PLEASE NOTE: Intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is a way for a person to choose when to eat based on scientific or religious reasoning.
You can use intermittent fasting during a low carb diet, a low fat diet, a paleo diet or any other type of diet.
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions worldwide. Even in countries where the culture was recognized for their amazing feats of health (like in Okinawa, Japan) there have been dramatic increases in the obese population.
The addiction to junk food and processed edibles is the widely-accepted suspect behind the increase in obesity.
When all this junk food causes a spike in your blood sugar level, your body will store excess calories in your fat-stores. If this becomes a chronic event, insulin sensitivity will decrease and the problem gets worse.
On top of the poor eating habits of the general population, the majority of people live a very sedentary lifestyle. Long hours sitting at school, longer hours sitting at work and often, when you get home from either of those, you’re going to sit down for most of your time at home.
Even when people are given the opportunity to walk, they will choose to drive.
These habits will lead to weight-gain.
Price Is a Factor
What makes it worse in the North American continent is the difference in price of processed food (aka junk food) versus whole foods (aka healthy foods).
This means that families living with low-income can afford more of the junk food than the healthy food so, of course, they will often reach for the junk food. This is why obesity is more prevalent in low-income areas.
What if it didn’t have to be like that?
What if you could afford to eat healthy and lose weight no matter your income?
Intermittent fasting allows you to do just that.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting or IF, places a stronger emphasis on the timing of your meals instead of only focusing on what you’re eating.
The general idea is to cycle periods of fasting with periods of eating. There are numerous ways to plan an IF protocol but any way you use it will offer incredible benefits.
Here is the main element of intermittent fasting:
- There are two “windows” of time available:
- One is called a Fasting Window and the other is an Eating Window.
- Just to state the obvious, so we don’t leave anyone behind:
- Fasting Window – you do not eat anything during this time. You only consume water.
- Eating Window – you can consume all the food and drink you have planned during this time.
The reason many people struggle to lose weight is because they never decrease their glycogen stores enough (from a lack of activity).
When you eat food, you’re giving your body a source of energy. If it has access to this energy all day, every day, your body will never begin to use your fat-stores as an energy source.
That’s why, even with exercise, many do not drop any amount of weight.
But Won’t My Body Go Into Starvation Mode?
This seems to a popular belief, but it is a fallacy.
Celebrities often have busy schedules so intermittent fasting has been an excellent way of reaching physique goals while staying healthy and on-point. Do you believe their trainers and coaches would allow them to do something that would have a negative effect.
Which celebrities, I hear you asking? Here are a few names that come to mind:
- Hugh Jackman
- Liv Tyler
- Ben Affleck
- Christy Turlington
- Miranda Kerr
Starvation mode usually requires more than 48 hours of little-to-no calorie consumption or little-to-no micronutrient consumption (vitamins and minerals).
With intermittent fasting, you’re fasting window is usually between 10 and 20 hours. Some may perform intermittent fasting on a larger scale, for example; fast for two days and then eat normally for the rest of the week. We don’t suggest this method here but will explain these different strategies further down!
You’re still consuming your target number of calories. You’re just eating them in a shorter period of time!
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Let’s walk through a classic example, using yourself as the subject:
You choose to perform IF with a 16 hour fast and an 8 hour eating window.
Now, if you’re like most, you’ll have your last meal of the eating window in the evening before bed.
When you go to sleep, your body goes through some changes on a chemical level. But your body cannot enter a truly advantageous state until it’s done digesting the last bit of food you ate.
Once that process is complete, your sleep will deepen and your pituitary gland will secrete growth hormone.
Growth hormone is a peptide that stimulates growth in all major tissues of the body (like muscle, bone and organ) . This is why sleep and rest is the most prescribed course of action for people who are sick or injured. Tissues that need repairing, whether it’s from an inflammatory response or from an external injury, require growth hormone as a catalyst.
But there’s one benefit of growth hormone that many don’t know about. Fat loss.
How Does Growth Hormone Work?
Growth hormone plays a big role in fat mobilization¹, the process required for using fat for fuel!
The problem with the standard Western habit of waking up and eating breakfast is that the subsequent presence of glucose and insulin will curb the effect of growth hormone.
Now, imagine you begin your day by continuing to fast? You’ve already been fasting while sleeping for 8 hours, your body has experienced the benefit of your fasted chemical-state for approximately 5 hours (-3 hours for digestion of your last meal). What if we could continue this benefit?
Skipping breakfast means there is no insulin spike, there is no influx of calories ready for the body to use. Now your body is taking full advantage of the large-scale fat mobilization happening within.²
Every task you complete for the next 8 hours no matter how big or small, will cost your body energy!
That energy has to come from somewhere, and since the fat is already mobilized, your body will continue to use it instead of using any stored glycogen.
Fast-forward to the end of your 16 hour fast and you begin to enjoy your 8 hour eating window.
Your body will have used up the majority of your stored glycogen and some of your stored fat. The growth hormone effect had stopped a few hours ago and you’re looking forward to your meals.
There are a few ways you can do this.
- Eating two big meals, one at start of your eating window and the second in the middle of it.
- Go for your usual 3 meals split up evenly over the 8 hours.
- Or eat 4 to 6 meals split up every 75 minutes to 2 hours.
If you can start your fast a decent amount of time before going to bed, your body will secrete the growth hormone that little bit sooner.
It’s rinse and repeat. So, you can just wake up and do the same thing again the following day!
Where Did Intermittent Fasting Come From?
Fasting has been used as a tool by multiple different cultures for many centuries. It has also been used inadvertently since the dawn of human existence.
Before the days of supermarkets, bakeries and intercontinental travel, humans had to eat what could be found within a reasonable distance. Unfortunately, this meant only having the option of several food-types. It also meant that there were frequent periods of limited food. Humans would often only eat properly one or two times (perhaps snacking on seeds and berries) but their energy expenditure from physical activity was close to 1,200 calories each day.³
To give us some context, the average office worker sitting at their desk for a combined 6 hours (39 calories per hour) and 1 hour of combined walking/moving (178 calories per hour) will equate to 412 calories.⁴
Even if we take into account the difference in our evolved efficiency of the human metabolism, we are still grossly inactive. Even in those that undereat, the food being consumed is often of poor nutritious value.
It’s clear that if we are not going to adapt our activity level to match our eating habits, we need to adapt our eating habits to match our activity level!
This is where intermittent fasting is seen as the holy grail. When it first began trending in fitness groups and in nutrition forums, it was often referred to as a “fad diet” but the scientific evidence is now piling up, supporting it as a tool in increasing health and longevity in humans.
Can Anybody Use It?
If we’re being completely honest, not everybody will see positive results. For most, intermittent fasting is an excellent way to improve your health and physique. Many studies have shown increased use of fat stores and an overall increase in metabolic rate but nothing works for every person on the planet. Some people’s internal chemistry may require a different set of habits to perform optimally.
Safety Notice: If you have diabetes or gastric health problems, please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet.
Below there are three different types of intermittent fasting plans.
Billy is inexperienced in fasting and wanted to try it out so he is trying out version A.
Janet is somewhat experienced in fasting and wants to try something a little more intense. She uses version B.
Ashley is highly experienced in fasting and exercise. She uses version C.
So, let’s take a look at what they’re doing.
As a beginner, Billy’s fasting window and eating window are both 12 hours.
As Billy is fasting for approximately 4-5 hours while awake and 7-8 hours while sleeping, he doesn’t consume anything except water during this time.
Billy had two options when approaching this plan:
- He could have began his fast 4 to 5 hours before sleeping (depending on how much sleep he gets):
- This gives Billy the benefit of growth hormone release early in his sleep pattern. His body will feel rejuvenated when he wakes up but he’ll likely be hungry and ready for breakfast!
- Once he wakes up, he eats several small meals or a couple of big meals over the next 12 hours – e.g. 6am to 6pm or 7am to 7pm.
- This method is best for building muscle if Billy works out in the morning.
- Or if Billy wants to lose weight, he will work out in the evening.
- The second option was for him to begin his fast from the moment of sleep until he woke up and continued until he’d had a full 12 hours of no ingested calories:
- This extends the benefit of growth hormone release into wakefulness and will decrease Billy’s natural insulin response in the morning (increasing insulin sensitivity).
- If Billy wakes up at 6am and had 8 hours of sleep, he’ll continue to fast for another 4 hours. His eating window will begin at 10am.
- If Billy wants to lose weight, he exercises in the morning.
- If he wants to build some muscle, he exercises in the evening.
This is going to be the most commonly occuring protocol among intermittent fasters.
Janet’s fasting window is 16 hours (including sleep) and her eating window is 8 hours.
This has been used by many cultures as a standard lifestyle but it was made popular in the mainstream fitness world by Martin Berkhan. Although, he decided to give women a 14 hour fast and kept men on the 16 hour fast.
Janet has decided to break up the timing to make it easier for her lifestyle.
Janet sleeps 8 hours, so her routine looks like this:
- 6am – Janet wakes up and continues fasting for 6 hours
- 12pm (noon) – She breaks her fast and has her first meal
- 8pm – Now she stops eating and only drinks water
- 10pm – Janet goes to bed to get some sleep
- 6am – She wakes up now and continues fasting for 6 hours
This offers the most benefit from the timing of her body’s hormones and limiting the fasting period after waking.
There’s Another Way
Janet could simply start her fast just before she goes to sleep and then wake up and fast for another 8 hours. For many people, however, it simply isn’t sustainable. If they’re in an office or workplace surrounded by people eating delicious smelling food!
Janet’s method is better suited to people looking to stay lean or lose weight rather than build muscle. Unless she is dedicated enough to supply her body with a constant influx of balanced nutrients during her eating window, Janet probably won’t be consuming enough of a surplus of macro and micronutrients to support muscle hypertrophy.
Janet’s body should have enough nutrients to repair tissue that’s been damaged and stressed in the gym, so she won’t lose muscle. But to feed the growth of muscle tissue beyond repair-only will require far more dedication to food choice and preparation.
Janet works out either in the middle of her eating window or toward the end, this ensures she gets the most performance out of her gym session.
It can take a couple of weeks to get used to exercising in a fasted state and Janet didn’t want to injure herself or pass out in the gym, so she did NOT schedule her workouts before her eating window starts.
Safety Tip: If you start to feel dizzy during a workout, stop immediately and try to eat something with some sugar in it. Your health should never take a backseat to your gym performance!
Ashley’s version requires dedication and discipline as she’s teasing herself during the day with a certain amount of calories from high-fat sources.
It seems Ashley was inspired by Ori Hofmekeler and his Warrior Diet.
In the Warrior Diet, the basic premise is to under-eat throughout the day, for 20 hours, snacking on only fresh fruit, raw veggies and even fruit juice. He also suggests a couple servings of protein!
In Ashley’s intermittent fasting plan, however, 24-hour period seems to be broken up into stages.
Here is an example of her day:[based on sleeping for 8 hours and waking up at 6am]
- Stage 1 – Ashley starts fasting (13 hours)
- She begins the fast at 8pm
- Goes to sleep at 10pm
- Sleeps until 6am
- Wakes up and continues to fast, consuming only water for the next 3 hours
- Stage 2 – She takes a “Fat-break” (5 hours)
- Ashley breaks the fast at 9am by drinking a Bulletproof Coffee (our recipe can be viewed below)
- At 12pm (noon) she eats a handful of either pecans or hazelnuts
- Stage 3 – Ashley’s Main Eating Window (6 hours)
- At 2pm Ashley eats a protein-rich meal with a little more fat – e.g. egg salad
- Every 2 hours following, she eats a meal rich in protein with moderate carbs
- At 8pm she stops eating
The truth is, it’s easier to “not eat” than it is to stick to a strict eating routine with highly specific foods. Ashley needs to plan and prepare ahead of time so she can maintain a healthy balance of nutrients.
Ashley is following an exercise program. With this plan she can train at anytime during her Fat-break or Main Eating Window.
It may provide her with significantly more nutrients than Janet’s version, so if Ashley was looking to increase lean muscle mass then this would be a better option.
The increased fat mobilization that will be happening in Ashley’s body during the fasting period and encouraged by dietary fat consumption during the Fat-break, will undoubtedly lead to increased fat-loss.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
Here are some important points to remember when using any fasting protocol:
- Always consult your physician before changing your diet, eating habits or exercise habits in a significant way.
- People who haven’t fasted on a frequent basis before and plan on being active in a fasted state, should increase the intensity of that activity gradually.
- The history of fasting is quite interesting, if you wish to read up more on how different cultures have used fasting then check out this article on different religious fasting (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting#Religious_views) events.