I’m sure many of you have heard about the intermittent fasting diet. First off, let me stop you right there. Intermittent fasting is not necessarily a diet, but more a pattern of eating. You’re scheduling your meals over a set period of time, generally 6 to 8 hours, and then entering a small fasting period every day. Right away I’m sure I’ve lost a fair amount of interest from some of you, but at least continue on so I can share just how this is beneficial to you and to your body. At the end of the day, we all want to have the body we want, but also want to eat whatever we want. We want to have our cake and eat it too, literally. Intermittent fasting is probably the closest you’re going to get to doing just that.
I want to refer to a quote from an article I wrote back in January on morning routines. I mentioned involving yourself in something “simple enough to complete consistently, and effective enough to feel a sense of accomplishment.” Intermittent fasting utilizes this idea perfectly. It is a change that you can accomplish without vigorous effort, and a change that will lead to dramatic results.
Intermittent fasting is both simple and complicated. The simplicity lies in the fact that if you do it, it will have benefits. The complexity lies in the “why?” If you don’t care about how it works and just want to see the benefits, go ahead and skip down to the benefits section. However, I like to know what is happening in my body and why it functions the way it does. I encourage you to read on to the science behind it. I’m not going to use biological jargon like glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis. I’ll keep it simple, but also educational.
Fed State versus Fasting State
Alright, so to understand intermittent fasting you have to understand the difference between the two states of your body: the fed state and the fasting state. This determines how our body obtains its energy. Either we obtain energy from food, or from stored food energy. We get energy from both, but never at the same time. In our fed state, when we are eating or have eaten recently, our body takes energy from our food, and stores whatever is in excess of what we need. There is no burning of stored food energy because it makes more sense to our bodies to simply take the calories from the food being ingested.
In our fasted state, insulin levels fall, signaling to our bodies to switch energy sources from our food to our stored energy. First, energy is pulled from glycogen in the liver. Then, when that is not enough, it pulls energy from body fat. This is, obviously, where we burn/lose body fat. Let’s put this in an applicable example. Let’s say you decide to fast for 24 hours. If your body is used to consuming 2,000 calories of energy per day, and you don’t eat anything, the body will pull that energy from stored reserves in the liver and then in body fat. This is again triggered by insulin levels in the body.
So when does the body make the switch from fed state to fasted state? Since your body is in the fed state not only during eating but during the body’s digesting and absorbing phases, the fasting stage doesn’t start until 8 to 12 hours after you finish eating. With that being said, you can see that our bodies are often never in a fasting state, especially if you’re one of those people that adhere to the dieting consumption methods that have you eating 5 to 6 small meals a day, or even simply eating breakfast lunch and dinner at conventional times.
So, intermittent fasting, a method that has you eating in a 6 or 8 hour window and fasting for a 16-18 hour period, allows you to enter into the fasting stage, where the body burns fat by taking energy from stored reserves in our body fat. Plain and simple, the method itself contributes to losing body fat, or keeping body fat low, which we all want.
Now that we’re aware of the process and the pseudo-science behind intermittent fasting, let’s look at the benefits.
Changes the composition of your body for the better
I briefly mentioned insulin levels as a signal for the body to switch from fed to fasted states. Insulin dropping facilitates fat burning. Regulating your insulin also helps to build muscle by stimulating protein synthesis. Scheduling your workouts in line with your fed state actually helps you gain muscle and lose fat, which is extremely difficult to achieve normally.
On that note, human growth hormone, or HGH, can increase significantly during the fasting period. Again, this helps to facilitate fat burning and muscle gain.
Finally, the body undergoes various cellular repair processes during the fasting phase, including removing waste from your cells. Essentially, if you’re partaking in intermittent fasting, you’re getting a daily detox!
You can eat plenty
If you spent two months eating a typical breakfast lunch and dinner, then two months eating the same exact foods, portions, servings, and calories, but doing so using intermittent fasting, the results would be drastically different. By allowing your body to enter into the fasted state daily, the way that your body burns calories and uses energy are completely different despite no change to actual food consumption whatsoever.
What does that mean? It means that don’t have to change your actual diet at all to see benefits of intermittent fasting. No chicken, broccoli and rice 6 days a week with a cheat day to keep your sanity. Your trip to the grocery store doesn’t change. Your desire to hit your favorite restaurant for dinner doesn’t change. All that changes is your schedule of eating.
Your day is simpler
Let’s start by looking at breakfast. Most of you reading this article participate in the workforce in some capacity, and breakfast can often be a burden. Either you have to wake up earlier than you want to to cook something, or you scramble for a yogurt or some quick equivalent because your mom always said “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Intermittent fasting means that instead of planning a morning meal, you simply wake up, drink a glass of water, and start your day. Most people choose to transition from their typical 3 meal schedule to a 2 meal schedule. That requires less meal planning, less preparation, and more time in your day.
What productive activity could you fit into your day if you eliminated the time spent from one of your three meals? Reading? Working out? More sleep? Whatever fits in that time slot is a benefit in itself, because it allows you to add additional productivity in your daily regimen.
Lose weight and/or belly fat
Whatever your body goals are, intermittent fasting can assist with them. If you’re drastically overweight, eating less meals can mean eating less calories. Instead of eating the same amount of food, simply eat your normal lunch and dinner, omitting the calories you would have had for breakfast. This reduces calories in while keeping calories out the same. Calories in versus calories out. If you change that balance you change your weight, plain and simple. Plus, not eating anything in fasting period, then having all your meals in a certain time slot significantly reduces snacking, which is a huge detriment to any diet. As we mentioned as well, if you’re just looking to drop a couple pounds or shed some unwanted body fat while toning or adding muscle, keep calories the same and the changes in your eating times will assure that you still drop some body fat.
Minimize oxidation and inflammation in the body
Oxidative stress takes a toll on the body, particularly in its contribution towards aging and a variety of chronic diseases. The changes that take place in daily fasting periods during intermittent fasting have been shown to improve the body’s resistance to oxidative stress.
Additionally, intermittent fasting helps with inflammation. When you’re injured, doctors will usually encourage you to make sure you are getting enough sleep to help with the healing process. When you sleep your body reduces pro-inflammatory factors in the body. Intermittent fasting replicates that process and helps to reduce inflammation, which promotes healing and reduces pain and aches.
Increases brain function
Because of the reductions in oxidation and inflammation, as well as an increase in the brain hormone BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), intermittent fasting can fight depression and brain damage due to strokes. It can also promote brain function through potential growth of new nerve cells. This improvement in cognitive function can help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Help you live longer
If this doesn’t sound intriguing to you then I don’t know what will. It’s been proven that restricting calories is an effective way to lengthen life. However, restricting calories is not something that sounds particularly appealing. We all enjoy food, so we don’t want less of it. Thankfully, intermittent fasting initiates many of the same processes in the body as caloric restriction, meaning that you get the same benefits of potential life longevity.
Moving forward with intermittent fasting
Choosing your schedule
We all have different schedules, so there is no definitive time period that I can recommend for everyone. Essentially what you need to do is figure out a 6-8 hour window where you can eat all of your meals and is convenient to your work and social life. I work remotely, but even when I didn’t and first tried intermittent fasting, I had the ability to take my lunch break whenever I wanted. I also hit the gym after work every day from about 5 to 6 30. That put me home at 7. So, I chose 2 pm to 9 pm as my 7 hour window of eating. I would have a decent sized lunch, usually around 1,000 calories at 2 pm. Then, after getting home, showering, and cooking, I’d eat a monstrous dinner at around 8 15. This was a great schedule for me because I also can’t sleep well if I go to bed on an empty stomach. A typical meal for me at dinner could have been a 3 egg omelette, toast with peanut butter, oatmeal, protein shake, grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, a vegetable, and maybe a couple slices of pizza. Keep in mind I have a fast metabolism and worked out hard every day, so the calories worked out. All that food helped me go to bed still relatively full and comfortable.
That schedule may not work for you. My friend is a teacher and he has a 12 to 12:30 slot where he has to eat lunch. An 8 hour window for him that works with his schedule would then be from 12 to 8 pm. Figure out what works for you.
Trial and error
It takes some time to determine the goals you have for your body, how much weight you want to drop (if any), the calories it takes to meet your goals, how long of a time period you want to use, etc. For me, my 7 hour window was a bit too small, and despite my ridiculous meal described above, I may not have been eating enough calories to support both intermittent fasting and my rigorous workout schedule. The results were that I lost 12 lbs in 40 days. I was trying to cut weight and body fat for the summer, but that was a still a bit drastic for me, and I ended up stopping intermittent fasting altogether for a while.
You have to find the balance of time, caloric intake, and exercise. That takes some time. But, while you find that process, your body is still seeing serious benefits. Increased brain function, life longevity, simpler schedules, and reduced inflammation are great benefits to have, while simultaneously eating what you want to eat, while you figure out this balance.
Seriously, I cannot recommend intermittent fasting enough to those that want to see positive changes to their bodies and lives. Simply manipulating your eating schedule can result in serious benefits. What could possibly hold you back from that? The only downside is initially, sure, you’re going to be hungrier than usual towards the end of your fasting period. But that is such a small sacrifice when it comes to becoming the best version of yourself and having the body you desire. Benefits that we didn’t even talk about such as having a better mentality and more confidence will show up as well when you start seeing positive changes to your body.
So once more, try it out! Then leave a comment down the road on this post or on the Influential Gentleman Instagram and let me know what improvements you’ve seen. Or, if you want further advice on figuring out the balance of timing and calories, I’d be happy to help out there.