It is a very popular and highly controversial way of dieting at the same time. Intermittent Fasting or IF, is a diet protocol that promises fat loss and muscle hypertrophy with the fastest results.
Reality or fantasy?
Too much stuff have been written about it and nowadays almost everyone in the fitness industry is advocating intermittent fasting.
So without further ado, let’s see what’s true and what’s not, and how YOU could benefit from intermittent fasting.
What is Intermittent fasting
It is a way of structuring your meal times during the day.
More specifically it proposes fasting, or “not eating“, for quite some time, and then feed your body on a window of time.
That is the very general overview, just to get the hang of it.
There are many approaches to intermittent fasting, but it all comes down to…
Oh, I am not gonna say that just yet, keep reading.
It all started with various religions, where they all preached of fasting for health reasons and also as a way to come closer to God. Spiritual reasons and discipline.
This is probably one of the best advantages of learning to be on a diet. It teaches you discipline, which is one of the mandatory skills you need to have if you ask me.
Discipline is what distinguishes us from most people and it can help in all areas of life. After a successful diet, you’ll feel superhuman.
If you have never felt it, you really don’t know what you’re missing.
So let’s get back to intermittent fasting.
If you come to think of it, throughout human evolution, fasting was a common theme. While living in a hunters’ and gatherers’ society, there wasn’t always an abundance of food. Rather the opposite.
We were definitely closer to fasting than to eating 3-4 meals a day or more. We were leaner too, we didn’t have any epidemics of obesity.
Therefore, the whole intermittent fasting idea calls for research and experimentation in order to know the benefits of it.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
The general idea is that fasting for small periods of time (maximum 2-3 consecutive days), is very beneficial to the body. More than that and you trigger the bad stuff.
Our bodies are a work of art. By restricting calories, we force our body to meet its caloric needs by slowing down our metabolism and also by feeding on its own.
Luckily, the metabolism is not slowing down that fast within 2-3 days. But the “feeding on its own” part is what’s interesting.
There is a process called Autophagy, where our cells are turning on their own damaged protein cells for energy.
Basically, this means that our body is using dead cells (as energy) to operate and this in return makes our body clear of damaged cells faster.
It gets better. This process helps to prevent aging [ref] of the cells and subsequently our bodies.
Autophagy can be triggered even a little faster if caloric restriction is accompanied with protein restriction (eating up to 10-30 grams of protein in a day).
This may not be optimal for muscle hypertrophy, but that’s only temporary. Clean muscle cells(of toxins and dead organelles), operate better in the long run and will take up more nutrients after being fed.
Growth Hormone secretion
Growth hormone is responsible for a lot of stuff in our body, mainly it triggers cell reproduction and cell regeneration. Also, it helps with your libido, your testosterone levels[ref] and even helps with brain performance[ref].
Now a way in which, we can increase production of growth hormone[ref], is by fasting.
The max of increased growth hormone could be achieved by fasting for 24 hours and it can be up to 2000%.
Sleep is also very important, as growth hormone is peaking during deep sleep[ref].
A diet with fewer meals is more easily followed. In that way, you are reducing the chances of skipping a meal or diminishing the probability of eating something extra over the time you eat or generally making a mistake.
If you still believe that 6 meals is the only way to feed yourself, please read this.
Also, for those that are on a severe caloric deficit, eating 1500 or fewer calories in a day, eating 3 meals may prove better as meals are more filling.
This is a matter of personal taste probably, but eating three 500-calories meals may keep you fuller during the non-eating hours, than eating 5 300-calories meals.
Intermittent fasting is not directly related to fewer meals, but when you have a small time window to eat (6-8 hours), you wouldn’t plan for eating every 1 hour.
Decreasing hunger happens in the long run. Remember that our bodies are magical and adaptable to almost anything?
Well, this applies to hunger as well. When you restrict your body from eating, you also train your body to reduce hunger. The first few times that you try fasting, it will be painful, but as time goes by it will be a walk in the park.
Some researches[ref] have shown that intermittent fasting increases mental clarity and focus.
Personally, I have found that eating less during the day prevents me from feeling a bit sluggish. You know, that feeling of sleepiness after consuming a high-calorie meal. So I prefer to eat the majority of my planned calories towards the evening.
This goes hand in hand with intermittent fasting.
Should you adopt intermittent fasting?
Mainly women cannot benefit the same from intermittent fasting, as men do. Especially when having menstrual irregularities or being pregnant. Even simple caloric restriction should be avoided by those who are pregnant. If you need more information about women and intermittent fasting, please read this.
Also, if you are under regular medication or have some kind of disease, intermittent fasting should be avoided as well.
How to do intermittent fasting
There are 3 popular protocols:
First one is about fasting for 16h and then eat during your 8h feeding window.
Eat last meal at 22:00, then the next day, have your meals from 14:00 to 22:00.
“Eat Stop Eat” plan is about having 1 or 2 days per week where you don’t eat anything for 24h straight. This is much more harsh.
Eat last meal again at 22:00 and eat again the next day at the same day.
“5:2” is about having just 2 days per week where you drastically reduce your calories to 500-600 calories. Still the plan is to eat mainly at night since not eating earlier will help you tolerate the hunger.
Personally, I have tried all three.
The first approach is more doable and can be repeated daily with no real problem. The 24h fasting can be extremely difficult the first time, but still totally doable.
If you are one of those, telling yourself that it is not doable, you may as well stop reading right now. I prefer to connect with people who think that EVERYTHING is doable.
The 24h fasting is not to be done often. Probably once every week, or if really lean, once every month. I would just include it in my diet plan for cleansing and autophagy reasons.
The last one I haven’t tried it, but it seems easier to approach the 24h fasting if you first try 500 calories.
You don’t really need to start fasting straight from day 1. You could start by removing breakfast from your daily regime.
This may feel irritating at first. But after the 3rd consecutive day, it makes you operate so much better during the day.
After that, you can start with the 16/8 approach where you could eat for example, only during the 14:00 to 22:00 window of time and then design your diet accordingly.
Remarks on Intermittent Fasting
The blunt truth is that what makes you eat fewer calories will make you weigh less. Period.
Every single diet plan out there, or dieting scheme, is taking into consideration calories. A writer may trick you into not counting calories, but losing weight comes just from that.
It’s PURE mathematics. Calories you expend vs calories you consume.
I am talking only about losing weight right now, not how you should approach your diet as a whole.
The intermittent fasting idea accomplishes that, tricking you into eating less. Plus it has some more benefits that can help you, reach your results faster.
There are some things though that should be mentioned.
Tough to begin with, easily executed later
At first, it seems like a lot of effort. If you approach this little by little, as most things, you can finally do it.
Think of showering in cold water. If you lower the temperature a little every 15 seconds, you will reach the coldest temperature eventually.
Just try it, and see if you can work with it.
Makes you eat less
Mentioned this earlier but the eating less part, can come in a variety of ways.
First of all, you can only eat so much when you have to eat in a small window of time, or only one meal.
If done with the 16/8 approach, you need to plan for like 2-3 meals. You can’t eat every single hour. It limits your choices and thus diminishes your chances of error.
Another trick you can do is to eat ad libitum (based on your feeling of fullness) when on feeding time.
Some people may actually take advantage of this and eat everything around them. Generally, I wouldn’t propose that, but if you’re disciplined enough, go ahead and eat until you are full.
When fasting for a lot of hours, you shouldn’t be able to handle much food anyway.
Also, something to watch out for is overeating. Some people are feeling so hungry when they are fasting and they can’t help but eat everything on sight when it’s meal time.
Remember to plan properly and put in your plate exactly what you are going to eat and no more.
If you have a desk job or you’re sitting mainly, intermittent fasting can be great. On the other hand, if you are doing manual labor, it is not such a great idea.
Manual labor is making you expend your muscle glycogen faster and makes you feel hungry earlier.
For me, the best reason to try intermittent fasting would be to increase your willpower capacity. You will feel much stronger and accomplished after a successful day of fasting.
Probably we will talk more about willpower in the near future, and how you can get the mindset of your best self.
As we already said, start with baby steps. Try to eat later than usual each day and finally go for a whole day without food at all.
Then you can also try 16/8 every other day and if you like it, even adopt it daily.
Just to recap everything, here’s a list for all you need to know about intermittent fasting.
- Calories matter the most, everything else comes later when it comes to fat loss
- Intermittent fasting helps you eat less
- There are three popular ways
- 16/8, 16 hours fasting, followed by 8 hours feeding time
- 24h fasting once or twice a week
- 5:2, 2 days of 500-600 calories and 5 days of your normal calories
- Triggers autophagy
- Decreases hunger in the long run
- Raises your willpower capacity
- Not suitable for all women and people doing manual labor
- Start small then go for a whole day without any food
I hope I have helped you learn something new about dieting. If so, what was that? Please write your thoughts in the comments because you may help others who share your point of view.