Intermittent Fasting for Health and Fat Loss

Find out if fasting is right for you and experiment responsibly

a single pea on a white plate
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You’re into fitness so you’re probably aware of the recent explosion of fasting techniques and the borderline hysteria surrounding them. People love the idea of fasting, but are they on the right track?

Intermittent fasting (IF) underpins most of the common fasting techniques. IF is the practice of occasionally going for extended periods without eating.

You should know that this isn’t fancy or new. We all do some form of IF every single day, except we don’t call it that.

We call it sleep. You know, we eat at dinner, then again at breakfast, and take a break in between.

When done properly, IF may help regulate blood sugar, control cholesterol, keep body weight in check, increase muscle, extend your life, and more.

Naturally, and in short order, IF has become a solution of near-mythical proportions that health and physique-oriented people use to keep their bodies in top shape. But IF research is still in its infancy. It could be another 5 or more years before we fully understand how it works, and which methods are best.

With research lagging, but enough anecdotal evidence to intrigue me, I decided to test a few methods myself.

Hi, My Name Is John and I Haven't Eaten in 24 Hours

Am I starving? Well, no, not really.

It’s weird. You know that hunger feeling you get about 4-5 hours after your last meal? Where your stomach’s reminding you that it’s been a while? I’m not even that hungry.

I’ve learned that hunger peaks there and immediately diminishes. About 20-24 hours later, hunger comes back again but never as bad. This has to do with hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, insulin, glucagon, leptin, and ghrelin, and how our organs respond to them. But let’s skip the heavy science.

One of the first and most important benefits of IF isn’t physical at all. It’s psychological. IF has the power to reorient how we think about eating and in the developed world, let’s face it, too many of us think about eating like we’re kings. Fasting, even just for one day, teaches you. 

Hunger is not an emergency. Hunger really isn’t something to panic over; nothing really bad happens if you miss a meal or two (after all, our ancestors survived without Taco Bell on every corner). Allow yourself to get hungry, then sit with the feeling rather than trying to make it go away immediately.

Remember, psychological hunger is different from physical hunger: By the end of a one-day fast you’ll feel real hunger, and in the future you’ll be able to use that as a reference point to interpret your appetite correctly and avoid unnecessary calories.

What I Gained and Lost With IF

Okay, but how about some specific physical results of IF?

Since there isn’t one definitive IF protocol (there’s Alternate-Day, Meal Skipping, Eat Stop Eat, Leangains and Warrior Diet, to name a few), I decided to test six different methods over the course of six months.

Main takeaways:

  • I went from 190 to 170 pounds and reduced my body fat from 10% to 4% while maintaining most of my lean muscle mass.

  • While my IF experiments worked quite well, the intermittent fasting approach didn't produce better fat loss than a more conventional diet approach might have.

  • However, I did find that IF made it easier for me to maintain a low body weight and a very low body fat percentage compared to conventional diets.

  • IF can be helpful for in-shape people who want to really get lean without following conventional bodybuilding diets, or for anyone who needs to learn the difference between body hunger and mental hunger. It’s not the end-all, be-all of nutrition or fitness.

How to Try IF Without Losing Your Mind

Having to choose among a myriad of IF options—and staying the course during your first fast—can seem daunting.

Here are some simple options for safe, sane experimentation (which, by the way, is best when done under the supervision of a trusted coach or doctor).

  • The trial fast: Try going without food for 24 hours—that’s it. This helps you get accustomed to hunger and see if more advanced IF methods are right for you. Get a little spacey during your trial fast? A little irritated at people? Very common. Want to put your head through a wall or yell at everyone who enters the room? That could be a problem. But you’ll never know until you try. 
  • The periodic fast: This is for anyone who responded well to the trial fast. Once a year, once a month, once a week, fast for a day. 
  • The daily fast: Follow each 8-hour feeding period with a 16-hour fast. This is for folks who are fit, already eat healthy, and want to be extremely lean. Note: Women seem to need a longer eating window,say, 10 hours. Remember though, intermittent fasting isn't for everyone, so make sure to check with your doctor or knowledgable coach before beginning. 

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