What is intermittent fasting?
Each and every week there seems to be a shiny new health and fitness trend. You know what I’m talking about? That brand new exercise, amazing new way of eating, or incredible new superfood? Yep, the one that is going to boost health and “help you drop 10 kilos in as little as two week!”
Just to be clear – I am being a little bit sarcastic here.
Or very sarcastic here.
Anyhow – while most of us are going to be highly skeptical of these claims (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), it can make it a challenge to sort through all the misinformation and find something that actually works.
Like Intermittent Fasting for example.
As you are most likely aware, intermittent fasting is a way of eating that has gained a lot of attention over the last couples of years. It has been described as an ‘incredible way’ to both promote fat loss and improve health.
But is this really the case?
While these claims may seem rather lofty (I can hear your bullshit sensor going off from here…), there is evidence to suggest that it may assist in achieving both of these goals quickly and efficiently. When it’s implemented correctly, that is.
Now before we dive right into the rest of the article, I want to add a bit of a disclaimer. Intermittent fasting is not the be-all end-all of dietary interventions. It’s not going to do all the work for you – and it’s certainly not going to get you ‘shredded in weeks, brah’.
But it does offer a tool that can be used to help you boost health and promote weight loss.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
So, to put it pretty simply, intermittent fasting describes small periods of eating that are broken up by longer periods of not eating (or fasting).
While at first glance this may seem like a stupid concept, it is important to note that we all undertake a period of fasting during the night while we sleep. Overnight we obviously (and unavoidably) abstain from eating, and then break our fast with whatever we chose to eat upon waking.
Simple stuff really.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that the term ‘intermittent fasting’ actually covers a broad range of eating patterns. As a result, there are a number of different approaches to intermittent fasting that can be used.
Some intermittent fasting protocols recommend that you extend your overnight fasting period by a few hours, while others suggest that you should fast for days at a time. No matter what you choose to do, you are essentially trying to cause the same key outcomes.
Namely capitalizing on the hormonal changes that occur when the body is in a fasted state.
What are the ‘Real’ Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
As I have mentioned briefly, intermittent fasting has been said to both boost health and enhance weight loss – but like most things of this nature, some of its claims have been somewhat blown out of proportion.
With this in mind, I have compiled some of the research around intermittent fasting and its impact on the human body
So first and foremost, after a period of fasting, we see some key hormonal changes in the body:
The Hormonal Effects of Intermittent Fasting
Firstly, we see a decline in insulin secretion.
Insulin is often considered the ‘energy storage hormone’, as it causes the uptake of proteins, glucose, and fatty acids into the body’s cells. To describe it rather simplistically, when insulin levels are high, the body is in a state of storage.
Alternatively, when insulin levels are low, the body is suggested to have easier access to fatty acids for energy, which has been said to have some positive (albeit small) implications for fat loss.
Interestingly, a reduction in insulin secretion has also shown to reduce your risk of developing metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, and even age related cognitive decline.
So a few positives to consider.
Secondly, after a period of fasting, you also see a large spike in the secretion of human growth hormone.
Now this is important, because human growth hormone plays key role in the breakdown of fat for energy and the development of new muscle tissue. As a result, prolonging its natural secretion can have some positive implications for your body composition.
Namely, more muscle mass and less fat mass – although again, the impact here is relatively small.
Through the interactions of each of these factors, intermittent fasting has also been shown to cause small, yet measurable, increases in resting metabolic rate. This meas that you will be burning more energy at rest than you would be normally.
So, in short – Intermittent fasting can put your body in a state that makes it easier to lose weight and has potential metabolic health benefits.
Are There Any Other Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Now, while the hormonal impact of intermittent fasting is undoubtedly positive – particularly in regards to improving metabolic health – it certainly isn’t its biggest bonus in terms of weight loss.
In fact, I would argue that there is one very good reason as to why intermittent fasting can help you lose weight.
And it comes down to the fact that it makes you eat less.
I know – pretty damn clever, right?
By restricting the amount of food you eat during the day, you will eat less on a weekly basis (duh…).
This makes it much easier to maintain a weekly energy deficit, which will obviously lead to weight loss and some associated improvements in health.
What’s the Best Way to Do Intermittent Fasting?
As I have already mentioned briefly, there are a number of unique intermittent fasting protocols that you can use, however, I like to opt for a rather simple approach. This makes it not only easy to implement, but also much easier to stick to.
Regimented Intermittent Fasting
You see, some people recommend regimented and timed fasting protocols. With these, you can only eat between certain times during the day – for example, only eating between 1pm and 8pm every single day.
This is done to provide an eating regime, ensuring that you avoid food outside of these times and guaranteeing that a prolonged period of fasting is maintained.
However, while this does seem like a fairly logical approach, I believe that it does have some associated downfalls.
Firstly, this particular method is very restrictive. It offers absolutely zero flexibility on a day-by-day basis. This is important because in my mind, those diets (or in this case, eating patterns) that are most successful are those that are the easiest to stick to.
No flexibility = hard to stick to.
Secondly, these arbitrary and regimented eating windows don’t factor in the time you wake up, or the time that you go to bed. As a result, they are not really applicable to everyone at an individual level.
Easy Intermittent Fasting
So with all this in mind, it’s pretty obvious that the benefits of intermittent fasting come from spending time in a fasted state. This means a fast lasting anywhere between 12 and 18 hours will have the positive effects previously mentioned – no matter what time we start to fast each day.
As a result, if someone is interested in trying intermittent fasting, I recommend that they simply fast for around 5 or 6 hours after waking each day. This will work irrespective of whether they wake up at 5am, 8am, or even 10am.
This still provides more than enough time to get the positive effects of intermittent fasting (often still using around a 16 hour fast), without having to deal with the regimented time periods associated with our more traditional methods of fasting.
Simple and effective!
Intermittent Fasting Frequently Asked Questions
So you might find that while this seems well and good in theory, there are a few practicalities that need ironing out. Taking that into consideration, I have tried to answer some of the more common questions that people ask me when it comes to intermittent fasting.
What Can I Eat While I am Fasting?
So fasting essentially means abstaining from food in its entirety. As a result, during your fasting period, it is pretty much integral that you do not consume any calories.
This is because as soon as energy enters the body, we see hormonal changes that ultimately eliminate the positive effects that are associated with intermittent fasting.
But, it’s important to note that you don’t have to abstain from absolutely anything.
Zero calorie beverages, such as black coffee and green tea are fantastic options. While I must admit that they are not all that filling, they do actually have the ability to blunt hunger. This can make managing your fasting period much easier.
Can I Drink Liquids during the Fast?
Building on the above point, you can certainly consume liquids, but again, they have to be non-caloric. So again, black and green tea, black coffee, and water are all fine.
Although it might be worth avoiding the addition of sugar and milk to these…
Isn’t it unhealthy to skip breakfast?
This is a question that comes up pretty often, and I believe it’s based off of the age old suggestion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – to which I would argue that it probably isn’t.
You see, while there is some research to suggest that people who skip breakfast tend to be less healthy than their breakfast eating counterparts, this isn’t the whole story. It is more likely that most stereotypical breakfast skippers also have unhealthy lifestyles. So rather than them skipping breakfast causing their poor health, its the fact that their lifestyle cause poor health..
So in short, as long as you eat healthy meals the rest of the day, you will be fine!
When is it best to workout with intermittent fasting?
In an ideal world, you would exercise in between your first and second meal – so either early afternoon or evening. This would ensure that you have adequate energy available to support your training session. Additionally, it will also provide you with all the necessary nutrients you need to recover after that training session.
However, I realize that we can’t always do this (you know, because of life…) – which lends itself to our next question quite nicely.
Can I work out while fasted?
First and foremost, I should note that your body isn’t as fragile as some people suggest. With this, it’s certainly not going to spontaneously combust if you decide to exercise without eating anything beforehand.
Your body swill still be full to the brim with all the energy you consumed yesterday. So in the grand scheme of things, neither your performance nor your recovery will be limited.
I should note that while training fasted for 30-60 minutes will be fine, running an ultramarathon fasted is probably not the best idea…
Isn’t fasting bad for my metabolism?
The short answer to this one is no.
The suggestion that not eating will cause your metabolism to slow down is based on evidence showing a small increase in energy usage eating. This acute increase in energy expenditure is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). TEF ultimately refers to the energy required to break down and digest the food that you have just consumed.
The assumption is that if you eat more often, you will cause acute increases in your metabolism more frequently, and burn more energy as a result.
But TEF doesn’t work like that.
TEF is determined by your total daily energy intake (and often sits between 10-20% of the food you eat). So it doesn’t matter whether you eat 6 small meals totaling 2000 calories, or one large meal totaling 2000 calories. As long as the macronutrient profile of that food remains the same, so will your TEF.
So no, fasting isn’t bad or your metabolism in any way, shape, or form.
Can I Eat Anything I Want During My Eating Window?
A common misconception that sits around fasting relates to the suggestion that you can eat anything you want. Which i can assure you is not true,
Even despite the benefits associated with intermittent fasting, you can still overeat during your fasting window. This can essentially render any of those possible benefits completely useless, leading to weight gain and declines in health.
So with all this in mind, it is in your best interest to eat a normal healthy diet during your eating period. This means that you will still get in all your essential vitamins and minerals, but with less energy on a daily basis,
Does it get easier?
And finally, one question that comes up quite a bit is ‘how do I deal with my hunger pains?’ And to be completely honest, it does get easier after a week or so. In fact, it probably gets easier after only a few days.
Often we eat out of routine – not out of necessity.
With that in mind, the hunger signals you receive in the morning are only there because you haven’t eaten at a time when you normally would. After an hour or so they will dissipate completely, and you can carry on with your day as normal.
So yes – it should get much easier.
Take Home Message
Intermittent fasting isn’t going to save the worlds obesity crisis, cure diabetes, or eliminate cancer. But it does offer a useful tool that can be implemented to help facilitate weight loss and improve metabolic health.
It also doesn’t have to be complex.
The intermittent fasting protocol outlined in this article offers a simple and effective way to fit this unique way of eating around your own individual schedule, This makes it less restrictive and more effective as a result.
If you have any questions, drop a comment down below and I’ll get back to you ASAP!