Intermittent fasting (IF) isn’t a diet, it’s just another tool to you to help you reach your goals. There are a couple of different approaches you can take when it comes to IF. I’m going to break this post into a couple sections:
- Type of IF
- Pros and cons
- My experience with IF
- What to consider before starting IF
*If you are interested in trying any of these I always recommend to do your own research as well as this information is not all encompassing and I have not personally experimented with all of these.
- 16:8 Protocol – Fast 16 hours, eat all your meals in 8 hours. This can be great if you are someone who isn’t hungry in the morning. For some people this may look like skipping breakfast and not snacking after dinner. People tend to play with the hours to find a method that works best for them. This can mean shifting the fasting from 14-16 hours and making your eating window 8-10 hours. Some people find this a very helpful method when trying to eat less calories. Mentally knowing you aren’t going to eat before or after x time can be beneficial for some. How might this look? If someone chose to eat make their eating window between 12pm-8pm they would only consume calorie free drinks (coffee and water) before 12pm. Starting at noon they would be able to eat 2 or 3 large meals as it tends to be more difficult to include snacks and meals in such a small window.
Some other examples might look like this:
- Start eating at 7AM, stop eating at 3pm
- Start eating at 11AM, stop eating at 7pm
- Start eating at 2PM, stop eating at 10pm
- Start eating at 6PM, stop eating at 2am
- The 5:2 Diet involves normal eating windows 5 days a week while restricting calories two days a week to 500-600 calories depending on your gender.
- The Eat Stop Eat approach is when you fast once or twice a week for a full 24 hours. If you can’t make it the full 24 hours, 20 hours is supposed to work as well. You would eat normally on non-fasting days. You would also space out your fasting days so they are not consecutive. For some people 1 or 2 days of fasting is sufficient to create a calorie deficit of approximately 10% if you eat relatively healthy whole foods the other 5/6 days. On days when you fast you would only be consuming calorie free or low-calorie drinks like tea, coffee, plain or sparkling water and diet soda.
- By having a smaller eating window, you tend to eat less calories in a day which can be helpful for weight loss
- Improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin
- Can lower inflammation
- Can improve your digestive system
- May help in reducing body fat
- It can help minimize the amount of time you spend prepping as you will likely be eating fewer (but larger?) meals a day
- It can boost your memory and may increase cognitive function
- It can make skin cells more resilient and help them withstand damage caused by oxidative stress
- Fasting can ramp up fat burning so you may lose more fat than muscle
- It can lower levels of bad cholesterol
- It can improve blood pressure
- Increased growth hormone
- Feelings of weakness of tiredness
- Fasting can lead to binging on non-fasting days
- Fasting for too long has the potential to lower your metabolism if done improperly (everyone will be different)
- Not being able to eat can cause some people to focus on the fact that they can’t eat which only exacerbates hunger
- It can be difficult to attend and participate in social activities
- Fasting can result in headaches and crankiness
- Fasting is not ideal for diabetics, those with eating disorders or people who are pregnant
- If your goal is to gain weight, fasting for such long periods of time would make this very difficult
My Experience with IF
Back in 2016 I did intermittent fasting for about 6 months. My goal at the time was to lose body fat while strictly following a set of macros created with weight loss in mind. I had a hard time adjusting to IF as I normally worked out in the morning before work and couldn’t eat for approximately 4-5 hours after.
Also, as a teacher the times I could eat were limited to 10:30 am (recess), 12:15 pm (lunch) and 3:00 after school. This made it hard for me to consume my intended number of calories. Theoretically this is fantastic because it helped put me in a calorie deficit. However, at times I was so hungry that when it actually came time to eat I wasn’t hungry, or didn’t have enough time to finish my meal.
After a couple of weeks, my body adjusted to the routine. It became easier to wait till after 12pm to eat. I would sip on tea and water until that time. I think the transition can be a lot easier for individuals who drink coffee as it suppresses your appetite.
Why did I stop? I actually ended up in the hospital with undiagnosed stomach pains and decided to give my stomach a rest and eat when I was hungry. Do I think IF and my hospital visit are linked? To be honest, not really, I had something similar the year before when I wasn’t fasting. But, why aggravate something if you don’t have to.
Despite not thinking there was a link between my stomach issues and IF I never went back. Why? I personally found it to be more stressful than beneficial. I was constantly trying to move my 14-16 hour window around depending on social engagements and life! Not eating when I’m hungry made me super unhappy and didn’t bode well for my mentality. I would also eat so fast when I could finally eat which isn’t great for digestion or figuring out when you’re actually full.
Intermittent fasting, like any kind of diet or way of eating has the potential to be extremely beneficial. If you want to know if something will work for you, try it! Do your own research and give it a go.
Things to consider before trying IF
What’s your work and training schedule like?
When will you realistically be able to eat?
What’s your social calendar like? Will you be okay not eating with while others eat?
What are your goals?
How often do you eat now? Would you be okay with fewer meals?
How you feel mentally and physically knowing you can’t eat?
Do you get headaches when you are hungry?
Tips for IF
- Allow yourself at least 2 weeks to 1 month to adjust and see if IF works for you. If at anytime you feel sick, dizzy, nauseous or uncomfortable though, it may be good to reassess things or take a more gradual approach like skipping 1 meal every other day
- Stay hydrated during your fasting period. This means lots of calorie free drinks like water, tea and black coffee. Don’t like black coffee or tea, you can add a small splash of milk but you want to stay under 50 calories to make sure you stay in a fasted state.
- Try to schedule your workouts around the times of day you have the most energy
- Keep busy, if you’re just sitting around waiting for your next meal it’s going to be very challenging
- Don’t overeat when you break your fast, eat a meal like you normally would. Chew lots and eat slowly. If you’re still hungry after you can always get more.
At the end of the day though, if your goal is weight loss the most important factor will still be maintaining a calorie deficit over the course of the week and eating whole foods over higher calorie fast foods. Consistency with fasting and or a deficit are also key to success. Some people get into the habit of rewarding themselves with food when “making it through” a fast which lessens the effectiveness of this type of eating/dieting.
Don’t expect intermittent fasting in any form to be a miracle cure to weight loss. Weight loss will always be challenging. Decreasing your calories and increasing your energy expenditure through exercise are proven ways to lose weight. You can find my personal weight loss tips and strategies here.