If you take a look at my weigh ins over the past few months, you will see that I stayed within an 8-10 lb range. This plateau has been plaguing me from the end of the Spring until now. Over the last two months, I had been reading a lot about intermittent fasting, and doing a fair amount of research to see if it would be right for me.
During that time, I came across a number of well-respected people in the fitness, nutrition, and medical fields who wrote extensively about the benefits of intermittent fasting (especially for fat burning). So I decided to give it a try for a month or so to see how it would work out for me.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is essentially a way to focus on the timing of your meals, as well as when not to eat.
Intermittent fasting calls for you to fast for a large part of the day, and then to eat all of your allotted calories within a specific window.
For me, I use a 16/8 split. I fast for a 16 hour period, and then I eat for the next 8 hours, usually having two meals and a snack or possibly three meals. For me, I have my first meal at around 12 noon (or sometimes as late as 1 or 2pm depending on how I feel and how my day is going), and my last meal before 8pm. Then I fast for the next 16 hours, and my eating window opens up at 12 noon the next day.
The first thing you will probably notice is that a good amount of my fasting is done while I am sleep. Since that is true of every person, the idea of intermittent fasting shouldn’t sound so outrageous to many of you. For many people, it just a matter of skipping breakfast and nothing more.
Since I wake up so early in the morning (4:30 am), it is more of a big deal for me. I am fasting for about 8 hours after I wake up each day. However, after trying this out for a couple of weeks, I have only had about 2 days where I actually became hungry or weak before 12 noon – and I made sure to eat something both times when that happened.
Since this is about making a change in how I eat and fuel my body, and not just a fad diet, I didn’t have a problem with breaking the fast 30 to 60 minutes earlier.
Intermittent Fasting Is Not A Fad Diet
I’ve only told a couple of people about the change in my diet, and the responses have been exactly what I expected. Everyone has asked, “how long will you have to do that?”, as if it’s some type of diet or program that I’m on.
Instead, it is just a different way to time your meals. There are various people who have done research on the body and nutrition and have come up with different systems of intermittent fasting, which I will mention below.
For now it is enough to say that if I feel that this works well for my body, I will continue with it indefinitely! There seems to be a lot of research into how the body reacts to fasting, and how even brief and/or intermittent fasts can be extremely beneficial to your long-term health.
Popular Types Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent Fasting For Weight Loss
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola…
One of the mechanisms that makes fasting so effective for weight loss is the fact that it provokes the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), which is a fat-burning hormone. It also plays an important role in muscle building. Fasting also increases catecholamines, which increases resting energy expenditure, while decreasing insulin levels, which allows stored fat to be burned for fuel. Together, these and other factors will turn you into an effective fat-burning machine.
Alternate Day Fasting – This is where you fast for one day and then eat for the next. Taking sleep times into account, you can end up fasting for as much as 36 hours, and then feeding for 12. Here is a study on the effectiveness of alternate day fasting on non-obese adults.
Modified Alternate Day Fasting – This is where you consume 25% of your energy needs on the fast day, and then eat what you want on the next day. Here is a study on the effectiveness of modified alternate day fasting on obese adults.
Intermittent Fasting For Athletes And Consistent Exercisers
These protocols are for those who are trying to both burn fat and keep/gain muscle.
Eat Stop Eat – This is a protocol created by Brad Pilon, where he calls for you to have a 24-hour fast once or twice a week.
The Warrior Diet – This is where you fast for 20 hours, and then feast for 4. During the fasting period, you are allowed to eat raw vegetables if you have to eat something.
Lean Gains – This is the system that I am currently following. It was developed by Martin Berkhan. He provides a number of alternative suggestions based on your training schedule and your social life. The typical plan calls for 16 hours of fasting followed by 8 hours of feeding.
The Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting For Overall Health
The idea of fasting does not only have benefits for those who are trying to lose weight or burn fat, but also for our general health.
Here are several reasons listed by Dr. Mercola from the same article:
- Normalizing your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance (which is what you get when your insulin sensitivity plummets) is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer
- Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as “the hunger hormone”
- Promoting human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process
- Lowering triglyceride levels
- Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage
As you can see, there are a lot of health benefits to fasting that go far beyond weight loss.
The one that surprised me the most is the normalization of ghrelin levels. We are constantly told that having 5-7 small meals each day is the way to be healthy. The common thinking is that small, frequent meals will speed up your metabolism and suppress hunger. However, we see that the “hunger hormone” actually becomes more “stable” with fasting.
Now I’m not saying that everyone is wrong for saying that eating 6 small meals is the key to fighting hunger, but I am saying that it’s clearly not the only way. I feel fine during the first 8 hours of my day when I am fasting. To be honest, I felt hunger pains a lot more when I was eating 6 times a day!
Exercise Caution With Fasting
People who are hypoglycemic, diabetic, or pregnant will either have to take extra precautions when fasting or avoid it altogether. At the very least, you should discuss this with your doctor.
Eat Whatever You Want?
The thing to remember with IF is that it is not a gimmick or a magic elixir. What I mean is that you can’t expect to eat whatever/however you want, and as long as you do it within an 8-hour period, you’ll be healthy.
You still have to pay attention to exactly what you are putting into your body, and to getting proper exercise. That means that if you should have 1,800 calories per day in order to meet your health goals under a normal eating pattern, you should still seek to have those 1,800 calories each day with IF – you just have 8 hours in which to do it.
Not Eating Enough?
This is the same principle as stated above: With intermittent fasting, you still have to focus on what you are eating. Now that you only have an 8-hour window in which to eat, you have to be careful that you don’t eat too few calories because you aren’t used to eating 700 or more calories in each meal.
I actually had a day where I only ate 731 calories, and I wasn’t hungry at all. This is not ideal.
My Initial Thoughts On Intermittent Fasting
It has been fairly easy to begin the day with an 8-hour fast. I never eat or drink before my workouts or runs, and I usually only have a protein drink afterwards (which I still do now), so performing a fasted workout is no problem for me. Actually, the Lean Gains system has several suggestions for those who feel that their workouts suffer too much if they are in a fasting state.
What I like about intermittent fasting is that since it is a way of life, it isn’t a big deal if I’m not able to be precise with every step on a particular day. If you need to eat an hour earlier than you usually do, it really doesn’t pose a problem. Just shift your feeding window back one hour. This is about overall changes and reactions in your body over time, and it is not some ridged system that only yields results after perfect adherence.
I have a large amount of energy during the day, and I don’t believe that I have suffered physically at all. I have broken through my plateau, and I feel as though my body is burning fat like it was in the beginning of my weight loss journey!
Since I have not felt any negative effects from doing intermittent fasting, my body seems to be doing well so far, and there is actual research demonstrating the benefits, I plan to continue eating this way for the near future.
photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net
© 2012, Khaleef “Fat Guy” Crumbley. All rights reserved.