Intermittent fasting (IF) has been a hot button topic for the past decade or so and for good reason. It flies in the face of pretty much everything we’ve ever been taught about nutrition, fat loss, metabolism, and nutrient timing.
The crazy part?
It works. And it works really well.
Please note: I do not recommend people who struggle with binge eating use IF because, more often than not, it exacerbates the issue and perpetuates binge eating.
What is Intermittent fasting?
The most accurate definition is the simplest one: IF is an eating schedule in which you alternate between periods of fasting (not eating) and feeding (eating).
We all fast every night (the first meal of the day is called, break-fast, after all) but Intermittent Fasting tends to extend the fasting period beyond breakfast and further into the day.
I’ll discuss my personal favorite method in a moment, but for now it’s sufficient to say the major difference between IF protocols stems from the length of the fasting period.
Some methods have you fasting for 12-15 hours/day (including sleep).
Others have you fasting for 16-20 hours/day (including sleep).
And others have you fasting for a full 36-hours a couple times each week (including sleep).
Each protocol has numerous subsets and variants but, truth be told, most of them are a waste of time.
Not to say they’re bad or don’t work – they do – but after a certain point long- duration fasting has a steep slope of diminishing returns.
So, personally, I prefer short(er) periods of fasting followed by more controlled periods of feeding.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty specifics, there’s a couple important points worth discussing.
Breakfast is The Most Important Meal of the Day, Right?
I won’t get into where this myth comes from (it’s largely an old wives tale) but there isn’t a single shred of well performed research showing breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Some will point to studies like THIS one that show a correlation between skipping breakfast and a higher body weight. But it’s important to remember:
Correlation does NOT imply causation
The people in this study who were skipping breakfast were also more likely to be smokers, not exercising, and eating unhealthy foods on a regular basis.
So was skipping breakfast causing them to be overweight? Or was it their unhealthy diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits?
You tell me.
Now here’s where things get even more interesting.
Rather – and this is really important so listen closely – the most important nutritional component related to weight loss and overall health is your total daily caloric intake.
Which leads me to the next question...
Frequent Meals “Boost Your Metabolism,” Right?
The notion that small, frequent meals boost your metabolism stems from a misunderstanding of something called the thermic effect of food (TEF).
Without digging too far down the rabbit hole, TEF is a measure of how much your metabolism increases in response to eating.
Generally speaking, the more calories you eat in a given meal the more your metabolism will subsequently increase.
This is where the idea of “small, frequent meals boosting your metabolism” comes from. Researchers saw metabolism increase in response to eating, so they concluded eating more frequently would lead to a higher metabolic output throughout the day.
But They Missed 1 Crucial Component
TEF is directly proportional to calorie intake.
More calories eaten = bigger metabolic effect.
Less calories eaten = smaller metabolic effect.
And if calorie intake is the same at the end of the day, regardless of how often you eat, the total TEF stays the exact same.
In other words, there is no metabolic difference between 2 meals/day or 7 meals/day as long as the total calorie intake is equivalent.
In fact, as long as total calorie intake is consistent, research has found you can eat 1 or 17 meals/day and still get the same metabolic effect.
So why am I okay with IF?
It’s simple, straightforward, and lets me fit nutrition into my life rather than trying to fit life into my nutrition.
Reduces hunger throughout the day which, when you’re dieting, is a major benefit.
Let’s me eat larger, more satisfying meals so I can actually get full rather than constantly feeling famished.
And gives me more flexibility so I don’t have to worry about “screwing up” when I’m on vacation, going to a party, or celebrating an event. I can relax and enjoy myself without ruining all of my progress.
From a research-based perspective, Intermittent Fasting…
Increases catecholamines circulating throughout your body which increases lipolysis (fat breakdown).
Stabilizes blood sugar so you have less energy dips and more sustained alertness throughout the day. A stable blood sugar also primes your body for fat loss.
Reduces fasting insulin levels which further stimulates fat breakdown.
Balances hormones (leptin, ghrelin, etc) to stave off hunger and reverse your body’s “starvation mode” response to dieting.
In scientific terms, Intermittent Fasting makes dieting suck way less.
How to Use Intermittent Fasting: Your Foolproof Guide
In this section I’m going to break down my preferred method of Intermittent Fasting. It’s simple, effective, and reaps all the benefits outlined above.
Obviously, no eating during the fasting period.
This iteration of Intermittent Fasting involves a 14-hour fast followed by a 10-hour feeding window.
To eliminate all confusion and make this as easy to understand as possible, I’m going to
outline a few basic principles followed by a sample day.
During the Fasting Period:
You can have zero-calorie drinks like water, seltzer, tea, coffee, and diet soda.
A splash of milk in your coffee is O.K. but any more than ~20 calories and you’ll lose outon the benefits of fasting.
Obviously, no eating during the fasting period.
During the Feeding Window:
You can break the fast and begin eating. Personally, I prefer to eat 3 large meals during the feeding window, but some people prefer 2 and others prefer 4. Experiment and go with whatever you enjoy most.
A Sample Day
7am: Wake up
7:00am – 1:00pm: zero-calorie drinks
1pm: First meal
4pm: Second meal
7pm: Third meal
9pm-11pm: Optional snacks (if you have extra calories)
11pm: Fast starts. Cycle repeats
Q: There’s no way in hell I can fast for 14 hours. If I don’t eat every 2-3 hours Im starving.
A: I get it! I thought if I didn’t eat every couple of hours I’d be famished and hangry. But I was surprised how easy it was to transfer to IF. See, hunger hormones (ghrelin, in particular) are regulated by your normal daily eating schedule and only take about 4-days (at most) to alter.
So you might be a little hungry the first few days but within a week you’ll probably find you have more energy, less hunger, and already feeling leaner.
Also, you don’t need to start with a 14-hour fast. You can start with 8 (which is pretty much just a normal overnight fast), then bump to 10, then 12, then 14. If you think 14 is too much to start with then, by all means, gradually increase your fasting window.
Q: What if I workout in the morning before work? Should I still be fasting for 14-hours?
A: Great question. If you train early in the morning I recommend one of two options:
Option A: have a small protein shake (<120calories and ~25g of protein) immediately after your workout. From there continue your fast until it’s time to break it again.Option B: take 10g of BCAA immediately pre-workout and another 10g about
2-hours after you’ve finished working out. From there continue your fast until it’s time to break it again.
Q: Does Intermittent Fasting (IF) work?
A: Yes, it does. But it’s important to remember EVERYTHING works as long as you’re in a calorie deficit. If your goal is to lose fat it doesn’t matter if you do IF or IIFYM or Keto or Low Carb or High Carb or South Beach or Weight Watchers for Wizards. As long as you’re in a calorie deficit you will lose fat. Period.
Q: Is IF dangerous?
A: No. From a physiological perspective IF is completely and utterly 100% safe. HOWEVER, I do not recommend people who struggle with binge eating use IF because, more often than not, it exacerbates the issue and perpetuates binge eating. Not for everyone, mind you. For some people IF works incredibly well. But if you struggle with binge eating, specifically, I wouldn’t try it.
Q: What if I eat something small during the fast? Does that ruin it?
A: From a fat loss perspective, no. Remember –> the MOST important component of fat loss is a calorie deficit. So it doesn’t matter if you stick to IF or not...as long as you’re in a calorie deficit you’ll still lose fat. However, there are reasons outside of fat loss some people choose to practice Intermittent Fasting, in which case eating during the fast does negate the benefits. But that has nothing to do with fat loss.
Putting it All Together
What I gave you today is the barebones essentials of my best and most successful Intermittent Fasting protocol. If you get confused or unsure where to begin:
First: Go back and review the protocol and sample day. That page has the exact system laid out for you in the simplest and easiest to understand format.
Second: Finally, if you’re going to try using this, give it a minimum of 30 days before you make any changes.
As I’ve said before – and I’ll say again – most people don’t have the patience or perspective to stay with a program for more than 2-weeks never mind a whole month (or longer).
But if you really want extraordinary results you need to stick with it for a minimum of 30-days. Any less than that and you simply didn’t give it enough time to see if it really worked.
Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!