Most diets work very well, this is hard to argue. It’s commonly a matter of how the diet fits with a person’s lifestyle, which can impact how well they are able to stay on track.
Not every diet is for every person. What works for you, might not be great for me, which might be so so for the next person. We are all unique in what our body responds best to, and how well we are able to manage our approach to eating across the long-term.
“Long-term” is the key part to remember. Choose a diet, or in the case of intermittent fasting, a “pattern” of eating that is a long-term solution. Sustainable to your wants and needs.
I encourage you to shop around and collect enough information to help you make a decision on what’s best for you.
This article hopes to shed some light on Intermittent Fasting, what I.F. is, the benefits and various approaches, etc.
The big question…
Does intermittent fasting work?
Hell Yes. Intermittent fasting works.
Intermittent Fasting works to the degree a person is able to execute the details and adhere to the principles.
Some people may find intermittent fasting to be a godsend, effective and simple. Others, conditioned to eating frequently, may find refraining from eating food for longer periods to be torturous.
Take a break and test the waters…
Regardless of the category you may fall into, I recommend everyone purposely go without eating food for extended periods (16-24hrs) for one big reason…
… to find out if you have the discipline to handle it. We live in an age where food is literally everywhere. We eat without purpose, even when we are not hungry we eat.
Eating too much, just like taking a break from eating, is a habit. And despite all of the data showing how long it takes to break an old habit or make a new one, habits require conditioning. No different than physical conditioning.
So, the question is… Can you take a break from eating for a little while?
Depending on the pattern of intermittent fasting chosen, a “little while” can mean 16 hours (8 sleeping hours, 8 hours awake). 16 hours without eating. It might sound like a lot, but it’s not.
Again, it’s all conditioning, shifting of habits.
Rather than sulk about how hungry you feel during the fasting window, take advantage of not being tethered to finding your next meal. You’re unchained, free to be productive and get things done! Build up your career, start that business, connect with old friends, spend time with family, workout, get chores and errands done.
When it comes time to eat, you’ll eat. Plain and simple.
Let’s hammer out the basics of intermittent fasting and see if the data satisfies your research side and structure fits your lifestyle…
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of diet where a person takes a scheduled break from eating food and opts to not eat food (fast).
Depending on which intermittent fasting method is chosen, the timeframe of eating/fasting pattern or “cycle” can be split into a day (24 hours) or an entire week.
Brad Pilon, author of the “Eat Stop Eat” method of Intermittent Fasting says:
“If you consider Intermittent Fasting to be the ability to practice patience when it comes to the act of eating – a conscious polite restraint when it comes to food intake, then the philosophy is simply – we do not have to eat all the time, therefore we are free to choose when we eat.”
The focus with nutrition has long been how many calories and what kind of calories. These things are still important, but now add in the influence of time.
Time, changes the game.
Eat, then stop, then start eating again. Time is proving to be an important variable to improve the triad of nutrition:
- Aesthetics (fat loss, lean muscle, etc)
- General Health and Longevity
Here’s an intermittent fasting infographic provided from Dr. Mercola (Mercola Nutrition):
How did I find Intermittent Fasting?
Several years ago, I stumbled onto intermittent fasting by accident. I was researching another topic. I was curious after reading Martin Berkan’s Lean Gains. 5-6 articles later, I was sucked in but still not a believer.
Martin’s fasting approach was a hybrid, like nothing I’d seen before. His own physique speaks to the potency of intermittent fasting, especially when paired with resistance training. And to be honest, I trusted the guy from the get-go because it was obviously he’s practicing what he preaches. Very noble in this day in age.
Here are some broad takeaways from LeanGains:
- In a 24-hour day: 8-hours of eating, 16-hour of no eating.
- Physical exertion encouraged (mostly heavy multi-joint resistance training)
- Supplementation was recommended to help break the fast (BCAA’s, etc)
As great as LeanGains information was, it lacked direction, was heavy with science and lacked “the plan” so to speak. No offense to Martin, but his blog is essentially a collection of years of his own trial-and-error with intermittent fasting on himself, some of his clients and translations of research on the topic.
LeanGains provides great info, just lacks a clean action plan.
Investigating further, I read “Eat Stop Eat” by Brad Pilon. Brad is a former big food industry researcher. His background in the food industry was a little hard to believe, considering his book was advocating people to step away from food. Ha.
“Eat Stop Eat” turned out to be the book that made me cave.
Why did I resist Intermittent Fasting for several months?
If you thought this was going to turn into the feel-good success story, nope. I’m stubborn as hell when it comes to change, especially with things I feel like I’ve invested time into getting right. My previous personal nutritional habits was one thing I felt I was doing right.
You have to remember, for the previous 5-8 years, I had subscribed to the “eat 2-3 meals per day with snacks in between each meal”.
“Keep the metabolism firing”. Right?
I was hardcore into this approach, unwavering.
Reflecting back, this pattern of eating had many flaws:
- I needed a luggage bag for all of my on-the-go meals and snacks (inconvenient).
- Post-meal mental fogginess.
- Overwhelming meal planning (eating six times per day requires a lot of planning).
I never minded bringing extra Tupperware containers work. The problem was the AMOUNT of Tupperware, and the food inside of the Tupperware occasionally needed cold storage to avoid spoiling, which wasn’t always available.
Regarding mental fogginess. I’d satisfy my hunger by eating followed by very predictable mental crash 15-20 minutes later. The most frustrating thing was the crash. I wanted… no, needed, clear mental performance.
Meal planning what you’re going to eat six times per day sucks. I became very efficient at the planning, but it didn’t ever not suck while I was doing it… know what I mean? I pushed through because I was committed to staying disciplined.
On top of that was the macronutrient mathematics. Subscribing to 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, I was constantly stressing about getting enough protein at each sitting.
Regardless of approach, here are some frequently asked questions about Intermittent Fasting…
What food/drink is allowed during the fasting period?
Coffee, tea, water and other non-caloric beverages are generally approved to be consumed during the fasting period.
In most cases, I think sticking to just coffee, tea and water is best.
The minute a person sneaks a calorie in here and there, the floodgates can open. Just avoid calories during the fast altogether, it will help you stay focused.
How to make periods of fasting easier?
Seriously. Go deeper within yourself ask the simple question of, “How bad is it really?”
Another helpful tip when trying something new is having some anticipation on what to expect. If you’ve rarely fasted beyond hours spent sleeping, be prepared for hunger pains.
Again, expect to be hungry.
To sugar coat it less, Intermittent Fasting is a choice. If you can’t handle what comes with it, move on to something else. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
I can tell you this from experience: If you can grind your way through the first 10-14 days of trying intermittent fasting, you’ll be just fine.
For many people, coffee and water can help to supress appetite and keep hunger pains at bay.
Look past the superficial hunger pains, don’t let them control your mind. Instead, look forward to the increase in mental clarity many people find during periods of fasting. I sure did.
Since there are many different methods of intermittent fasting, consider less aggressive methods where the fast is not so long. Work up to it.
Nutrition can, and often does, drive a person insane. Way more than exercise in my opinion.
There are great winds of changes with regard to nutrition. The research is pumped out at an extremely high frequency, the prescription about what is “best” is conflicting and confusing.
Personally, I think the promotion of not eating (aka: fasting) has been slow to gain popularity because the food industry doesn’t want people to reduce eating. A reduction in eating means a reduction in revenue, plain and simple.
What business is ok taking a massive hit to their revenue? None I’m aware of.
So recommending people to eat less is not something big food business wants on billboards, TV commercials or internet advertisements.
Exercise, from my vantage point, is pretty clear cut. Incorporate resistance training, cardio, stretching and mobility, rest when needed and aim to use daily workouts to make progress over the long-term.
Want to get stronger? Lift weights (mostly free weights or progressive body weight) and try to increase the amount of weight lifted over time.
Want to improve cardio endurance? Do cardio. Include short burst high-intensity intervals (10sec-3min), mid-range intervals (5-15 minutes) and long slow aerobic cardio here and there.
Ok, off the topic of exercise, back to intermittent fasting.