Intermittent Fasting (IF) comes with a lot of health benefits, if done correctly.
<sigh> Unfortunately your mother thinking you are starving yourself isn’t one of those.
Let me begin by saying that IF does not mean eating less. A lot of people think that fasting means starving, this is simply not the case. Some IF practitioners will cut out either breakfast or dinner, however they will make up for it during their other meals, so in theory, they will be eating less meals but still eating the same amount of calories. I personally don’t feel like I have cut out any meals, as I don’t eat all my food in big chunks but think of it as not eating anything after 6pm. It all depends on when my feeding window starts really. For many people this will be the first step into IF, simply not eating anything after dinner.
I will talk about how I choose to practice intermittent fasting and then explain why.
I have a feeding window of 8 hours, in this window I will consume all of my daily calories and then fast for 16 hours until I consume any calories again. Through research I found out that 16:8 was the most optimal for men. I know that this will be slightly different for women, and that IF may actually not be as beneficial for women as it is for men, however I have not researched enough on that side of the topic so I will encourage you to do so. If you have been following me for a while on my social media you would know that I always encourage people to do their own research and base their decisions and opinions on that.
Depending on what day I have ahead of me I will usually break fast at 8am (5am wake) and start fasting at 4pm, other days I will break fast at 10am (7am wake) and start my fast at 6pm. If you are just starting out it is important not to be rigid it, allow your body to adapt and make sure you are consuming all you calories and you are caloric deficit unless it is intentional and part of your goal. Just do your best and it will all come together with time.
Moving forward, I would usually start my day with warm lemon water, turmeric powder, black pepper, ginger powder and matcha powder. I often have the ginger and turmeric in their raw form soaking in my lemon water, however most times I will consume it as a powder in my drink as it is more convenient in the morning. This usually happens as soon as I wake up, many people will argue that this type of drink will break the fast, mainly because the matcha has a few calories in it which I believe may be true. However I drink this as I am about to break my fast anyway, so I don’t feel like it has much of an impact on the benefits that I am gaining.
The next step for me is to do my workout, I like working out fasted in the morning as I feel light, fresh and energised. However this doesn’t happen a lot of the times as I am still working on changing my schedule to work around this. There is an added benefit that comes from working out near the end of your fasting window but I will talk about the benefits a bit later on.
Once I am finished with my workout, I will usually break fast two to three hours later, again this is to boost the benefits of a fasted workout.
I always break fast with fresh fruits, depending on what’s in season but usually mango, pineapple or watermelon. Fruits digest quickly and aid the cleansing process of you body. Fruit is also light on your stomach and doesn’t make you feel bloated.
With fruit digestion being so quick I will have my next bit of food an hour or so later. That’s normally some two whole grain toasts or bagels with peanut butter on one and homemade nuttela on the other, put together as a sandwich. <love struck>
Again the next meal would be around 2 hours later, with that being a high calorie smoothie. I am not going to get into the contents but if you follow me on social media you would know about my nutritiously packed smoothies, if you don’t then go and check them out. My next meal will be solid food, loads of vegetables, beans and grains such as quinoa or rice. I will end up having a snack sometime (home-made cookies or nuts) throughout the day and it’s usually in between this and my next meal.
This brings us to my last meal of the day, by now it will be either around 4pm or 6pm, depending on when my 8 hour feeding window started. My last meal would be a big salad, this is to boost my leafy greens intake and important nutrients that you get from eating raw plants. I choose to end my day of eating with a salad because I find it light and I don’t feel bloated from eating a big meal of cooked food. I choose to do this because I still have training in the evening most of the times and I try to avoid feeling heavy or bloated, some people would prefer to eat a bigger meal as this will be their last meal of the day however that didn’t work for me.
Now that you are familiar with how I choose to practice intermittent fasting let’s talk about the benefits which may help you understand why I chose this particular way of fasting.
- Body Cleanse – Not eating anything for just one day has shown to help the body clean up the toxins. (This is a different type of fast where you will fast for a whole 24 hours once a week.) This type of fast may be more optimal for certain individuals. Nevertheless, IF also helps clean up the body of toxins, especially if you pair it with breaking your fast with fruit as I mentioned above in how I choose to practice IF. Fasting can also help clear the skin because when the body is temporarily freed from digestion, it’s able to focus its regenerative energies on other systems in the body. Another way of your body cleansing is through autophagy, in short your cells create membranes that hunt out scraps of dead, diseased, or worn-out cells and basically recycle them, resulting in molecules used for energy or to make new cell parts. Check out the link at the bottom of the page or click the word above for more information.
- Longevity – One of the primary effects of ageing is a slower metabolism, the younger your body is, the faster and more efficient your metabolism is. That is why you often hear people say they gain more weight as they get older. My college teacher said to me once “I used to be like you when I was younger, I would eat anything and not be able to put on wight, so enjoy this as much as you can now because when you get older like me (I believe he was in his 60s) you will get a big belly and you will not be able to control it.” The less you eat, the less toll it takes on your digestive system. I don’t think of this as eating fewer calories, but rather eating less meals, and here is where the IF comes in play.
- Improved Digestion – Intermittent fasting gives your digestive system a rest, Fasting can regulate your digestion and promote healthy bowel function, therefore improving your metabolic function. If your digestion is poor, this can affect your ability to metabolise food and burn fat. This is why I stopped eating all the time, I don’t want my energy to be focused on digesting food all the time which brings me to my next point.
- Better Focus – Now I don’t know if there is any science behind this but I generally feel like I am able to focus better when I am fasted and have more energy to carry out tasks, I am also able to think better. I guess you have to try it out for yourself and see if it will affect you in the same way, however there may be more factors to this than just IF. You should also take in consideration how you practice IF, are you taking in enough calories and nutrients, are you resting properly etc.
- Staying Lean – In terms, it means your body is able to use fat as an energy source more efficiently, it actually uses fat two to three times more as stated previously. People often choose IF as a way to burn off extra fat stored in their body. Intermittent fasting combined with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can really help people burn off extra fat. By doing HIIT training your body actually carries on burning body fat even after you are finished with your workout, sometimes for up to 24 hours after the workout. It has been proven that IF actually helps burn fat around the abdominal area, blood flow in the abdominal area is increased when you are fasted which results in loss of belly fat. This is why you should aim to workout in as deep of a fasted state as possible. (One of the reasons why I workout fasted in the morning before I break fast.)
- Increase in Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – “Intermittent fasting between 12 and 24 hours along with high intensity exercise will boost your body’s production of HGH.” For those of you that know a little about HGH, you will also know that your workouts will be more effective, your diet will be more effective and therefore your results will be better. This is why I try to workout in the morning, near the end of my fast as much as I can.
- Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – “Your body’s fat burning processes are controlled by your SNS, which is activated by exercise and by lack of food.“, “The effects of the SNS stay in place for the next few hours after your workout.” This is why I break my fast two to three hours after my training. You can find out more about the SNS, it’s effects and more about the above information in the videos I will link at the end of this post.
Mistake people make when starting out:
Often people make mistakes when starting something new, below are two of the most important ones to avoid in my opinion.
- Not eating enough – Fasting doesn’t necessarily mean starving, to a point. I guess what I am trying to say is you need to make sure you are eating enough healthy foods and calories. Eat a variety of colourful vegetables, fruits, beans, grains and seeds. People will often avoid fats because they are trying out IF in order to burn fat, however this is totally wrong. Make sure you are consuming healthy fats from things such as nuts and avocados. Unless you are caloric deficit for a reason, you should still consume your normal calories.
- Not drinking enough – By this I mean not drinking enough water and staying hydrated. I drink only water during my fast, beware that things such as coffee creamers, nut milks, fruit juices will all break your fast. Even though you are not eating, you are consuming calories which triggers your body to start using this as a source of energy rather than stored fat which kinda defeats the object of IF and may actually be causing you more harm than good. Don’t think of fasting as not eating, fasting means not consuming calories. For you athletes and sports enthusiasts, BCAAs will also break your fast, I have linked a study at the end of the post. Staying hydrated is important as during the fast your body works on “recycling” cells, the old cells and toxins need to be flushed out somehow.
Tips to get started:
This was just an introduction to intermittent fasting and why I do it, I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your own research then go out and try it for yourself. There is not one diet or protocol that will work the same for every person as we are all different.
When trying it out give it a few days so that your body can get used to it, I found it quite hard at the start to eat all my calories during my feeding window and was often really hungry during my fast, this was because my body was used to a different eating schedule so I did a little experiment with myself.
I figured out when my feeding window will be and set alarms on my phone, one to break fast (first meal) at 10am and then alarms for every two hours after that, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm (when my fast would start). I prepared my food and ate 4 times a day, when my alarm started ringing or just around those times. After 3 days I turned off the alarms and noticed that every time I got hungry was around those times when my alarms usually go off, meaning my body got used to the new schedule.
The reason why I ate every 2 hours during my fast was because I find it really hard to consume massive amounts of foods in one go, some people will eat only 2 meals a day but for me that would mean I have to eat 1.5k of calories in one meal and I find that for someone with my physique (70kg, 175cm) it’s just not optimal and leaves me feeling bloated and sluggish. This may be different for other people and be more convenient depending on your job, I work for myself so I don’t have a problem eating every two hours.
You have to take into account that the stomach is a muscle that stretches and shrinks, when your stomach is used to many small meals throughout the day, the amount your stomach can stretch decreases. When you start having bigger and bigger meals less often in the day, the amount your stomach can stretch will increase. So again this is something you can train your body to do so it really is up to you if you will eat bigger but fewer meals a day or eat smaller but more and more frequent meals. Stretching your stomach is not a pleasant process, from what I found out when I tried it as you constantly feel sluggish.
Lastly for anyone that would like to try IF, I would suggest by starting with just restricting yourself from eating anything after dinner, i.e. nothing after 6pm or whenever you have dinner. It is important not to be very rigid with it though, take it step by step and just try your best and trust the process and the path you are on.
When I think that I am hungry during my fast it is normally my body just telling me that it needs more water, and chances are it is the same for you. Every time I think I am hungry during a fast I just drink water and that normally solves the issue. If you are craving stuff at the end of the day it’s your body telling you something. Craving sweet stuff at the end of your day and during your fast, you probably didn’t have enough fruit. If you are craving salty things like crisps it is normally because you didn’t have enough minerals thought the day, such as dark leafy greens. This is why I always add spinach and rocket to my salads and smoothies as they are my favourite, kale is also a good option but not one of my favourites.
Listen to you body, analyse how you feel and why that might be, and try to improve the process the next day, but most importantly, don’t be rigid with it at first and don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes I start my fast early sometimes I start it late, the same goes with breaking fast, sometimes I will have a bigger feeding window as I try my best to make sure I consumed all my maintenance calories.
I hope this information was able to help someone on their journey! If anyone that has more knowledge on the subject do share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments. I am in no way claiming to be an expert in this field.
I have researched quite a bit into intermittent fasting over the last couple of months so some of the information above is from what I already knew from my research and don’t have the links to provide, however you should always do research on the research you read.
You can learn a lot about intermittent fasting from Thomas DeLauer however, as I’ve said before, choose what you take from all the information you read or see on the internet, including this post. A lot of the stuff Thomas talks about I wouldn’t particularly agree with simply because it doesn’t work for me. An example would be breaking your fast with bone broth (he talks about this in one of his videos), firstly I don’t consume animal products and by-products, secondly it does not apply to my goals and why I choose to practice IF. I feel like consuming bone broth defeats the purpose of a cleanse, anyhow you get the gist. I respect him for the information he puts out there and a lot of the above I have learned from him and included in this post, so I have to give him the credit from that so I have linked some of his videos below as you will find them useful. He also has linked studies in the description of his videos if you are interested and would like to read them.
BCAAs do break a fast: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/1/324S.full