By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the term intermittent fasting or IF as it’s often called. It’s yet another buzzword rolling around the fitness marketplace. It’s been around forever (think cavemen eating sporadically because they ate when they could) but has gained a ton of notoriety over the last few years. And this is mainly because someone decided to try and market to us and make money by selling us programs about it.
I’ve been reading up on it for a while now and was skeptical for a long time. I mean, going an entire day without eating? Are they nuts? And skipping breakfast? That’s madness! We’ve all been taught never to skip breakfast and I have been on that bandwagon as well.
But never the less, it’s a hot topic and something I’m interested in learning more about.
There are a few reasons I wanted to talk about this right now:
- Given the new year and all that resolution stuff, more people are starting new diets, programs, and supplements. IF is also on that list. I want to shed some light on this topic and hopefully let you make a good decision based on what you know/learn.
- I am trying it myself starting today )1/8/15) and I’ll tell you why in a moment. I want to see if the benefits are what I have read they are.
WTF is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet (and you all know how I feel about diets!). Rather it’s simply a way of eating based on restricting food during certain hours. It doesn’t change the types of foods you eat, merely when you eat.
A few of the common types of IF are:
- Eating all your meals only in certain time blocks, like eating only during the hours of 12pm and 8pm or 1pm to 7pm.
- Not eating during a single 24 hour period.
- Fasting for 20 hours per day and eating one large meal.
- Fasting for 36 hours every 7 days.
And although this flies in the face of the wisdom we have been taught over the years that we must eat 5-6 small meals per day for optimal fat loss and muscle gain, I’m willing to look at this with an open mind.
I have preaching the “small meals” approach to my clients for 17 years and it’s worked. But maybe IF works as well. Maybe it works better, I don’t know yet.
One thing that stands out to me is that we eat at certain times because it’s a habit. For example, because we eat our bagel with cream cheese at 8am every morning, our bodies learn to expect it at that time. So over time, we are always hungry at 8am. Does our body need food at 8am? No, but our mind tells us that we do.
What Does IF Accomplish?
The big benefit (supposedly) is that it promotes fat loss. And after all, we ALL want to lose fat, right? You are probably familiar with the term “fasted cardio”, which basically means doing your exercise and/or cardio on an empty stomach. The benefit being that you are burning your glycogen stores instead of the food you just ate.
Now think of your body being in that mode all the time. Should be great for fat loss, right?
Another good benefit is that it’s simple to the point of basically eating the same (hopefully good) foods you already do, but just during a set range of time. So instead of eating your 5 small meals spread through the day, you eat 3 larger ones containing the same foods and/or calories.
You don’t have to change your entire philosophy towards eating healthy this way and I’ve known many a trainer that shoved their “right” way of eating down their clients throats. You aren’t restricting calories or foods, it’s only based on when you eat them. Easy enough, right?
Here are some other reported benefits:
- Increased metabolism
- Changes your psychological approach to eating
- It promotes stronger insulin sensitivity and increased growth hormone secretion, two keys for fat loss and muscle gain
- Simplifies eating
- Will help you understand why you are eating
- Helps to burn fat instead of sugar
My Reservations Towards IF
I am a skeptic by nature and especially when it comes to fitness and nutrition. These markets are a shady marketer’s dream come true because millions of people are always in search of products and services promising fast results.
So when I think of changing my typical eating pattern and instead eating only in an 8 hour window each day, I have a few concerns:
- That my energy will drop if I don’t eat breakfast.
- That I will be too tired to exercise or get a good workout in.
- That eating larger meals will not allow my body to adequately process and digest all the calories and I will end up storing more fat.
- That my late night cravings (and they are strong!) will cause me to cheat and probably eat shitty foods.
Why I Am Trying IF
First and foremost I am trying intermittent fasting because I want to see how my body reacts to this type of eating schedule. My goal is to get to 8% body fat by June 1 and I’m not too close to that number right now…
I’m always willing to try something new as long as it’s not harmful. I’m not going to experiment with my health like Tim Ferriss or do something stupid like try to sustain a ketogenic diet, but I am open to doing things that might benefit my fitness levels.
At this point, I am not for or against IF and time will tell if it works (for me anyway). I am not recommending that you try it, but if you do, please email me and let me know how it works in your case.
And if you want a more detailed breakdown of intermittent fasting, here are several articles that dive pretty deep into it:
- The Beginner’s Guide To Intermittent Fasting
- 3 Reasons Why Intermittent Fasting Is a Good Idea
- The Myriad of Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
It will be interesting to read your periodic updates on your experience with intermittent fasting. The article you linked to at Marks Daily Apple is one of the more informative, balanced, and thorough discussions of of intermittent fasting I have seen.
So far so good, David, It’s only been a few days but it’s made my eating schedule one less thing I have to worry about. Still a little low on energy n the morning and having late night cravings, but I’m trying to stick with it! And Mark Sisson’s stuff is pretty comprehensive. Steve Kamb’s post is excellent too and a little more reader friendly!