THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO INTERMITTENT FASTING
I have been intermittent fasting (IF) for coming up to a year now. As with lots of things I do, I sort of stumbled upon IF by accident.
Last year we were travelling through Morocco during Ramadan, it was absolutely boiling and I wondered how people were coping with not eating or drinking until sunset. In a bid to immerse myself in everyday Moroccan life, I decided to fast for a full day to see what it was like and I was pleasantly surprised at how it went. I didn’t miss food as much as I was expecting, by the end of the day I was ready to have some water but that was honestly the hardest part.
I had heard of IF prior to doing this but had never considered it because I thought I was a ‘breakfast person’. However fasting for the day showed me that I didn’t need food first thing in order to feel normal! I decided to try it a few times and since then I have done it pretty consistently. Some mornings I wake up and I am hungry so I will have breakfast but most mornings I just have water and a black coffee then go straight to lunch. I then have a snack around 4pm and then supper around 7pm. I fast for 16 hours until I start eating again the next day at 1pm.
There are so many benefits of intermittent fasting. Since I’ve started IF, I’ve saved time preparing breakfast, felt hungry less often, lost weight and cut my time working out.
What is Intermittent Fasting and Why Would You Do It?
Intermittent fasting is not a diet, it’s a pattern of eating. It’s a way of scheduling your meals so that you get the most out of them. Intermittent fasting doesn’t change what you eat, it changes when you eat. Most of the time you’ll try to keep your calories the same when you start intermittent fasting. (ie. eat bigger meals during a shorter time frame. It’s a great way to get lean because it requires very little behaviour change, it falls into the category of “simple enough that you’ll actually do it, but meaningful enough that it will actually make a difference.”
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
To understand how intermittent fasting leads to fat loss we first need to understand the difference between the fed state and the fasted state.
Your body is in the fed state when it is digesting and absorbing food. Typically, the fed state starts when you begin eating and lasts for three to five hours as your body digests and absorbs the food you just ate. When you are in the fed state, it’s very hard for your body to burn fat because your insulin levels are high.
After the fed state, your body goes into what is known as the post–absorptive state, which is just a fancy way of saying that your body isn’t processing a meal. The post–absorptive state lasts until 8 to 12 hours after your last meal, which is when you enter the fasted state. It is much easier for you body to burn fat in the fasted state because your insulin levels are low.
When you’re in the fasted state your body can burn fat that has been inaccessible during the fed state.
Because we don’t enter the fasted state until 12 hours after our last meal, it’s rare that our bodies are in this fat burning state. This is one of the reasons why many people who start intermittent fasting will lose fat without changing what they eat, how much they eat, or how often they exercise. Fasting puts your body in a fat burning state that you rarely make it to during a normal eating schedule.
Why Is Intermittent Fasting Better Than A Diet?
The reason most diets fail isn’t because we switch to the wrong foods, it’s because we don’t actually follow the diet over the long term. It’s not a nutrition problem, it’s a behaviour change problem.
This is where intermittent fasting shines because it’s remarkably easy to implement once you get over the idea that you need to eat all the time. For example, this study found that intermittent fasting was an effective strategy for weight loss in obese adults and concluded that “subjects quickly adapt” to an intermittent fasting routine.
I like the quote below from Dr. Michael Eades, who has tried intermittent fasting himself, on the difference between trying a diet and trying intermittent fasting.
“Diets are easy in the contemplation, difficult in the execution. Intermittent fasting is just the opposite- it’s difficult in the contemplation but easy in the execution.
Most of us have contemplated going on a diet. When we find a diet that appeals to us, it seems as if it will be a breeze to do. But when we get into the nitty gritty of it, it becomes tough. For example, I stay on a low-carb diet almost all the time. But if I think about going on a low-fat diet, it looks easy. I think about bagels, whole wheat bread and jelly, mashed potatoes, corn, bananas by the dozen, etc.- all of which sound appealing. But were I to embark on such a low–fat diet I would soon tire of it and wish I could have meat and eggs. So a diet is easy in contemplation, but not so easy in the long-term execution.
Intermittent fasting is hard in the contemplation, of that there is no doubt. “You go without food for 24 hours?” people would ask, incredulously when we explained what we were doing. “I could never do that.” But once started, it’s a snap. No worries about what and where to eat for one or two out of the three meals per day. It’s a great liberation. Your food expenditures plummet. And you’re not particularly hungry.… Although it’s tough to overcome the idea of going without food, once you begin the regimen, nothing could be easier.”
– Dr. Michael Eades
Why Doesn’t Everybody Fast?
Fasting seems foreign to many of us simply because nobody talks about it that much. The reason for this is that nobody stands to make much money by telling you to not eat their products, not take their supplements, or not buy their goods. In other words, fasting isn’t a very marketable topic and so you’re not exposed to advertising and marketing on it very often. The result is that it seems somewhat extreme or strange, even though its really not. In fact you probably do it more than you realise, even though you don’t know it. Have you ever slept in late on the weekends and then had brunch? Some people do this every weekend. In situations like these, we often eat dinner the night before and then don’t eat until 11am or noon. There’s your 16–hour fast and you didn’t even think about it.
Intermittent fasting provides a wide range of health benefits without requiring a massive lifestyle change so would highly recommend everyone giving it a go to see how they get on.
If you’re considering giving fasting a shot, there are a few different options for working it into your lifestyle.
Daily Intermittent Fasting (My Preference!)
The Leangains model uses a 16-hour fast followed by an 8–hour eating period. This model of daily intermittent fasting was popularized by Martin Berkhan of Leangains.com, which is where the name originated.
It doesn’t matter when you start your 8-hour eating period. You can start at 8am and stop at 4pm. Or you start at 2pm and stop at 10pm. Do whatever works for you. I tend to find that eating around 1pm and 8pm works well because those times allow me to eat lunch and dinner with friends and family. Breakfast is typically a meal that I eat on my own, so skipping it isn’t a big deal.
Because daily intermittent fasting is done every day it becomes very easy to get into the habit of eating on this schedule. Right now, you’re probably eating around the same time every day without thinking about it. Well, with daily intermittent fasting it’s the same thing, you just learn to not eat at certain times, which is remarkably easy.
One potential disadvantage of this schedule (which admittedly hasn’t been a problem for me!!) is that because you typically cut out a meal or two out of your day, it becomes more difficult to get the same number of calories in during the week. Put simply, it’s tough to teach yourself to eat bigger meals on a consistent basis. The result is that many people who try this style of intermittent fasting end up losing weight. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your goals.
Weekly Intermittent Fasting
One of the best ways to get started with intermittent fasting is to do it once per week or once per month. The occasional fast has been shown to lead to many of the benefits of fasting we’ve already talked about, so even if you don’t use it to cut down on calories consistently there are still many other health benefits of fasting.
I’ve not done a 24-hour fast yet but there are a wide range of variations and options for making it work into your schedule. For example, a long day of travel or the day after a big weekend are often great times to try a 24-hour fast.
Alternate Day Intermittent Fasting
Alternate day intermittent fasting incorporates longer fasting periods on alternating days throughout the week.
For example, you would eat dinner on Monday night and then not eat again until Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, however, you would eat all day and then start the 24–hour fasting cycle again after dinner on Wednesday evening. This allows you to get long fast periods on a consistent basis while also eating at least one meal every day of the week.
The benefit of alternate day intermittent fasting is that it gives you longer time in the fasted state than the Leangains style of fasting. Hypothetically, this would increase the benefits of fasting. In practice, however, I would be concerned about not eating enough over the week.
That’s intermittent fasting in a nutshell, if you have a go let me know how you get on!
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