Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a type of scheduled eating plan where you adjust your normal daily eating period to a select hours-long window of time without cutting calories. Throughout history, fasting is a commonplace practice and has been a spiritual tradition for millennia. Today, modern science has proven that fasting yields many benefits. I am sure many of you have heard of Intermittent Fasting, and probably some of you have not.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
- Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a pattern of eating that alternates between pre-determined and strategically-timed periods of fasting and non-fasting.
- Intermittent Fasting is an alternative to continuous caloric restriction. The goal is not to ‘restrict’ calories. However, in ‘some’ cases, the overall intake of calories is less. We will get into more of that, later. The focus of IF is on when to eat; not what to eat.
- Timing of meals optimizes how our bodies were evolved to metabolize nutrients.
Many people confuse Intermittent Fasting with a calorie restricted diet. It’s important to know that although weight loss does sometimes occur as a result of practicing Intermittent Fasting, it is NOT a diet. If you are going into it with that mindset, be cautious. However, if you have the mindset of improving your health, you will probably breeze right through practicing Intermittent Fasting. A number of studies have shown that both caloric restriction and its variant, Intermittent Fasting, have resulted in a number of positive health benefits. These include:
- Reduction in Blood Pressure
- Reduction of Blood lips (blood fats)
- Reduction in inflammation and suppresses free radical damage
Although there are benefits to calorie restricting, there are just as many … if not more, negatives. The purpose of this blog post is to inform you of Intermittent Fasting. But in order to make you understand it more, calorie restriction has to be touched upon and compared.
Other Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Helps promote insulin sensitivity – optimal insulin sensitivity is crucial for your health, as insulin resistance or poor insulin sensitivity contributes to nearly all chronic diseases
- Increased production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which has an important role in health, fitness, and slowing the aging process
- Increased Metabolic Rate
- Normalizes ghrelin levels, also know as your ‘hunger hormone’
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Gives your Digestive System a break
- Stabilizes hormone levels
In addition, exercising in a fasted state can help counteract muscle aging and wasting, and boost fat-burning.
These benefits are where you see a difference between caloric restriction and Intermittent Fasting. With caloric restriction, in the long run, individuals have a decrease in their basal metabolic rate. That is why you frequently will see that when someone is on a ‘diet’, in the long run they end up putting on more weight. What occurs is they put their body in a state of calorie deprivation and as a result, their metabolism suffers. This stunts a person’s ability to efficiently burn fat and lose weight. I don’t ever advise caloric restriction or a starvation diet as a method used for weight loss. On the other hand, it goes without saying that most people’s intake of calories is enough to feed an entire family. You can look around and clearly see that. So do I think most people need to cut back on their calories? Absolutely!
Other Improvements to Intermittent Fasting
- Better control of appetite – This occurs largely as a result of the fact that we get better at distinguishing between physiologic hunger from psychologic craving. As we begin practicing IF, we tune in to the subtle cues in our body that tell us we should eat, and with some mindfulness applied, we can begin to weed out what psychological craving is from a genuine signal of hunger. Practicing Intermittent Fasting over the long run can really help you become more tuned in to your body and what it is trying to communicate to you.
- Improves blood sugar (blood glucose) – This causes more efficient energy utilization and efficiency in glucose uptake.
- Neurogenesis (brain health) – Any time we subject our brains to any sort of stress, whether a stress induced by hunger or a psychological stress, our brains respond in a positive manner by the production of certain growth factors. Just like putting stress to your muscles during a workout can induce growth, so too can fasting induce a slight stress to the brain that encourages the production of new connections among existing neurons.
There are different variations of Intermittent Fasting ranging anywhere from 16 hours (male) and 18 hours (female) all the way up to 36 hours. To receive all the benefits of IF, it is important to do at least the minimum amount of time. In this post, we are going to focus on the 16/18 hour fast. This fast includes a 6-8 hour eating window. Here is a better look:
- Male – 16 hour fast with a 8 hour eating window
- Female – 18 hour fast with a 6 hour eating window (This is the method that I choose)
What this means: After eating your last meal of the day, you will go 16-male/18-female hours with no caloric intake. Once your fast is over (break your fast), you will eat your first meal. From there, you have 8-male/6-female hours to get all your meals in for that day. At this point you are either done, or if you are doing consecutive days of Intermittent Fasting, the process begins again.
The 5 Golden Rules of Intermittent Fasting
1. Stick to your Fast time (16-male/18-female) – It’s really not a fast if you are doing anything less than 12 hours, but 16-18 is ideal.
2. Don’t eat anything – You can have water, black coffee (hold the cream), herbal tea, lemon water, fiber – Psyllium husk (Metamucil) or Methylcellulose (Citrucel), and for some .. branched-chain amino acids, which you can purchase through me, here. Not all individuals that fast, include BCAA’s. Some believe that may break your fast. The important thing is to understand that with Intermittent Fasting, no caloric intake other than these form of nutrients, should be taken in.
3. Workout – If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck, still plan on getting your workout in. One of the biggest advantages of IF, is the substantial opportunity to put your body in a fat burning state. You’re already putting the work in by doing the fast, why not go after the whole gamut?
4. Don’t BINGE eat during your eating window – Remember at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that the focus of Intermittent Fasting is when to eat, not what to eat. I highly recommend you stick to a nutrient rich diet; heavy on proteins and fats during your eating window. If you feel you are going to binge during your eating window, you probably are not ready to incorporate Intermittent Fasting into your health regime. You can always come back and revisit the option later on. I will talk a little more about food options, later. Avoid scarfing your food down. Practice mindfulness. I like the saying, “Eat until you’re satisfied, not until you’re full.”
5. Drink tons of water – Keep water with you all day long. This is when I am going to tell you to drink MORE than half your bodyweight in ounces. Let your urine be your guide. Your pee should be clear. Not taking in enough water is one of the biggest mistakes people make when fasting. Get it in!!! And get more in!!!
What to Eat During an Eating Window
This is not an area to overanalyze. You should be able to continue a normal social lifestyle while intermittent fasting. If you have an event to go to, where you will be eating on the days that you are doing your fast, plan your eating window accordingly. Intermittent Fasting is not tough and will not disrupt your lifestyle unless you make it that way. Trust me! I’ve done it enough to know. Most people still take in the same amount of food and calories that they do on any given day. They just make their meal portions bigger. Again, Intermittent fasting is more about when to eat, than what to eat. So don’t get concerned with thinking you are going to go hungry. On the other hand, I generally take in less calories when I am Intermittent Fasting, because I don’t generally up my portions. Do what works for you and don’t over-think it. I encourage you to play around with your own IF and see what works best for you. Important thing is, don’t deviate from the ‘5 Golden Rules’.
There are some foods, however, that can be beneficial while doing an IF. Studies have shown that a diet that has a higher percentage of certain macronutrients encourages the best results.
We know that macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. There are many different types of eating patterns and styles of eating out there. I have mentioned in the past that I do not put too much emphasis on a particular way of eating, but if I had to say what my eating preferences most mimic, it would be the Mediterranean Diet. That is good news for Intermittent Fasting, as studies have shown that diets higher in fats and protein, and lower in carbohydrates, give the best result in body composition when consumed during the feeding window of Intermittent Fasting. The Infograph above is a perfect example of optimal eating while Intermittent Fasting.
Sidenote: If you plan on doing a workout on the days that you are doing an IF, I don’t recommend you eat a low carb diet as your final meal going into your fast, especially your first day. It is very difficult to have a workout routine on a low-carb diet. You will need to utilize those carbs for the following day’s workout. However, when choosing what you are going to eat during this meal, refer back up to rule #4 in the Golden Rules – as always, practice mindfulness!
Exercise and Weight Loss
If you don’t already know this, let it sink in now – In the long-run, exercise (alone) is NOT effective for long-term weight management. A couple other things to recognize when it comes to exercise is that it can actually increase your appetite to where you are eating more. It also can make your overall daytime activity be less. In other words, don’t over-do your exercise to try to compensate for a bad diet. It generally will backfire. Trust me, I know. Been there, done that. It also can increase the stress hormone, cortisol. That equates to fat-storage.
On the other hand, you should be moving your body, and often. Find your happy place and stick with it. But let’s take a look at exercise during your practice of Intermittent Fasting. If fat burning and changing your overall body composition is your desire, I encourage you to continue exercising while doing your IF’s. Again, don’t over-complicate matters. Life is complicated enough. I have played around with different strategies when it comes to IF. What i have also found is that you will hear something different from everyone and every article you read on Intermittent Fasting. Again, as you incorporate IF into your regime, play around what is most conducive for you. There is no ‘one size fits all’. That being said, here are some options:
- Leisurely walks – 30 to 60 minutes, per day. Ideally, you would do this in the evening. Let’s say you have your last meal of the day. Shortly after, doing a nice walk has its benefits and I strongly encourage it.
- Resistance-Training with or without cardio or HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) – Now this can have an important role, when doing an IF .. especially if you are looking to burn stored fat and increasing the production of HGH. One of the beauties of doing resistance-training or HIIT during a fasted state is it preserves muscle mass during periods of caloric restriction, which is where you will be at the end of your fast. This encourages improvements in lean body mass, which results in a change in body composition.
I have been doing High-Intensity Interval Training for years and it has done great wonders to improve my overall fitness level. At present, there are a growing number of studies showing that HIIT exercise, combined with Intermittent Fasting is an ideal strategy to increase your fitness level.
The Best Time to Exercise
This is where it gets challenging, and the ideal time may not work for you. Ideally, you would do your Resistance Training workout or HIIT exercise right before you end your fast. If you can, plan your 16 or 18 hour fast and your feeding window to where you can make this possible … again, this puts you in the best scenario. If you are doing this intense workout hours before you end your fast, you could put yourself at risk of burning some muscle mass and/or becoming too weak and hungry. Play with it, and see what works for you. Nobody else can determine what will work best for you. I myself, don’t worry too much about this. I still continue my workout routine and sometimes the timing works, other times it doesn’t, and I still have to wait it out for a few hours before I can eat. Other times, I don’t get a workout in, at all. I’m going to stress again, don’t over-analyze it. Life is not predictable and always in our favor. This scenario that I am presenting is the ‘ideal’, only … not the end all.
A recent blog post worth reading, here
A video worth watching, here
The 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Intermittent Fasting (video): here
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, nor am I registered dietitian. The opinions expressed in this blog post reflect my personal experience and ongoing investigations into functional conditions related to everyday health and nutrition.