So you’ve heard about intermittent fasting and you’re curious whether or not you should give it a try.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been talking about the benefits – and risks – of intermittent fasting since 2012, far before it was “trendy” to skip breakfast.
In this Simple Guide To Intermittent Fasting, I’ll break down the essentials for you so that you’ll know whether this trend is worth jumping on.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What Is Intermittent Fasting?
- Does Intermittent Fasting Help You Lose Weight?
- What Are Other Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting?
- Are There Risks To Intermittent Fasting?
- Does Intermittent Fasting Work Differently For Women?
- Can You Build Muscle With Intermittent Fasting?
- Popular Intermittent Fasting Protocols
- Intermittent Fasting: Where To Start
- Next Steps…
That’s a lot to cover, so you better skip lunch today so we can fit it all in…
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
For the last 30 or 40 years, we’ve had it drilled into our heads that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. If you didn’t eat breakfast your body was basically going to wither and die.
This is completely wrong and was fed to us (lol) by the food industry as they filled our grocery store aisles with all kinds of ultra-processed “breakfast foods”.
However, it’s only been within the last 50-70 years that we’ve had the luxury of food whenever we wanted it.
For thousands of years, humans evolved by going periods without any food at all as they hunted and gathered. Then when we finally caught something to eat, we would feast.
At its most basic level, this is intermittent fasting – going periods of time with no food.
This type of eating pattern is trendy right now, but as I mentioned above humans have evolved to go periods of time with no food. You might even say we were built for it.
This is one reason why many religions around the world incorporate some kind of fasting period.
Many religions and philosophies practice some form of fasting throughout the year. Whether it’s Lent for Christians or Ramandan for Muslims.
So with fasting practices so commonly practiced for thousands of years, why is it just now becoming so popular?
Well, that might have something to do with the popularization of the shorter “intermittent” fasts.
While most religious or traditional fasts require fasting for an entire day or week, intermittent fasting is a much shorter, and easier to digest (lol) period of time with no food.
For example, now you might hear about people following the very popular 16/8 protocol. This is where you would eat your meals within an 8 hour window, and fast for the remaining 16 hours.
So you might skip breakfast; eat your first meal at 1pm; eat your second meal at 7pm; have a small snack at 8pm; and then not eat again until 1pm the next day.
Now that you know what intermittent fasting is, let’s dive into some of the benefits you can expect…
Does Intermittent Fasting Help You Lose Weight?
Let’s talk about the first benefit people are usually looking for when they think about intermittent fasting: weight loss.
Weight loss is by far the number one reason intermittent fasting has become as popular and trendy as it is right now. Fasting has been glamourized by many as a miracle diet strategy that makes losing weight effortless.
And to be honest, intermittent fasting can be extremely helpful for losing weight. Although typically a Level 2 Sustainable Nutrition strategy, we’ve helped many, many people lose weight with intermittent fasting inside Transformation Coaching.
But with that said, there’s nothing magical about intermittent fasting when it comes to weight loss.
The main reason it works so well is because it restricts your eating to a certain time frame (i.e. 8 hours, for example).
Make no mistake, if you still eat the same amount of food (i.e. calories) and just do it in an 8 hour window, you’re not going to lose weight. The calorie deficit still has to be there.
Intermittent fasting just makes that calorie deficit slightly more palatable (I’m killing it with these today lol) and easier to maintain.
With that said, one physiological mechanism of intermittent fasting that may promote weight loss is through increasing insulin sensitivity.
A Brief Intro To Insulin
When we eat food, the carbohydrates get broken down into glucose and released into the blood. When this happens our pancreas produces insulin which allows that glucose to enter our cells to be used for immediate energy or stored as glycogen for later.
If we don’t use that insulin efficiently we’re said to be “insulin resistant” and the glucose levels in our blood will continue to rise. If our blood glucose levels continue to rise we develop Type 2 Diabetes which can lead to other very serious health issues if left untreated.
During a fast we’re not taking in any new food so our blood glucose levels drop, our glycogen stores get used up and we increase our sensitivity to insulin.
However, the research is fairly inconclusive around this because while increasing our insulin sensitivity can help with weight loss, weight loss also helps with insulin sensitivity.
It’s kind of a, “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” situation.
This is the same situation when it comes to some of the other health benefits often attributed to fasting such as:
- Reduce high blood pressure
- Reducing inflammation
- Improve cholesterol & triglyceride levels
If you’re overweight, you would see an improvement in all of these when you lose weight by any means not just through fasting.
Like other weight loss strategies, intermittent fasting can be effective when done properly but it’s still just a tool that may help you eat less overall.
The good news is that weight loss isn’t even the main benefit that intermittent fasting can provide…
What Are Other Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting?
Allow me to repeat something from the previous section – Fasting is not a diet. Fasting is a tool that unlocks certain physiological functions.
Getting into the details of these functions and processes is beyond the scope of this Simple Guide, but some of these beneficial functions may include:
- Lowering insulin levels & improving insulin sensitivity
- Human growth hormone increases
- Cellular repair, removal of waste from cells through autophagy
- Gene expression; beneficial changes in several genes and molecules related to longevity and protection against disease
- Reducing oxidative stress & inflammation
- Improving blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Reducing risk of some forms of cancer & may reduce some side effects of chemotherapy
As mentioned earlier, the research around intermittent fasting is still very new, most of which is done on rats.
While this is very promising, research done on rats doesn’t always translate to humans.
If you’re intrigued by any of these benefits, I encourage you to do your own research and seek the help of a professional to guide you down the right path for you.
Are There Risks To Intermittent Fasting?
As with anything, there are always certain risks. Intermittent fasting is no different.
However, fasting for 12-72 hours tends to be relatively safe for most people.
With that said, it’s always advisable to seek the advice of your doctor before any drastic changes to your diet. This is especially true if you’re considering a fast of longer than 72 hours.
One very important note that I don’t see many people giving attention to is that if you have (or have had in the past) an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, you should definitely NOT practice fasting. Especially not before consulting your doctor.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work Differently For Women?
The short answer to this is, yes intermittent fasting does affect women differently than men.
One of the biggest reasons for this difference is in our hormonal makeup.
As it turns out, the hormones responsible for regulating key functions – such as ovulation, metabolism and mood – are very sensitive to energy intake (i.e. the foods we eat and when we eat them).
When we make drastic changes to our diets – including simply not eating – it can throw our hormones out of whack. For women, this effect seems to be even more pronounced than in men.
For more on this, Precision Nutrition wrote a fantastic article outlining where the research stands around fasting for women and the effects it can have on your body.
But here are some general recommendations for women considering intermittent fasting protocols for any reason:
- Discuss any dietary changes with your doctor first
- If you’re pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, fasting is not recommended
- If you just had a baby, fasting is not recommended
- If you have high stress, fasting is not recommended
- If you have a history of disordered eating, fasting is not recommended
- If you don’t sleep well, fasting is not recommended
- If you have PCOS, fasting may be appropriate
So as I’ve mentioned a few times already, but will keep repeating, please discuss any dietary changes with your doctor.
Can You Build Muscle With Intermittent Fasting?
In order to build muscle we need to have adequate protein intake and typically a positive energy balance (i.e. eating more calories than we’re burning).
This is essentially the opposite of fat loss where we need a negative energy balance (i.e. a calorie deficit).
While it is possible to build muscle with intermittent fasting, it’s probably not ideal if you’re trying to maximize your muscle building.
(The exception to this is beginners who have a much easier time building muscle than people who have been strength training for years.)
Now, notice I said “maximize muscle building” above.
One big positive of fasting that does help with gaining muscle is the increase in human growth hormone towards the end of your fasting period.
If you’re simply trying to get a little bit stronger, add a bit of muscle and stay lean through the process (and you don’t mind it taking a little bit longer), intermittent fasting might be a great tool for you.
Popular Intermittent Fasting Protocols
As you fast your body is going through various physiological processes and the longer you fast different processes start happening.
The most common fasting protocol that we all do every day is sleeping. We all stop eating at some point in the evening, go to sleep and then start eating again at some point the next morning.
This could be anywhere from 10-14 hours, depending on what time we finish eating and what time we start eating again. So your daily schedule might look something like this:
- Finish eating by 7pm
- Go to bed by 10pm
- Wake up at 6am
- First meal around 7-9am
Besides this, let’s take a look at some of the more popular intermittent fasting protocols.
The 16/8 Daily Fasting Protocol
I was reading about the benefits of the 16/8 intermittent fasting protocol way back around 2010.
Basically you restrict your “eating window” to 8 hours and then fast for 16 hours.
This particular fasting method became popularized by Martin Berkhan with his “LeanGains” program. Now it’s one of the most common intermittent fasting protocols recommended by many, many people.
The concept is simple: you skip a meal and eat only 2 meals each day.
Essentially, your daily schedule would look something like this:
- Stop eating around 8pm
- Go to bed by 10pm
- Wake up around 6am
- Skip breakfast
- First meal between 12-1pm
- Second meal between 7-8pm
Today, in 2021, that doesn’t seem so crazy but back in 2010 that was unheard of. Most people were still in the mindset of eating 4-6 small meals throughout the day to “keep your metabolism high”, which we now know is not the case.
This is the fasting protocol that I first started experimenting with between 2010-2012 and then discussing publicly all the way back in 2013 (!!).
The 24-hour Fasting Protocol
Back in 2010 when I started reading about the benefits of fasting, the first thing I did was a trial 24-hour fast.
I did this first 24-hour fast to test the waters. To see how my body responded and how it felt to go 24 hours without food. Before this I never missed a meal – ever.
In my opinion, this is a good place to start for most people when you’re considering testing the waters with intermittent fasting, especially if you’ve never gone 24 hours without food; a simple 24-hour test.
Simply have dinner one night and then don’t eat anything until dinner the next day. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Even if you never fast again, you’ll notice things about your body and your hunger cues.
You’ll become more aware that when you get hungry, if you just sit with it for a few minutes, that sensation will pass.
Along with some of the other benefits discussed earlier, this awareness is extremely helpful for long-term weight loss and weight maintenance.
After that, a good schedule for 24-hour fasting would be 1-2x per week if you want to make it a regular thing.
The 36-72-hour Fasting Protocol
So you’ve done your first 24-hour test fast and you’ve done a few additional 24-hour fasts. But now you’ve heard about the benefits of longer fasting periods and you want to test the waters.
Typically, a 36-72 hour fast is relatively safe for most people but, I’ll repeat this again – this is not medical advice and you should consult with your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.
Getting into 36-hour and longer fasts add one additional challenge: going to bed hungry.
But the premise is still relatively simple – don’t eat anything for 36-72 hours.
With any fasting period it’s also important to remember to drink plenty of water. You want to stay hydrated and filling up with water can help alleviate some hunger.
Going 36-72 hours without food can be quite challenging, but the rewards of regular extended fasting periods may be worth it.
If this is something you want to work into your regular schedule, 3-4x per year (quarterly) is adequate for most people.
Again, most fasting research is done on rats, which isn’t ideal, but it is very promising.
Do your own research and consult with your doctor before jumping into extended fasts.
Intermittent Fasting: Where Should I Start?
As mentioned above, a good place to start for most people would be a simple 24-hour fasting test.
Eat dinner one night, and then don’t eat again until dinner the next day. Pay attention to how you feel, becoming aware of your body and your hunger cues.
Even if you never fast again, the awareness you gain from this will be extremely helpful.
After that, maybe you start a regular 24-hour weekly fasting practice. Or perhaps the 16/8 daily protocol works better for you.
There’s no right or wrong here and you can’t screw this up. Just take a break from eating and see how you feel.
This simple guide has no doubt given you a lot of great places to start with intermittent fasting.
If you’d like some more personalized help with all this, I highly recommend scheduling a complimentary, 1-1 Transformation Strategy Call with one of our Transformation Specialists:
Simply take 5 minutes to answer a couple of questions and then choose a time that works best for you.
During your call, we’ll go over:
- Where things are at right now for you, what’s working/not working
- Where you’d like to be in the next 12 months
- Any obstacles or challenges you’re facing, and how to break through them to achieve your biggest goals!
At the end of your call you’ll have an opportunity to ask any questions you may have, and if it makes sense we can chat about getting involved with one of our coaching programs.
But either way, you’ll you have crystal clear clarity on exactly what you need to do to moving forward to achieve your biggest fitness, weight loss or transformation goals.
It only takes 5 minutes to schedule a call and there’s zero-risk, so do it now before it gets lost in the shuffle of life:
Looking forward to chatting,