I love to experiment with different diets and eating patterns. In the past 10 years, I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian, high fat raw eater, and I also followed macrobiotic, paleo and keto diets just to name a few. I experimented with all different kinds of variations until I found my perfect diet and eating pattern. Well, it’s not perfect since I am continuously improving it, but you get the point.
Even though I can easily adjust to a different kind of diet and stop or start eating certain types of food, I hate being hungry. I really do. If I don’t eat when I’m hungry, I get moody, my energy levels get low and it’s really a special kind of torture for me. I feel like I’m going to die. It’s probably because hunger is closely connected to feeling unsafe, and eating is one of the most primal needs.
You can easily guess then what my initial thoughts about fasting were? Well yes, something like in spite of all the big benefits of fasting, there is no way I’m starving myself. Luckily, my experimentation nature and curiosity are much stronger than any fear, negative feeling or any displeasure or dislike.
A few months ago, a friend mentioned intermittent fasting to me. Intermittent fasting is a light version of real fasting and starving yourself, but more about it soon. It sounded like a good idea, and even if my body, emotions and mind were kind of protesting hard, I decided to give it a try. Only for a few days, to see how hard it is for me to follow and what the results are.
I lost 3 kg (6.6 pounds) and almost 2 % of body fat in the past two months and I love it.
That was a result exclusively from intermittent fasting and switching from car to bike. My training levels stayed pretty much the same (excluding bike rides). Intermittent fasting definitely works for me, so maybe you should also give it a try. In this blog post, I will explain the basics of intermittent fasting and you can then decide if it’s worth trying or not, or at least research it more.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a cycle between a period of fasting and a period of non-fasting. It’s not about which food to eat and how much, but when you eat; or even more importantly, when you don’t eat. You have a strict timeframe for eating and when you don’t eat anything (not a single thing), you only drink water. There are many different types of intermittent fasting, to name the most popular few:
- Leangains: Fast for 14 hours (women) or 16 hours (men) and eat in the 8 or 10 hour time frame
- Alternate day fasting (ADF): 24 hours of fasting followed by 24 hours of non-fasting
- Eat-Stop-Eat: You fast for 24 hours once or twice per week when it suits you best
- The Warrior Diet: You fast for 20 hours every day and eat one big meal, like cavemen did
- The 5:2 Diet: On two non-consecutive days you eat 500 calories, on other days you eat normally
- Spontaneous meal skipping: You skip a meal when you feel like it or after overeating yourself
There are numerous other combinations and variations. When you are in the non-fasting period, you can eat only one or two big meals or many smaller ones, you can enter the non-fasting state in the evening or in the morning, there are many variations.
There is no other way to find the best one but by experimenting. You have to find the pattern of eating that best suits your lifestyle, the one that your body gives the best response to and, even more importantly, the one you can really follow. That’s what I did.
I tried to fast for one whole day. Several weeks. No go, I became very moody and the only thing I could think of was food. My productivity and happiness dropped to zero. Then I tried the Leangains method and surprisingly, it was hard for me only for the first two days.
I accommodated the diet a little bit to my previous knowledge and my individual situation. Eating late is not good for me because of the acid reflux, and I do gain weight faster if I eat at night. So I decided to fast from at the latest 5 pm. It’s also easier to fast if you include sleep time in the fasting period. So I stop eating at 4pm or 5pm and eat breakfast the next day at 8am or 9am. Many people prefer to skip breakfast, but that’s what works for me.
I also know that eating big meals isn’t good for me. I tend to overeat and my stomach doesn’t feel well if I eat really a lot at once. So I eat several smaller meals during the non-fasting period, ideally every 4 hours, which makes 4 meals. I also have high-carb, mid-carb and non-carb days, depending on whether I’m training or not.
The main secret to why intermittent fasting works
There are two main theories for why intermittent fasting works. The first one is that in the fasting state, your body starts to burn fat because it lacks nutrition (energy) from food. The second one is simply because you consume fewer calories (assuming you don’t eat like a pig when you aren’t fasting).
You can find the second argument for nearly every diet, since the theory behind is that the only thing that matters when it comes to losing weight is that you mind the calorie intake. Nevertheless, let’s look more closely at both arguments.
The fast state
These are two states your body can be in. The first one is the fed state, and it starts the moment you are eating all the way until the food is digested. Digesting and absorbing food can take hours. The digestion time depends on what you eat, but it’s obvious that digesting a steak takes much longer than digesting a piece of fruit.
The second state is the so-called fasted body state. When all the food gets digested, your insulin levels get low. You enter the fasted state 8 to 12 hours after your last meal. Since there is no food to digest or absorb and your insulin levels are low, the body start to burn fat.
You enter the fasted state 8 to 12 hours after your last meal.
The main challenge in the whole picture is, of course, that you shouldn’t put any food into your mouth for 14 (women) or 16 (men) hours or even more if you want to get your body into the fasted state. That rarely happens if you are eating based on the standard eating pattern with several meals from breakfast to dinner. So you have to change your eating pattern to not eat for a longer period of time and that usually means skipping breakfast or dinner.
Eating fewer calories
You can find many arguments online that fasting really doesn’t work because of the fasting state your body is in but simply because you eat less, which equals to less calories. From my experience, you do eat less when doing intermittent fasting, because you simply can’t eat so much food in a shorter timeframe. If you eat the same quantities, you have a feeling like you’re constantly eating.
If you want to lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn.
The best answer to the question why intermittent fasting really works is that it doesn’t matter. Based on research, (controlled) fasting has a positive contribution to health. Calorie restriction also makes you healthier, if done in the right way. On top of that, you are losing weight. If it works, it’s better to practice it than to argue why it works or doesn’t. And if it doesn’t work for you, you move on.
Nevertheless, the harsh reality fact is that if you want to lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than you burn. That’s why we say that you can never out-train your diet. There is no other way. And if intermittent fasting can help you eat less, excellent.
General benefits of fasting
As mentioned, there are many benefits to fasting. Let’s look at the major ones.
Fasting has an extremely important positive role in dieting, health and well-being. Regular fasting doesn’t bring only weight loss advantages, but also many other benefits to the body, mind, emotions and spirit.
Research has shown that fasting improves your blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and inflammation. It can also reduce chronic diseases, increase longevity, help with brain health and anti-aging, all that mainly because of adaptive cellular responses to handle stress better.
You learn to manage hunger more properly and practice self-discipline with fasting. Since I’ve been performing intermittent fasting for the past few months, I must say that I’m also managing hunger better. You learn to control your primal impulses better.
Usually I would go crazy when hungry. Now I only go half-crazy.
The truth is that there is probably no better alternative to practicing self-discipline than dieting. You have full control over it. It’s connected to your most primal needs and motives. It’s connected to your resistance, basically. You can experiment a lot with it (in a safe manner, of course). In general, fasting is a great way to strengthen your self-discipline.
With fasting, you simplify your life. With fasting, you can simplify your life to a great extent by eating less frequently. You don’t eat breakfast or dinner, so it’s one less meal to cook or buy. You have to worry less about food and you have more time for other things. If you combine fasting with simplifying your meals, you may get even better results.
Other recommendations for when you fast
When you’re fasting, make sure you only drink water and non-sugared herbal tea. Really don’t consume anything, not even a small bite of an apple or any other snack. It’s not that hard once you get into the rhythm. So the first recommendation is: don’t cheat and don’t lie to yourself.
Other recommendations when you’re fasting:
- If you are doing anything more extreme, consult your doctor or a certified nutritionist. Especially if you have a medical condition or if you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor.
- Drink plenty of water. Never forget to drink enough water.
- Test your limits. Try to not eat for one more hour after your fasting period is over. Just to challenge yourself and practice self-discipline.
- If you want your muscles to grow, eat enough protein. You can find many online resources on how many proteins to eat. Proteins will also give you a feeling of being full for a longer time.
- When you aren’t fasting, eat healthy. Eat tons of green veggies, a moderate amount of fruit, complex carbs and many healthy fats. Avoid sugar and unhealthy fats. Don’t stuff yourself like a pig eating for the last time. Manage your emotions.
- That will accelerate your metabolism, you’ll lose more calories and thus your weight loss progress will be faster. Not to mention that you will feel much better.
- Don’t change your diet if you are burned out, stressed out or lack sleep. Absolutely sort that out first, otherwise things will only get worse.
- Measure your progress. Buy yourself a smart scale, mark on the happiness index how you feel every day, pay close attention to your body and the results you’re getting. You want to follow the philosophy of validated learning to see if something works for you.
- Listen to your body. Learn to love your body, listen to it and never go against yourself. I’m still learning how to do that.
The first few days may be tough, but you can do it. I believe in you.
Give the intermittent fasting a try
If you are trying to lose weight or improve your overall diet and health, I suggest you try the intermittent diet. First, get madly educated. Here are some resources you can begin with:
- Nerd Fitness – A Beginner’s Guide to the Intermittent Diet
- Bodybuilding.com – Intermittent Fasting: Science and Supplementation
- Precise Nutrition – All About Intermittent Fasting
- Roman Fitness System – Intermittent Fasting 101
- Muscle for Life – The Definitive Guide to Intermittent Fasting
- The Number One Secret to Superhuman Willpower – This article describes the benefits of fasting in general with all the links to scientific studies (in most cases). They include stronger willpower, better confidence, improved brain function, better clarity and direction, better overall health, improved motor skills and the quality of sleep, superior productivity and energy levels, stronger emotional stability, deeper life inspiration, better appearance, faster learning and, of course, weight loss. In the article, you can also find good advice on fasting in general, not necessarily intermittent fasting.
- Reddit Intermittent Fasting Community with people sharing their troubles and experiences
After getting educated, give it a try. As mentioned, the first few days are the hardest, but then it gets much easier. Give it a try, measure your progress and if it works, persevere, if it doesn’t, pivot to something else. Search and experiment and you will find things that work best for you.
Even if you don’t decide for a regular fasting lifestyle, at least skip a few meals the day after you’ve overeaten. That may someday lead you to try intermittent fasting.