Awhile back a reader asked about my experiences with intermittent fasting plans to lose weight. So I spent time learning more about intermittent fasting (IF) the last two weeks. I knew so little about intermittent fasting from prior experiences.
Back in the day when I was in the Navy, a Senior Chief Petty Officer I knew did a type of IF. One day a week, he fasted for a 24-hour period, consuming only a detoxifying drink. It was part of his fitness plan in reducing caloric intake.
I personally follow a 12-hour eating cycle. After dinner, I do not eat again for 12 hours until I eat “break” fast. I was told long ago that it was beneficial to let the digestive system “rest” for 12 hours. I also do not eat 3 hours prior to bedtime. It is like the “wait for 30 minutes after eating before swimming” rule! We do it, but aren’t sure why.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, has done studies showing that going at least 12 hours without eating has pretty amazing weight-loss benefits. They also indicated more studies need to be done.
A key point is that during the period you do eat, the food must be nutritious and healthy. IF will not be useful if you are cramming yourself full of junk food.
Intermittent Fasting Overview
Intermittent fasting has been around for literally thousands of years as a way to heal the body, maintain a healthy body weight, and bring mental clarity. With intermittent fasting, you simply choose a time of not eating or fasting, with a time of eating. You will cycle through this period of eating, or not eating, over a week or even in a 24 to 48 hour period. There are many different ways to do it. The time you choose to fast depends on the type of results you desire as well as what works best with your lifestyle and current health profile.
If you think about it, you are fasting every single night while you sleep. If you choose to skip breakfast and eat your first meal at lunch, you’re just stretching out the fast longer. For example, you can choose to fast for 16 hours and then only eat during an 8-hour period. As you see, if you did use this method it’s rather simple to do since most of the fasting time you are sleeping.
Intermittent fasting works well for weight loss because it’s only during feeding that your body can store fat. The reason is that when you’re eating, insulin is released into your blood stream in order to keep your blood sugar level stable with any extra sugar moved to muscles, liver or fat storage. When you aren’t eating this process isn’t occurring, therefore you cannot store fat. If you think about this, the advice to eat six or more small meals a day to keep your blood sugar stable is actually causing your body to have the ability to store more fat.
The truth is most of us are simply eating way too much and can live and be even healthier with a lot less food. One way to accomplish this rather painlessly is via intermittent fasting.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
The reason fasting is popular is that it is suggested it helps people heal themselves of all kinds of issues. From being overweight to being depressed, people get relief from all sorts of problems using this type of diet to help themselves without medication. These benefits of intermittent fasting are:
- Insulin Levels Drop – If you really want to burn fat, you need to have lower, yet balanced sugar levels on a consistent basis. Giving your body rests between eating can help you do this effortlessly.
- Increase Human Growth Hormone – Studies have shown that people who engage in periodic fasts have higher levels of human growth hormone which can help people increase muscle mass, improve skin texture, and increase fat burning.
- Encourages Cellular Repair – Giving your body a break from digestion gives it time to start repairing itself. When the body doesn’t need resources to digest it can send resources to the rest of the body to get rid of waste, detoxify and heal problems.
- Aids in Weight Loss – Because you don’t seek to replace the missed calories, you’ll naturally lose weight due to eating fewer calories. Weight loss really is as simple as eating fewer calories than you need to conduct your daily life.
- Improve Cardiac Health – Many people who use intermittent fasting are experiencing a decline in blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and other markers that indicate good or poor cardiovascular health. Since it helps control inflammation, it works very well for this purpose.
- Slow the Aging Process – Studies have shown that people who eat less live longer. A great way to eat less without feeling deprived is intermittent fasting. One study showed that rats who were fed only every other day increased their lifespan by more than 80 percent. That’s quite a lot as it almost doubled their lifespan.
- Helps Detox the Cells – Your body only repairs itself when it’s at rest, which is usually only while you’re sleeping. But with fasting, you can increase the times your body is in detox mode exponentially, which will help your cells detox.
- May Lower Risks of Cancer – Due to the detox effect that fasting causes, some studies have suggested that people who fast may be at a lower risk of cancer. Before modern medicine was available, fasting was often a regular treatment for disease.
- Improves Your Mood – Because of reduced oxidative stress, lower inflammation and blood sugar levels along with increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor many people experience improvement in depression and other illnesses of the brain.
- Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes – Whether people like to admit it or not Type II diabetes is a preventable food borne illness. It doesn’t need to be a lifelong battle requiring medication. Using fasting as a treatment is successful because of the lower insulin levels it produces. Before artificial insulin was created, fasting was a common treatment for both types of diabetes.
It may begin to seem as if intermittent fasting is a cure all. While it’s not really a cure all, it is a way to help your body heal itself and induce wellness in all ways. If you want more mental clarity and to maintain a healthy body weight it won’t hurt to give it a try.
Disadvantages of Intermittent Fasting
While there are many benefits to IF, people tend to overlook the disadvantages. Disadvantages include:
- Developing obsessive-compulsive eating habits – For those who may be OCD prone, trying to regiment the hours in which you eat may cause you to become obsessed with following the time protocol.
- Binge Eating – Not eating for extended periods of time may lead to binge eating once “the clock says it is time to eat.”
- Potential Physical Problems – People with low thyroid function and adrenal fatigue may have health issues with intermittent fasting. It is extremely important for people considering dieting to discuss with their doctor. As we age, our metabolism changes as does our caloric intake requirements.
- Hormone Imbalance – People with elevated cortisol levels or have stressful lives may find IF increasing their stress levels. High cortisol levels increase cravings for high carb foods and potentially insomnia.
For those on IF, they should look for signs of poor sleep or weight increases, other signs include negative impact on mental and physical performance. These may indicate problems that should be checked by a doctor.
The Types of Fasting Models
Intermittent fasting helps the body get the right amount of calories for weight loss or maintenance but it helps your body fight fat due to the way it causes your body to use your fat reserves without having to cut your calories too low. There are a lot of different methods to accomplish your goals that you can read about below (available from Amazon).
- Eat Stop and Eat – This style of intermittent fasting described in Faron Connelly’s book which uses Brad Pilon’s method where you stop eating for a time, once or twice each week. This method uses the theory that your body is, due to its genetics used to periods of high calories and low calories. The idea is that you’ll experience hunger only a couple times a week, not daily like you do on other types of diets.
- The Warrior Diet – This plan created by Ori Hofmekler which tries to use the idea of the ancient warrior eating only after he caught his hunt in the evening as its model. You have to avoid processed foods, use periods of “under eating” with fruit and raw vegetables and exercise to move your body toward full health. When you eat a full meal, you eat it in the evening and you can eat as much as you want until you feel thirsty. Once thirst sets in you should drink and stop eating for the day.
- Fat Loss Forever – This fasting diet created and promoted by Ari Whitten and uses the same model of eating, then not eating, then eating again to induce fat burning. He also introduces a cheat day in the mix. It’s presented as a 12-week program that you can do for just 12 weeks but repeatedly.
- The 5:2 Fast – This is also known as The Fast Diet and you can get the book by Michael Mosley to help you accomplish this type of fasting. But, the point of the diet is simple. Two non-consecutive days a week, you limit your calories to about 500 to 600 depending on your sex and the other days you eat normally per your body’s requirements.
- Alternate Day Fasting – This style of fasting written by James B. Johnson M.D. involves restricting caloric intake exactly how it sounds, every other day. It claims to turn on your “skinny gene” called the SIRT1 gene, improve insulin resistance, heal the body, and help with weight loss.
All of these methods of intermittent fasting are essentially the same with a slightly different flair of various eat and not eat times. They all purport to improve health, advance weight loss, and burn fat specifically.
What to Eat
Some people think intermittent fasting is license to eat whatever you want during feeding times. But, the entire point of intermittent fasting is to eat fewer calories. Eat whole foods, avoid processed foods, and drink plenty of water. You can also follow other protocols such as paleo but you do need to eat plenty of carbs to last you during your fasting periods.
- Fruit – You can eat all the fruit you want to eat in its raw form. In some cases, even during fasting periods, you can eat some fruit to help you keep your energy up. If you’re eating, less during your fasting period instead of avoiding eating at all, fruit is a great low calorie substitute.
- Vegetables – Raw veggies can be eaten even during some fasting periods depending on the protocol you’re following. You can eat lightly steamed veggies any other time. The great thing about raw vegetables is that you can eat them even during your fasting stage if they’re uncooked and unadorned.
- Grains – Unless you’re gluten intolerant, you should eat plenty of whole grains. Your body needs the fiber and it will help with digestion. But, if you have a problem with wheat belly (swollen belly after eating wheat), or you have celiac disease then avoid it.
- Nuts & Seeds – It’s okay to eat nuts and seeds but don’t eat more than a handful at a time. Avoid binging on these items when you’re hungry. Eat your meal before eating any nuts and seeds or make them part of your meal such as a topping on yogurt or a salad.
- Healthy Fat – It’s great to add some healthy fats like coconut, avocado, banana, or any food that has natural fats that hasn’t been extracted such as oil. Oil is not really a health food. It’s okay to add a little to your food to make it taste good and fill you up; but, it’s not really healthy. I cook with either coconut oil, ghee, or olive oil.
- Dairy or Substitutes – Don’t feel as if you have to eat dairy, but if you want to you can eat or drink dairy a cup or two a day. You can also feel comfortable using soy milk, almond milk, other nut milks, and yogurts to your hearts content.
- Protein – With each meal, balance them and eat some type of protein. You don’t have to eat meat if you prefer not to. If you eat a lot of plant-based food, you will get plenty of protein especially if you add in beans.
Honestly, on an intermittent fasting diet you can eat whatever you want as long as it’s a healthy, whole food. You can even sometime have a cheat meal. However, don’t make the mistake of having a cheat meal when you’re super hungry. You’ll over eat, and that will cause you to ruin your progress.
What Not to Eat
There aren’t very many restrictions on an intermittent fasting diet. However, as with most healthy diets it is important to eat healthy food. Each person has a different idea of what is healthy. Some people prefer low carb diets like Paleo or Atkins, and others find a whole food plant based vegan diet healthy. The important thing is to ensure that you get plenty of carbs the meal before you fast so that you can burn plenty of fat during your fast. In addition, avoid processed foods as much as possible so that you can experience optimum health.
Depending on whether you’re on a fast day/time or a feeding day/time will determine what you can and cannot eat.
In some cases, you’ll want to avoid all food, but you can have water and tea. Some plans do allow you to have freshly squeezed vegetable juice or will encourage you to eat some types of fruit like berries, so that is okay but for the most part you want to be very strict during this time. Do not drink alcohol on fast days, it can be very dangerous.
If you choose a plan that allows you to eat, you need to be strict with counting calories. You can find a great calorie counter at CRON-O-Meter. It’s very important to keep your calories restricted during this time if you want to get the full fat burning effect.
Try to avoid the same food you would on any other healthy eating plan such as process food (think potato chips) and anything super fattening or not nutritionally dense food. You can eat a wide variety of whole, low fat foods so you’re not going to feel deprived. Low fat, in this case is defined as 20 percent or less of your daily caloric goal.
It’s okay to drink one or two low sugar alcoholic beverages such as beer or a mixed drink made with vodka like a bloody Mary. You need to eat to your caloric goal each feeding day, which is based on your desired goal weight, height, gender, and build. You don’t need to count but eat until you’re completely satiated.
At first, when you’re doing intermittent fasting you’re going to feel strange sitting down to a huge meal. A meal that’s bigger than any meal you’ve likely had before. It has to be a lot to get in enough calories and nutrients for that day if you want intermittent fasting to work properly.
You see, the higher calorie days combined with the lower calorie (or no calorie) day will trick your body to fully burning fat. When you restrict calories for too long, your body gets used to it and turns down your metabolism in order to reserve energy. But, when you trick the body right at the time it thinks it’s ready to slow down, it will then speed up again, thus burning more fat than if you at the same amount of calories every single day.
Who is Intermittent Fasting Right For?
If you’re healthy, and don’t have any type of food borne illness yet, you can safely try intermittent fasting. Of course, it has to go without saying, but it has to be said too, that you should always check with your health care professional to ensure that you’re healthy enough to try it. Even if your doctor is against the idea of it, ask the right question. Don’t ask what they think about it; ask if you’re healthy enough to try it.
Who Should Not Fast Intermittently?
If you are underweight, have any type of eating disorder such as anorexia, are under 18 years of age, have type-1 diabetes, take medications that rely on food or affect your food consumption, intermittent fasting is probably not right for you. But again, check with your health care professional to find out if it’s acceptable to try it. Some doctors will be all for a type II diabetic to try intermittent fasting, if they think this will help them get a handle on their weight which can end the problems of having type II diabetes.
The thing to remember is that people will have different opinions about whether or not IF is a healthy way to control weight and gain mental clarity. But, if you’re healthy other than having some weight to lose, it probably won’t hurt you. Be mindful of your health, and know who you really are so that you can stay and get even healthier.
Common Reasons Why IF Fails
Many diets are prone to failure. People get hungry and over eat. People eat because they are emotional, tired, sick, and just bored. Most diets actually do work to help people lose weight if they stick to it. But, many of them are impossible to stick to. For example, how many people live a lifestyle that enables them to eat six small meals a day? How many people can really eat enormous amounts of raw food daily (raw food diet)? How many people truly have time to prep for diets?
Not many people. That’s the truth. Most people have very busy and hectic lives. Most people live on a tight budget and can’t afford to spend too much on food. With Intermittent Fasting, it’s mostly about when you eat and not what you eat.
Although, if you truly want to be healthy, you should stick to whole food, mostly plant based foods using meat as a complement. Of course, you can eat whatever you want on your feeding days up to your point of satiation and you may still lose weight. But, it won’t mean that you’re super healthy. Anyway, there are several reasons why people fail on IF to consider.
- Failing to Plan – If you don’t pre-plan your fast and feed days, you may find yourself in a situation where you are at a birthday party and can’t enjoy the festivities. Then you’re going to fall off the plan and think you’ll make it up later. That won’t work. Only consistency will work when using IF as a way to lose weight and gain mental clarity.
- Not Exercising – It’s important for any healthy lifestyle to exercise. The great thing about IF is that you can take an exercise break when you are taking a food break. Fasting days should include slower paced days. For example, if you normally swim laps, why not enjoy the Jacuzzi or sauna instead? Take those days to get a massage and take care of yourself, instead of working too hard. On feeding days, work out like you normally would, depending on your goals.
- Over Eating – Many people use intermittent fasting as an excuse to overeat. They think “Well, I fasted all day yesterday so I’m going to this Chinese food bar and I’m going to eat until I feel like puking.” No, that doesn’t work. Don’t over eat. Eat only until you are satisfied. For most people this is a little bit behind “not hungry” to a little bit of a full feeling in your tummy.
- Other People – Sometimes when you go on a diet other people will discourage you, question you, and suddenly act as if they had a degree in nutrition hidden in their resume. The best thing to do is not tell other people what you’re doing unless they are going to join you. Or tell them you are doing an experiment.
- Negativity – Sometimes, it’s the wrong time to try any type of eating plan at all. If you’re going through a divorce, a death, or even just got a new exciting job, it’s a bad time to change your eating plan or lifestyle.
You can overcome all of these negatives if you think about them and work around them. Plan ahead, use the calendar, eat right, drink plenty of fluids, and get exercise. Only tell the people who need to know what you’re doing and seek support from online groups, or a friend who will do IF with you.
Why IF Can Be Successful
IF can be very successful. Or not. It depends on you.
On most diets that restrict calories every single day of the year, your body gets used to the deprivation and adjusts its metabolism to reserve fat for famine. When you switch back and forth between deprivation and plenty you trigger your hormones to burn fat, heal the body, the mind and get healthier.
The reasons intermittent fasting can be successful aren’t that hard to figure out. It’s rather simple, and is scientific.
No matter what type of diet you’re on, calories do matter. But, they don’t matter exactly in the way everyone thinks. It IS that you need a calorie deficit to lose weight, but it’s more than that too since the human body is so smart. The fewer calories you eat, the harder your body will work to hold on to fat because it doesn’t want to starve to death. And as we age, our metabolisms change as does our caloric intake requirements.
Because IF dieters have a short window in which to eat, it is important to eat nutrient-dense foods.
Most people know about “starvation mode” which is when your body slows down. You feel sleepy, confused, and like you’re starving. Most diets trigger starvation mode due to being very restrictive. But, with intermittent fasting you sort of trick your body into thinking it’s being over fed so that it doesn’t go into starvation mode, while still having a calorie deficit which will cause you to lose weight.
Eating Health Foods Matter
Many people who try IF do think they can eat whatever they want during feeding. Sure, occasionally, maybe weekly, you can add a “cheat meal” which might be some cake or other processed, high fat, high sugar, high calorie food. But, if you eat those on a regular basis, even while fasting, you can still easily over eat.
The reason is that processed food is often more calorie dense which means you have to eat more of it to feel full, even while it has more calories. Your body doesn’t really know if it has 3 pounds of apples inside it or 3 pounds of cake. But, three pounds of cake obviously has far more calories than 3 pounds of apples.
Intentional Exercise Matters
The truth is, about 80 percent of your results will come from the food you put into your body. If you put highly nutrient dense food in it, you’ll be healthier and get close to your body’s healthy weight over time. But, if you don’t move, you aren’t going to get the full benefits that you could enjoy.
Intentional exercise doesn’t have to be difficult. It can consist of something as simple as a fast 20-minute walk daily, running, biking, weight lifting, dancing, and more. It’s up to you. The best way to ensure that you’ll always include exercise in your life is to pick something you truly like doing. There is no point doing anything you hate. Just like, if you hate broccoli you don’t need to eat it because there are other things you can eat with the same nutrients, you don’t have to bike up a mountain if that isn’t something you will enjoy.
With any type of weight loss or mental improvement plan, you need to be ready to stick to your plan for the long haul. You won’t know if something is going to work or not after just a day or even a week. You need to decide to stick to anything new for at least 21 to 30 days. The reason is that it will take that long to know if you can stick to it without too much problem. Plus, it’s long enough to see results, but not too long that you will give up. After all, you can do almost anything for 30 days.
Your Lifestyle Matters
Most people are super busy and it’s hard to prepare meals in advance. With intermittent fasting, you really don’t have to do that. You’re not going to eat six small meals a day, and in fact, you can plan that you’ll fast all day if you have a busy job, and eat your meals only at night (even before bed). Plus you can skip breakfast without guilt. This plan works well for super busy people who have more going on in life than cooking and eating.
Additionally, your frame of mind also matters a great deal. If you’re experiencing anything negative, don’t start anything new. But, if you are otherwise healthy and you truly want to try IF for weight loss and mental clarity you should. It will work for you if you find a plan that works around your lifestyle that you can stick to consistently.
What to Do Now
Now that you know about intermittent fasting plans to lose weight, you may want to consider buying a book or two. Some of the books mentioned earlier are available on Amazon Prime so if you have that you can read it on your Kindle free or order it with free shipping. Put your toes in by making a short-term plan to try IF for about 21 days or so. Look ahead at your calendar to find out what events might interfere with fasting days so that you’ll be prepared.
If you really want to track your progress to know for sure whether intermittent fasting is working, keep a diary. Get blood work. Then take your measurements and weight before you start. Do this again when you’re done. Do not worry or bother about weighing yourself during the 21-days. That just adds stress and, really, the only thing that matters is the end result. Compare the numbers. You may discover the secret to longevity, health, weight loss, and mental clarity for you is intermittent fasting.
If you have comments, any questions or wish to share your experience with Intermittent Fasting, please share by leaving a comment below. Thanks!