Intermittent Fasting: The Good, The Bad, and the Not So Ugly
Intermittent Fasting, Why Bother?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a schedule of eating; it’s performed in a fashion that you don’t necessarily change what you eat, rather you change when you eat.
The next question is, why should you change your eating schedule?
Using Intermittent Fasting is a great tool to get lean without needing to create a large caloric deficit. In fact, you can actually eat at maintenance while cutting down body fat and increasing lean muscle mass. With Intermittent Fasting, it’s possible to make the most out your fat loss while retaining as much lean muscle as possible.
These key aspects make Intermittent Fasting a simple dietary strategy to follow as it doesn’t over-complicate your diet; rather it re-formats your eating habits.
Intermittent Fasting Science and Rationale
There are two different fasting methods out there. The “24-hour fast”, made popular by Brad Pilon in his book Eat, Stop, Eat that involves 1-2 non-consecutive days of 24-hour fasting. And the “16/8 fast”, made popular by Martin Berkhan’s in his book Lean Gains, that involves a 16-hour fasting window followed by an 8-hour eating window. This typically means that your first meal is pushed back to 1 pm and your last meal is consumed around 8 or 9 pm.
I will delve a bit more about the specific of the 16/8 fasting protocol. During the eating window, you are digesting and absorbing nutrients from food. Throughout the eating window, it is difficult to burn fat as a result of elevated insulin levels. This state of absorption lasts approximately 3-5 hours post cessation of your last meal. Thus for approximately 11-13 hours of your day, you are in a nutrient absorption state.
This means for the other 11-13 hours you are either in a fasted state or in a post-nutrient absorption state. During a fasted state, your body burns fat most effectively; allowing your body to target stubborn fat. This is because during a fasted state HGH (human growth hormone) levels are high and insulin levels are low; resulting in an effective fast loss. During the post-nutrient absorption (which lasts about 8-12 hours) state, your body is no longer digesting food and your insulin levels are steadily decreasing; which means your body slowly starts to use more fat for fuel. Because the post-nutrient absorption state does last a while this means your body is in a truly fasted state for a relatively short period of time.
If you follow the 24-hour fast then your true fasting window is extended. However, depending on your goals and exercise schedule this may not always be the best method to follow. The 24-hour fast works best during low activity days as it is difficult to exercise while completely fasted. Some other side benefits of the 24-hour fast are that HGH levels are higher for longer periods of time relative to the 16/8 method. Also, your body becomes more effective at recovering from exercise because it is not focused on absorbing nutrients.
Intermittent Fasting Virtue
Intermittent Fasting allows you to eat 2-3 times per day which helps with satiety. Instead of eating 5-6 very small meals; which are 200-400 calories per meal you instead consume 600-800 calories per meal. This, in turn, means less meal planning and clean up and less fear of missing 1 of your 6 potential daily meals.
During your fasting window, HGH levels are high and insulin levels are low; allowing for consistent fat loss. Which means during a caloric surplus it is possible to gain muscle and lose fat; granted, your caloric surplus is not exceedingly large. On the other end of the spectrum, during a caloric deficit, your body makes the best use of your fat loss and is more effective at retaining muscle.
Intermittent Fasting Mischief
Intermittent Fasting is a great method and technique for fat loss and lean muscle mass gain. However, like any diet, it can lead to eating disorders and obsession. With a personality that loves to follow things to a T and never digresses, following Intermittent Fasting can sometimes be a problem. Being adamant and following any diet strictly is important; however, when being too strict results in OCD eating habits. Intermittent Fasting is no longer beneficial and can actually be somewhat detrimental.
Intermittent Fasting can be mischievous and devious if you let it be. Resulting in obsessive, to the minute, fasting/eating habits; over consumption of calories during an eating window to make up for 16 hours of ‘fasting’; feelings of overfullness from excess consumption of calories; and lack of enjoyment in social settings due to over-strictness.
For example, if you are following Intermittent Fasting and your eating window is between 12 and 8 pm this doesn’t leave room for breakfast/brunch rendezvous or for late night froyo runs. Facetious as it is, following Intermittent Fasting too strictly can become laborious and tiresome. The truth of the matter is that not every day is ideal for IF and it’s important to recognize when to and when not to follow Intermittent Fasting. As I love to tell my clients, “Don’t stop living your life to accomplish your fitness goals.” it’s okay to not fast one day a week as it is unlikely to stall or stint progress; granted you stay consistent with your nutrition regime. What’s most important is being consistent with your dietary approach while also finding pleasure in the method you choose to follow.
Nutrition can not be solved by short-term fixes. It takes consistency and hard work. If you do follow Intermittent Fasting the majority of the time it is important to follow it strictly and consistently. It’s important to do what works best for your needs and goals. If Intermittent Fasting doesn’t work then you don’t need to follow it as there are many other dietary approaches that are effective for weight-loss or lean mass gain. However, if the majority of the time Intermittent Fasting does work and you are able to transition from the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner to Intermittent Fasting then, by all means, try it out and stick to it. Just listen to your body and recognize when following Intermittent Fasting becomes a problem rather than a means to an end.
On a final note, don’t stress about getting everything right. Fitness and wellness aren’t about striving for perfection; rather, it’s about making consistent progress over time. No progress is worth having without a few bumps along the way; learn, grow and improve; strive to better yourself not just physically but mentally as well. Keep working hard, outweigh the negative you do with all the positive things you do. And finally, make sure to enjoy every day of your nutrition regime. Be proud of whatever regime you follow because at the end of the day you are responsible for your own actions.