So you’ve tried a bunch of different fad diets. You’ve gone Atkins, Paleo, Belly Fat Cure, Zone…maybe even Jenny Craig. On some you lose weight, on some you don’t. Despite the diet, there remains a common theme; you either don’t achieve the weight loss you expected or the rigorous demands of the diet become too much to handle on a daily basis, you fall off the wagon, and all the lost weight comes right back. Could anything be more disheartening? First off, don’t worry, you’re not alone…this is what happens when 95% of people start a fad diet.
What you (and everyone) should be looking for is a lifestyle modification. By modifying your lifestyle you will permanently modify your weight and health. You’re not looking for a diet, you’re simply looking for a new way of eating and living. You want to eat healthier foods, simplify your life, spend less money at the grocery store, and maximize your health. “Diets” are not the way to go about this and only lead to an endless cycle of success and failure. End the cycle and end your weight roller coaster forever.
It’s time to take a look at a new approach. This new approach is called intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that alternates between periods of fasting (water consumption only) and non-fasting. While there are several variations of intermittent fasting which we’ll get into later, the general idea is to take a 16-24 hour fast every 2-5 days.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Before we delve into the benefits of intermittent fasting, I encourage you to read each of the studies sourced in this article. Studies are taken from credible university sources, the National Institute of Health, and other federally funded health organizations.
- Alternate day fasting leads to weight loss (1). Subjects on an every other day fast realized ~4% body fat loss over a 22-day period. Intermittent fasting is a healthy and easy to follow approach that results in fat loss.
- Dozens of studies have demonstrated the benefits of intermittent fasting on lifespan (2). By reducing your total caloric intake, you will likely be able to increase your lifespan and reach your maximum potential. Additionally, studies are suggesting reduced caloric intake can reduce your risks for developing a variety of age-related conditions, both biological and pathological (3). In other words, studies are suggesting intermittent fasting slows down the aging process and the development of illness such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
- Easier “diet” to stick to. The obese (people who need the most help and often face the biggest difficulties with diets) were able to quickly adapt to intermittent fasting at a much higher rate than more traditional fad diets (4). Because intermittent fasting is more of a lifestyle change than a “diet”, it makes sense that it becomes something more easily incorporated into one’s life.
These are just some of the major benefits of intermittent fasting. Other less measurable benefits are often experienced by intermittent fasters. First off, you are no longer a slave to your hunger. Every day does not revolve around feeding yourself. Days off are a chance for you to reset your mind and body and turn your focus to other things besides eating. Many people report increased mental clarity after several weeks of living the intermittent fasting lifestyle. Additionally, after periods of fast, you don’t have to sweat every little calorie you take in. Having that slice of cake isn’t going to impact your weight quite the same way. This isn’t to say intermittent fasting is a license to gorge yourself on non-fast days, but it does make it a little easier to get away with a treat every now and then.
A Word For the Nay-Sayers…
Nay-sayers will often call intermittent fasting a step above anorexia. Some will even conclude that intermittent fasting is responsible for the development of eating disorders. Personally I believe this to be nonsense, as do a host of studies on the matter (5). Reduced calorie diets have not been shown to increase the likelihood of eating disorders and it should not be assumed that this is a risk factor of living the intermittent fasting lifestyle.
How many times have you been told by a personal trainer or diet “expert” that having 5-6 small meals a day is the best way to keep metabolism high? Studies have demonstrated meal frequency over a 24-36 hour period has little to no effect on metabolism (6). Don’t feel your metabolism and fat burn potential will take a hit with intermittent fasting. As we saw above, intermittent fasting often as a positive impact on weight loss and total fat burn in individuals.
Variations of Intermittent Fasting
There are several variations of intermittent fasting. Some take a 19/5 approach, i.e. 19 hour fast/5 hour eating period. Some use 20/4. Others use 24 hour alternate day fasting. Some say fast every 3-4 days, others less often. At the end of the day, like most things health and fitness related, there is no exact science. Play around with eating frequency and schedule, and find what works best for you. After a few weeks you should have a pretty good idea of the intermittent fast variation that is best for you and your goals.
How Intermittent Fasting Works With Exercise
For those of you on some of our weight loss plans or other general fitness plans, you may be wondering how this type of eating will affect your performance. Again, everyone is different and it’s impossible to give blanket advice. Personally, I’ll take a cup of coffee before I go to the gym on fasting days. This gives me the boost I need to finish the workout. I’ve heard of other people eating a banana just before exercise on fasting days. If this works for you, then roll with it. “Fast” doesn’t have to mean NOTHING at all, if you feel you need a boost before going to the gym. The difference between 0 calories and 150 calories isn’t that big that you need to sweat something like a banana before working out.
So you want to get started? You’re probably wondering how to go about this. In my personal opinion, a good beginner approach would be to take a 20 hour fast every 3-4 days. At first you’re going to be “dying of hunger” and questioning your ability to continue. This will pass. After about 2-3 weeks on this schedule your body will adapt, your cravings will diminish, and fasting days will be easy. At this point, if you think you’d like to bump it up, try going for a full fast every other day or every 3rd day. Keep an eye on your weight loss and general health as you progress with your intermittent fasting.
A quick example of a fast schedule I use myself…
- Monday – Regular eating day.
- Tuesday – Regular eating day, last meal at 7pm.
- Wednesday – Fast until 7pm for a full 24 hour fast period.
- Thursday – Regular eating day.
- Friday – Regular eating day, last meal at 7pm.
- Saturday – Fast until 7pm for a full 24 hour fast period.
- Sunday – Regular eating day.
This is just one of a thousand ways to do things. This is what works for ME. I’m highly active and require less fasting days to make the progress I want to make. Your approach may be completely different than mine based on your energy needs and weight loss goals.
Keep in mind, it takes about 30 days of sticking to something before you are able to mentally turn it into a habit. Those first 30 days may be hard, it may seem like you won’t be able to continue this long-term. Ignore these thoughts and give it the full 30 days. Almost everyone has this feeling, but once past that 1 month barrier, the intermittent fasting lifestyle becomes a part of their life and reports of physical and mental benefits are quite common. If you’re weight has been on a roller coaster for as long as your can remember, or if you just want to start living a healthier more simple life, give intermittent fasting a look and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
- Photo courtesy of The Life Experimenter
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