Intermittent Fasting Benefits & Methods
>> How simplifying your day can make you healthier <<
Recently I wrote about my experiences with 24-hour fasts. Today, although the general topic, fasting, is the same, I will write about it in a different context.
Today’s article is about intermittent fasting, which I’ve been doing for several years now. I have to admit that I didn’t track this and that I haven’t done it every single day, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I would say in 90% of the time I’ve done it and the results were quite astonishing. It allowed me to maintain my physique without hour long gym session (I don’t like the gym) or counting every calorie I’m eating (I did this a long time ago and it was nerve wrecking).
I really like intermittent fasting because it isn’t another habit or routine that makes our day more complicated. Instead, it simplifies our day and it simplifies eating.
The first time I’ve read about Intermittent Fasting was in 2012 on leangains.com, created by Martin Berkhan. Lean Gains is his method, were he uses intermittent fasting to generate muscle gains but staying lean in the process.
I’ll come back to this later.
I think there are quite a few among you that haven’t heard about Intermittent Fasting (IF), so let’s start in the beginning.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
I think the best way to start this off is by looking at the definition of “intermittent” & “fast”
Intermittent: occurring at irregular intervals; not continuous or steady.
Fast: abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.
If you combine those two words together they result in something we can describe as
The not continuous abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink.
That sums up IF pretty good, with a few additions.
IF in its basic form is an eating pattern that consists of a fasting period and an eating period. The most common model is the 16/8 method, where you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours.
Although that sounds counterintuitive and unhealthy at first, bear with me, because neither is further away from the truth.
Fasting is a practice that is thousands of years old and was cultivated mostly in the form of religious fasts, with many religions still practicing it today. If you think back to our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, they were probably eating or fasting intermittently as well.
Not because the choose to do so, but because there simply was no food available all the time, like it is today. It didn’t kill them and it won’t kill you either, but according to research could even make you stronger and healthier, as you will read below.
There are several other forms of IF.:
- 16/8 or Leangains method.
- 5:2 diet.
- Eat stop eat.
- Warrior diet.
- Spontaneous meal skipping.
These are probably the most common forms of intermittent fasting and, of course, every one of these methods has pros and cons. You’ll read more detailed about them below.
Why you should consider Intermittent Fasting
Know that you know what Intermittent Fasting is the next question that needs to be answered is the WHY.
Why on earth would you stop eating or skip entire meals? Isn’t that unhealthy?
In fact, it isn’t. And not only that, intermittent fasting benefits you much more.
No Diet, No Problem.
Many people have a problem with sticking to a specific diet, not because it’s hard in theory, but in practice. Every diet “forbids” some form of food. Low-carb forbids rice, potatoes and grains, while low-fat forbids (fatty) meat, eggs and butter.
Paleo forbids grains, Vegan forbids meat and every other diet forbids something.
I don’t say that forbidding certain kinds of food isn’t useful (I can think of a few I will probably never eat or drink again, soda is the most striking example), but for most of us, the thought of never eating something again is just too much to bear with.
In conclusion: While diets are easy in theory, they are hard in execution.
Here’s where IF comes in handy. Since it just an eating pattern, not a diet in itself, it’s a lot easier to implement, once you get past that initial thought of dying if you skip a meal.
Nothing additional, just a small change.
As I already mentioned above, IF is not an additional task we have to do. It rather takes one task off our minds, as it promotes skipping breakfast.
Our lives are already full enough of things we need to do, but often don’t have the time. Unfortunately many people “make” time by eating processed foods or in chain restaurants as it’s faster and saves them time.
By following IF you are not only having more time by skipping breakfast but at the same time, you’re also benefitting by the positive effects IF has on your health.
Intermittent Fasting simplifies your day.
If you could choose, would you choose a complex day or a simple day? Probably the latter. Most people would, especially when it comes to food and eating.
Our days are becoming more complex all the time since there is an ever increasing pressure from all areas of life. You probably won’t mind introducing some simplicity into your daily life.
Don’t take me wrong, I love eating and cooking, but there is something great about not thinking about what to eat for breakfast or not having to worry about food for 24 hours.
It takes a load of your mind and enables you to focus on your tasks at hand. My fasting period in the morning is usually the most productive time of the day for me, as are days where I fast for 24 hours.
Fasting & IF fights disease.
Civilisation diseases are on the rise. Cancer, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease are soaring in Western countries. While scientists are trying to discover the newest pill to treat all of these diseases, the solution might be simpler than expected.
As numerous studies suggest, IF or fasting, in general, cannot only prevent these diseases but even reverse them.
Although human studies are still needed, animal studies already confirm these findings. There is a growing body of evidence that IF may prevent cancer (1, 2), reduce side effects of chemotherapy (3), prevent Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases (4, 5, 6), reduce insulin sensitivity to lower your risk for diabetes (7, 8) and improve your heart health (9, 10).
Most of these findings are only based on animal studies, but some human studies already suggest positive effects of IF as well.
Maybe IF is protecting against these diseases, as it promotes processes in the body that are good for our health. Oxidative stress is a major problem when it comes to ageing and chronic disease. It is caused by free radicals in our body that damage important cells (11).
Studies have shown that IF can improve the body’s ability to handle oxidative stress.
Other studies have also shown that IF can promote cellular repair processes. One of these processes is called autophagy, which is basically the breakdown and removal of damaged proteins. This might increase the protection against diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s. (12, 13).
While IF and fasting, in general, seems to prevent several diseases they could even increase our lifespan.
Around 100 years ago, research observed that calorie restriction could lengthen the lifespan of rats (14). Several subsequent studies have confirmed these findings and they also make sense from a logical point of view.
When you’re starving, the body adjusts the metabolism and slows it down. This will lead to a slower accumulation of waste products in our bodies that contribute to ageing.
Unfortunately, nobody wants to live a miserable life in starvation mode, but with IF, this isn’t necessary. The good news is, some studies found out, that IF as well as alternate day fasting can lead to longer lifespans (15, 16), without having to live close to starving.
Styles of IF
After learning about the benefits of IF, which are quite nice, I wanted to give a quick detailed overview over the most common types of IF or alternate day fasting.
16/8 method/Leangains method.
This is probably the most common and thanks to Martin Berkhan the most known IF method.
Each day you have a 16-hour fasting period which includes the time that your are sleeping and an 8-hour eating period. Specifically, the Leangains method is used by many people in the fitness industry to gain muscle mass while lowering body fat percentage.
If you want to use it for muscle gain I recommend you visit leangains.com for more information, but here’s it in a nutshell.
Maintain high protein on all days, high carb on training days and high fat on off days.
Besides that, you have to decide for yourself when you want to exercise. Whether in a fasted state (in the morning) or after your first or second meal in the evening.
Although you could alternate the fasting period, it is suggested that you keep regular times as it will make the whole adjustment process easier.
5:2 diet, also called “fast diet”.
This form of the diet originated in the UK and became knowledgeable due to several books around it.
The concept is pretty simple. Out of the seven days of the week, you have 5 days with unconstrained eating and 2 non-consecutive days with a calorie intake of 500kcal (or lower) for women and 600kcal (or lower) for men.
Compared to the 16/8 method this might be easier to implement for some people because they can basically eat whenever they want, they just need to stick to the calorie goals.
Eat stop eat
Eat stop eat is another concept that is mainly based on the book “Eat stop Eat” by Brad Pilon.
Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book yet, but here’s some basic information on the system.
While not constraining any food groups, your supposed to have one or two fasting days during each week. You can consider them 24-hour fasts, where you are supposed to only consume water, coffee, tea or diet soda. (Really? Please ditch the diet soda as well. Studies have shown that it actually increases appetite (17).
There are some recommendations for nutrient intake, but I won’t go into detail here.
The pros of this diet are the one’s I mentioned above, as alternate day fasting had the same positive health effects as IF. The cons of this are that fasting once or twice a week might be hard to maintain for some people, especially if it interferes with their social activities.
My personal recommendation is to throw in a 24 hour fast once or twice a month, maybe on busy days and otherwise stick to another IF schedule.
As the name already suggests, this is only something for the toughest (or busiest?) among us.
The concept is over a decade old, as the book was published in 2002 by Ori Hofmekler. He tried to mimic our pre-industrial eating patterns, by underrating during the day and overeating at night.
In concrete terms this means: fasting for 20 hours each day and eating for 4 hours at night.
(Interesting fact: The Romans and Greek are believed to have followed the same eating pattern. Not eating during the day and indulging in festivities at night).
The system also suggests strength training by doing exercises like pull-ups, squats, high jumps or presses. High-intensity cardio is also advised from time to time.
Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book yet, but it sounds pretty interesting and seems to work, especially for people who like to know what exactly to do and follow a specific system.
Spontaneous meal skipping
This is probably the least “restraining”, but probably also the least efficient method for IF, but it might be a good way to start your experimentation on this topic.
The biggest problem most people have with IF is a psychological one. They think they will get sick (or die) when they don’t eat 3 or 5 regular meals. Nonsense. Unless you have a specific medical condition (please talk to your doctor) you won’t die if you skip a meal.
Have you ever heard of anybody that died because the person skipped a meal? I haven’t.
If think about starting IF but don’t want to jump right into it I suggest you take the meal-skipping approach. Next time when it’s time to eat and you’re not hungry, just skip the meal. You may feel some hunger, but it will vanish, especially when you don’t focus on it.
Work through your lunch break and leave an hour early to have a great evening.
I hope you enjoyed this article on Intermittent Fasting, but there are few things I’d like to add.
As I already mentioned, the psychological hurdle is the biggest one you need to overcome. Fasting is not some new diet trend, but thousands of years old and it is also a part of almost every religion in the world.
Once you think about it, you probably already experienced fasting and didn’t get sick. Did you ever wake up late and had a late breakfast or a brunch with friends? You did? Well, you already fasted for probably more than 16 hours.
Whichever method you think is best for you, experiment with it. See what works best for your personal schedule. See how you feel if you exercise in a fasted state and in a non-fasted state.
If you are a woman you might increase the eating period from 8 hours to 10 hours. There are some experiences online and that seems to work better.
Hunger is often confused with thirst, so before you ditch IF on your second day, because you are incredibly hungry, drink a glass of water and wait for 15 minutes to see if the hunger goes away.
There is also a belief in the health industry that you should eat every 3 hours, so around 6 meals per day. The idea behind that is that our body burns calories whenever you eat something. So if you eat six times instead of 2 or 3you burn more calories, right?
Unfortunately not, because the calories you burn are proportional to your meal size. Eating 3 meals with 700 calories, two meals with 1050 calories or 6 meals with 350 calories doesn’t make a difference in a number of calories you burn.
Also remember: Intermittent fasting is no free ticket to eating junk food. Food quality still matters, even if you skip breakfast and tend to eat fewer calories per day.
Try Intermittent Fasting for yourself and see if it works for you. I personally love the simplicity & health benefits it provides.
Getting healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. I’m always on the search for easy habits and changes to make getting healthy easier. If you want to follow my search, you should sign up for my email list here.