Before I jump into telling you why I’m giving intermittent fasting a go, here’s 2 reasons why I have never given it a go in the past:
1. I love food. Neglecting food out of choice always sounded like an absurd idea.
2. Breakfast is probably my favourite meal of the day and that is the one that usually takes the hit.
Despite these two hiccups, I was extremely intrigued to give it a go considering it has had so many raving reviews. One that particular caught my eye was from Georges St-Pierre, the guy with the joint most wins in UFC history. In an interview with Joe Rogan he claimed that ‘he has never felt better in his life’ after starting intermittent fasting as well as sleeping better, having less inflammation in his body, building muscle and losing fat.
If it’s good enough for one of the best UFC fighters ever, it’s probably going to be good enough for me. There have been other guests on his podcast that are raving about intermittent fasting, you can check them all out below.
What is intermittent fasting?
The probable first bit of good news about intermittent fasting is that it isn’t a diet. Your eating habits don’t need to change, just when you eat does. That is why intermittent fasting is also known as time-restrictive eating.
It means you have a set feasting window where you consume all of your calories and another fasting window where you don’t consume any.
How do I do intermittent fasting?
There are a few ways that you can schedule your eating and fasting windows…
This is the most popular and the one that I have been using in recent weeks. The 16/8 method involves fasting for 16 hours while feasting for 8. For example eating within the 12pm – 7pm timeframe or from 11am – 6pm. The hours are flexible to your schedule, just get 8 hours of food and 16 hours of fast. This isn’t actually so difficult when you think about it since (hopefully) at least 8 of those hours you’ll be in a lovely deep sleep.
There are also hardcore variations that I have seen that skew the fast/feast ratio to 18/6 and even 20/4. While I may try one of those versions in the future just to see what’s they’re like, I can’t imagine they are very social-friendly and sare probably a bit too extreme if you value other areas of your life too. Each to their own I guess.
Below is an example chart of a 16/8 variation:
Image via: James Clear
24 Hour Method
The other popular method is the 24 hour method. Don’t worry though, this isn’t a 24 hour on and 24 hour off cycle. If that were the case I would probably be best avoided for half of the week.
The 24 hour method usually consists of your normal eating patterns throughout the week, except on one day you skip 2 meals. For example eating your dinner on a Wednesday night, then not eating again until Thursday evening. A 24 hour fast is pretty tough, so don’t be afraid to get some food in you after 18 or 20 hours if you are really feeling the struggle!
Why does intermittent fasting work?
When you eat a meal, your body starts processing that meal. This ready available energy from the food means that the body gets working with that straight away, rather than dipping into any fat stores you have. This is particularly true if you are eating a high sugar/carbohydrate meal as these are the body’s first choice source of energy.
If you haven’t eaten for a substantial period, the body no longer has that readily available energy, so is more likely to pull from its fat stores. Your body generally doesn’t start pulling energy from muscle mass until you enter fasts that are longer than 24 hours, so you don’t need to worry about that either.
When you eat food, the hormone insulin is produced as a sort of transporter of the nutrients and energy to cells. If you spend long periods without eating, you become more sensitive to insulin production and therefore the transportation is more efficient. If you are constantly eating high sugar/carb foods and/or snacking throughout the day, insulin levels always remain high and the body finds it very difficult to distribute efficiently. This results in fat gain and can lead to other health problems.
The benefits of intermittent fasting
There are a whole host of benefits that intermittent fasting brings that I have experienced first hand as well as other countless stories and feedback from people that I will also draw from.
It’s easier to follow than a diet
Most people have tried a certain diet in their lives from Paleo to Mediterranean to whatever the magazines are now claiming is the best. While diets can sometimes be fun to try out, they often fail for at least one of two reasons:
- They require a (often drastic) change in the foods that you already eat. Of course this can be done but usually only if done with small changes at a time and without beating yourself up every time you reach for a chocolate bar.
- We get sold something along the lines of ’30 day slimming diet’ or ’10 foods that will give you summer abs’. Not only are these adverts extremely generic and simplified compared to our complex lives, but they provide a time frame. In 30 days you are going to go from zero to hero but that requires you only chewing on carrots and neglecting every other part of your life. Is it worth it? Probably not.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t require a change in diet or a time frame. If you miss a day, don’t sweat it. It’s a long-term tool to use adn try out not a quick fix.
It recalibrates your relationship with food
I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m a slave to food.
There aren’t many moments when I’m not thinking about what I’m going to be having for my next meal or what to put in my belly. I’m not where I want to be yet but I’m getting better at it and it’s actually quite liberating. When you have specific feasting and fasting windows, you take control of your eating and it doesn’t control you. No longer is missing breakfast a travesty, but actually a biological and psychological advantage.
I now know I can miss a meal without collapsing into a ball of nothingness. And I’m better off for it.
Insulin sensitivity increases as does the level of growth hormone secretion
As we covered earlier, becoming more insulin sensitive promotes fat-loss and a healthier human machine. Intermittent fasting also promotes more growth hormones in the body which helps build and maintain muscle mass.
Losing weight is easy
In my opinion, a blessing as well as a curse. This is something that really stuck out to me personally when doing my research. I’m relatively new to this and as such haven’t seen any changes in my weight so far. However, it makes intuitive sense: when you eat less frequently you eat less overall. This is great news for anyone who is looking to shed some pounds but I’m already a fairly skinny guy and losing weight isn’t my primary goal. It’s for the health reasons mentioned above as well as my experimental side just wanting to give it a go. If you are like me, take this into consideration and try to eat sufficient amounts in your feasting window.
Some intermittent fasting resources
If you are looking to give this a go then I recommend you also do a bit of your own research. Here are a few places to point you in the right direction:
- An extensive guide over at Nerdfitness
- A ‘1 year later’ reflection over at JamesClear
- Academic work on insulin production in relation to weight loss
- IF you don’t care about academics, EVEN WOLVERINE USES INTERMITTENT FASTING!