2,500 calories a day. If you decide to do two fasts per week, Pilon says to avoid doing fasts on consecutive days. Also, do not exceed two fasts per week. If 24 hours is too long without food, then fasting for 20 hours will still yield benefits.
- The Warrior Diet. This particular method of intermittent fasting includes 20 hours of fasting every single day. The good news? You can enjoy one large meal every night. Don’t worry: the 20 hours of fasting aren’t a complete abstinence from food. You can still enjoy a few servings of raw fruit, unseasoned veggies, unprocessed fresh juice, and protein. During the 4 hour “feast” period, you should eat veggies, protein, and fat… and in that order! Only eat carbohydrates if you’re still hungry.
- Lean Gains (also known as the 16/8 protocol). The Lean Gains method isn’t so much about restricting your caloric intake as much as it is the timing of when you eat. Basically, eat the same amount as you would normally eat each day, BUT only eat within an 8 hour window. The other 16 hours of the day are spent in a fasted state. For example, if you normally eat 2,000 calories per day, you would eat those 2,000 calories between 12 noon and 8 pm. The rest of the day would be spent fasting.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?
As with any diet, speak to your primary care provider before making any lifestyle modifications or starting ANY weight loss plan. There are a number of medical conditions for which not eating regularly could be seriously dangerous. Fasting is NOT for everyone. (It’s not for pregnant women, nursing mothers, etc.) Don’t start Intermittent Fasting if you are not aware of your current medical status.
Furthermore, prolonged periods of fasting can lead to binge eating or eating more than you typically would… which could result in weight gain. Prolonged fasting can also affect your metabolism in negative ways and lead to muscle loss. Again, if you decide to try intermittent fasting, it’s important to stay committed to tracking your calories, eating high quality/nutrient rich food and keeping track of what you eat. If you are doing strenuous training, you need to create an eating schedule that supports your fitness efforts with proper fuel.
Intermittent fasting could potentially be dangerous for individuals who suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, so AGAIN it’s important to do your research and talk to you doctor before you start a fasting routine.
Tips for Intermittent Fasting Success
Finding a support system can help you stick to the diet when the going gets rough, especially during low calorie days or hours. There are lots of Intermittent Fasting focused groups and pages on social media.
It’s also important to choose a plan that suits your personality and lifestyle. Not all intermittent fasting plans are created equal. Abstaining from food is challenging enough. Find a version that works for you and feels the most effortless. For example, some people might find it easier to skip breakfast whereas others would rather go without dinner.
Perhaps most importantly, start slowly and build your way up. Similar to training for a marathon, you don’t want to dive right in. Someone who has never run before wouldn’t go on an 18 mile long-run and expect success. Similarly, it’s ok to work your way into intermittent fasting. Gradually increasing your fasting windows might make the whole process easier.
Take pictures and track your progress! Weight loss doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a journey!
Don’t just take my word for it. Do your research. Here are two great books on Intermittent Fasting:
- Delay, Don’t Deny: Living an Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle
- The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss
Before I end this article, I must repeat myself. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH! Don’t think that you can read this article or read someone’s weight loss success story and then jump into something like Intermittent Fasting.
Have I heard from people who find it effective? Yes.
Do I think there are benefits to limiting how much we eat and when we eat? Yes.
Do I think it would be difficult to maintain as a lifestyle vs. a temporary lifestyle change for the purpose of losing weight? Yes.
However, this is my opinion. If it works for you, your health and your lifestyle, all power to you.
This article was updated on Feb 13, 2020