I don't know whether there's been a resurgence of late, or my phone just believes that I need to read more articles on Intermittent Fasting (IF) because everywhere I look lately there's some more news about IF and how good it is for you. Which is making me wonder...should I get back on the bandwagon?
But firstly... what is IF?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a term for an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.
As IF concerns itself more with 'when' to eat as opposed to 'what' to eat it is considered less of a diet, and more of an eating pattern. Thus, it provides more flexibility in the content of your meals (BACON!), the size and frequency of your meals (lots of small meals often or fewer larger meals) and despite the fact that you are given 'eating windows', the timing of your meals is still very much up to you.
I found IF enjoyable because of ALL of these reasons.
It worked for me timing wise:
As a personal trainer or coach, unless you wake up an hour earlier and eat at 4am, you don't really get to another opportunity to eat until 9am or some days even later. Plus, finishing up a 3 hour block in the evening at 7:30pm or 8pm means that dinner could be quite late.
It worked for me content wise:
I've done the 'eating less so I'm way too hungry and have no sugars for my brain and muscles to process' approach. No thanks.
I've done the whole 'eating so clean that my idea of dessert was cacao mashed together with chia seeds, coconut oil and dates'. Also not for me anymore thanks.
I've done the zone 'carry around your scale EVERYWHERE YOU GO' diet. Yeah, nah.
The content based diet I've probably had the most success with is counting my macros. Even this though, can become mentally draining as you are forced to log everything into a food diary. However, after counting macros on and off for a couple of years or so, I have a pretty good idea of my macros most of the time without needing to plug it in. So I usually rely on a good mix of greens, proteins and carbs. Simples. (If only I'd figured THIS out sooner).
Even better, IF allowed me to eat whatever I wanted within reason. (I rarely counted my macros while fasting). So nothing is really off the table - you've just got to keep your common sense!
IF also worked for me in terms of meal frequency:
If there's one thing eating small meals more frequently taught me, it's that I don't like eating small meals more frequently.
I got sick of eating. "HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU GET SICK OF EATING!?" I hear you ask. Well, it's possible. And I wasn't happy about it either.
I prefer larger, more filling meals, LESS often. My most enjoyable eating frequency is probably two larger meals with a light snack in between. It's how I eat on the weekends, and it's the most enjoyable way for me to enjoy my food. A large late brunch, a mid afternoon snack and a large (but smaller than breakfast) dinner.
Research has shown that you are less likely to consume AS much food eating this way than you would be if you're snacking all the time. That said, make sure you are still eating ENOUGH!
BUT WHAT ABOUT MY GAINS MATE!
Ahhhh, yes. I also thought this. That if I didn't eat before my workouts I was going to wither away and lift 30kgs less than normal.
In fact, after a few months of doing IF, I couldn't train if I'd eaten within the previous 2 hours. Well, I mean... I could train...I just didn't feel as efficient. I felt heavy, slow and tired. Training (and yes, even weights and lifting) in a fasted state actually felt AMAZING once I got used to it.
All weight loss methods can cause muscle loss, that is why it is important to lift weights and keep protein intake high. BUT one study shows that intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than regular calorie restriction. (I'll take that...even though 'one' study is probably not indicative of true results).
How do you fast?
There are several ways one can 'fast' and if you are considering trying IF, it's important to select the one that will fit best with your lifestyle. Not sure which one suits you best? Give a few a try. The main fasting methods are:
- The 16/8 Method: Also called the Leangains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, for example from 1 pm to 9 pm. Then you "fast" for 16 hours in between. (This is the style I found most effective for MY schedule)
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 Diet: On two non-consecutive days of the week, only eat 500-600 calories. Eat normally the other 5 days. More details here.
But surely starving myself isn't great for my body?
Actually, you're not starving your body. You're giving it adequate time to process all the fuel you've consumed. Plus, when it runs out of fuel you've eaten, it will turn to your fat stores for energy. Hence why IF is considered a great tool for fat loss. More scientifically:
Here are some changes that occur in your body when you fast:
- Human Growth Hormone (HGH): The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing as much as 5-fold. This has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain, to name a few.
- Insulin: Insulin sensitivity improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels make stored body fat more accessible.
- Cellular repair: When fasted, your cells initiate cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells.
- Gene expression: There are changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease.
Who SHOULDN'T do IF
Look, IF is certainly not for everyone.
If you are underweight, or have a history of eating disorders, then you should not do IF without consulting with a health professional first. Pretty much goes without saying for any diet.
If you have a medical condition, then you should also consult with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting.
This is particularly important if you:
- Have diabetes.
- Have problems with blood sugar regulation.
- Have low blood pressure.
- Take medications.
- Are underweight.
- Have a history of eating disorders.
- Are a female who is trying to conceive.
- Are a female with a history of amenorrhea.
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Annoyingly, research seems to indicate that IF has shown more results for males than females. That said, I still stand by feeling healthy and happy when I was doing IF - and what's better than an eating pattern that feels good to you and is healthy to boot!
Ok. Truth bomb. You are going to feel HUNGRY. But only at the very beginning while your body is getting used to it.
There may be times you feel a bit weak and your brain isn't performing as well as you're used to.
Again, this should only be temporary, as it can take some time for your body to adapt to the new meal schedule. If it persists, see a health professional
All that being said, intermittent fasting does have an outstanding safety profile. There is nothing "dangerous" about not eating for a while if you are healthy and well nourished overall.
To be completely honest with you all, writing all of this just makes me realise how much I actually really miss IF and how much I enjoyed it. So I guess it's time to put in some changes and try to get back to in to it, eh!
Whatever diet or eating pattern you choose - at the end of the day, we can't stress enough how you need to play around and find something that suits you!
Still have more questions? With so many conflicting opinions I'm not surprised! I found a good resource, at a website called Health Ambition. Health Ambition was started by Helen Sanders with a mission to make the world of health much clearer and cut through the jargon. The site has grown a lot in the past years and continue to provide easy to follow advice that anyone can follow! So if you're still confused...maybe head here for some more reading!