Intermittent fasting (IF) seems to have become a hot topic recently. For me and my brother, Brad, it has definitely been a real game changer. It was like the missing link for us in terms of self-optimization. You, like many others, may be wondering why so many people are starting to swear by intermittent fasting. Let’s talk about what exactly IF is and why it’s so ridiculously effective for many people all around the world.
What is IF?
IF isn’t a diet… that might seem surprising to you, but it’s true. IF is a way of eating–a lifestyle that focuses on fasting (not eating) for various periods of time. After you eat, you’re in a fed state. This means that for 6 hours after you eat your body is digesting fats/ proteins and metabolizing nutrients from your meal. Insulin is released to lower your blood sugar (which also inhibits the use of body fat for energy) and glucose is recruited in order to fuel your muscles.A typical intermittent fast lasts between 12 and 20 hours. Depending on how long your fasts last, this will determine the duration of your eating window. For example, we typically fast for 18 hours per day and eat during a 6 hour window. We usually stop eating at 8PM and begin eating again at 2PM the next day. Each week we perform a prolonged fast, lasting between 24 and 72 hours. Prolonged fasting is not the same as IF, but it is very beneficial and can compliment IF in a number of ways, but we’ll save that for a separate post.
How IF Works:
6 hours after your last meal you enter the fasted state. The most important thing that happens in the fasted state is that your body begins to rely on ketone bodies for energy. Ketone bodies are a form of energy consisting of fatty acids, which are broken down from fat tissue. When you’re fasting you rely on body fat for energy. Once you eat, the fat burning stops because food becomes the primary energy source. Why IF is Beneficial in Daily Life: Fully utilizing your fasted periods is a fantastic way of hacking into your primal biology and reaping the many benefits associated with not eating. Evolutionarily speaking, we did not have 24/7 access to food like we do now, and we certainly didn’t often eat 3 or more large meals per day–plus snacks. Our body has become adapted for fasting, which is why many people say they feel “supercharged’ during their fasts. This claim might seem counterintuitive, but think about it for a second: if your body is without food, wouldn’t it make sense that there would be physiological mechanisms in place that enable you to feel energized and mentally calm in order to focus on acquiring food? Well that’s exactly what happens. Fasting puts you in a kind of hyper-focused zen state where you feel light, rational, equanimous and elevated. There’s no energy being used for digestion. Also, a hormone called norepinephrine gets released, making you feel very energized. I like to think of it like this: picture yourself in 2 different scenarios and choose which one you think you’d be most productive in–let’s say that by “productive” we mean that you’ve got to send 4 important emails and also exercise for 45 minutes. Choose which scenario would be better for accomplishing these goals.
In scenario 1 you just walked out of an all-you-can-eat buffet. You tried not to overdo it, but you’re feeling very full and lethargic as your body desperately tries to digest the multiple plates of food that you just inhaled.
In scenario 2 you’ve been fasting for 22 hours. Your body is deep into fat burning mode and while your stomach occasionally grumbles, the feelings of hunger are fleeting and you feel very light.If you can remember the last time you had horrible post-meal lethargy, I’m sure you choose scenario 2. I like to think of IF as the exact opposite of excessive eating. Many people associate IF with starvation or calorie deprivation, but that’s an error. IF comes nowhere close to pushing your body to starvation. Even if you’re extremely lean and muscular, your body has more fat to use for fuel than you might think. When practicing IF you can still get your necessary calories into your body, you just have to do it in a more strategic way (i.e. only during your feeding window).IF is great in daily life because once you get used to it, it becomes totally effortless and very convenient. IF will completely change your relationship with food and teach you to only eat when you’re truly hungry. Most people eat because they’re used to feeding at certain times during the day. They’ve trained their body to expect food at regular intervals. I know I used to wake up in the morning and immediately cram food down my throat because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Most times I wasn’t even really hungry, but I did it regardless.Not structuring your day around food is a very liberating feeling. Worrying about the next snack or meal is a very real phenomenon in modern society. Knowing that your body can thrive during extended periods of fasting is an amazing discovery to make for yourself.
Benefits of IF:
As you might have guessed, IF has many amazing benefits. Some of these include:
Less Hungry: You’ll feel less hungry and understand what true hunger feels like (getting a few hunger pangs early in a fast doesn’t mean your body needs food).
Fat Loss: Your body begins to adapt to your new eating schedule and in turn you become less dependent on sugars and carbs for energy as you begin to use stored body fat instead. This fat loss will leave you feeling lighter and leaner than ever before.
Study: Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss?
Freedom & Productivity: You become more self-sufficient and less reliant on food. This gives you more free-time and mental + physical energy to focus on more important things in your life. Your relationship with food will never been the same. You begin to eat to live, not live to eat. The discomfort that’s often associated with an empty stomach disappears and you become more confident and in touch with your body and its needs.
Mental Clarity & Resilience: Your mind becomes laser focused and tuned in with your body in a profound way. IF can minimize mental fog and improve brain health by reducing insulin sensitivity, reducing inflammation, reducing blood sugar levels and reducing oxidative stress. IF has also been shown to aid in the deficiency of BDNP (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which may help combat depression.Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults.
Lower Blood Pressure: Reducing blood pressure is obviously important, especially in today’s illness-prone society.Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults
Reduced Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress can lead to many chronic diseases. IF can actually help your body become less susceptible to oxidative stress.Study: Beneficial Effects of Intermittent Fasting and Caloric Restriction on the Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Systems
Improved Immune System: IF can help with white blood cell regeneration. This regeneration process can drastically boost your immune system.
Study: Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system* All above studies from Max Lowery at www.2mealday.com
How to Immediately Implement IF:You’ve probably gone 12 or more hours without food before, whether intentionally or not (a 12-hour fast would be, for example, if you stopped eating at 7PM and started eating again at 7AM). This is a fantastic starting point for incorporating IF into your daily life. As a general rule, the longer your fast lasts, the deeper into the fat burning state your body will go. This correlation will, of course, eventually level off and I’m not at all suggesting that you should not eat for 4 days and expect to lose weight–yes, you will lose weight, but this clearly wouldn’t be sustainable. What is sustainable though is experimenting with different fasting schedules, finding out what works for you and sticking with it long-term.
Start with 12 hour fasts, then try 13, 14, 15 etc. A 16-hour fast is the standard duration for many people who practice IF. Our ideal fasting time is 18-hours. You just have to spend some time on figuring out your optimal IF schedule based on your body and lifestyle.
If you’ve struggled with eating disorders, extreme weight fluctuations, diabetes or other medical conditions, consult a health professional before attempting IF.
IF Tips: Fasting allows you to worry less about what you’re putting in your body. Many people enjoy the fact that they can eat lots of processed carbs and treats during their eating window. You can still get results by doing this, but for optimal results it’s advisable to give your body premium fuel (clean food) since you will be eating for less time during the day. What you’re putting into your gas tank matters a lot, so make every meal as nutritious and energizing as possible.Black coffee, black/green tea and sparkling water will not break your fast and these can be powerful hunger suppressants. Utilize these tools during your fasts if you think it would benefit you.
Hydrate more than you usually would during your fasts!
Don’t get discouraged in the beginning. I know from personal experience that IF can be mentally and physically challenging in the beginning. The first month can be a bit of a shock to the system. If you persevere though, it will become effortless and even fun.