Intermittent Fasting – yet another trend that has been washing over the internet, but how legit is it? What does it even really mean? Almost all of us have heard of fasting (where you simply abstain from eating for a predetermined amount of time), but what’s with the “intermittent” part? Well, today you’re gonna find out!
Now, off the bat, I want to make it clear that – unlike a lot of other *diets* out there – this is NOT a fad. You know a diet is a fad [instantly] when it’s only meant to be done temporarily; but with Intermittent Fasting, you can live your life day-to-day in a way that is very sustainable, and easy to maintain for years and years (as a lifestyle).
However, like with High Intensity Interval Training protocols, there are a number of variations. One very popular version that I’ve heard of people trying (I even had an old colleague back in the UK who used this method) is that of the ‘5:2 Protocol’, whereby you eat “normally” for five days of the week, but heavily restrict calories (to just 500kcal) the other two days (which are considered your fasted days).
There are some disadvantages to this particular method, however, I will concede that a) I know people who have successfully made this version “stick” (in terms of implementing it as a lifestyle – and they have been doing it for a couple of years now), and b) if you are someone whose nutrition is completely “out of whack” (i.e. you’re wolfing down burgers, pizzas, sodas and other junk as part of your three meals per day) then this would make a decent enough stepping stone towards eating healthier. I’m just not a fan of the over-liberal approach to eating [more or less] what you want for five days, followed by severe calorie restricting for two…
‘Yep! That’s right – we “skip breakfast”…’
Another variation is the ‘23:1’ whereby you have one hour in the day within which to consume all your food; the other twenty three hours you spend fasting. Now, there are some advantages to this – in terms of “meal prep”, it’s incredibly simple to just prepare one BIG meal per day. And this can have some of the benefits that I’ll be going into shortly… So, for convenience and simplicity, this works well. But trying to bosh a couple of thousand calories in one sitting just sounds gut-wrenching!
Personally, I actually use the ‘16:8’ method of Intermittent Fasting, and the changes I’ve noticed are fantastic! This approach doesn’t involve taking entire days of fasting or calorie restricting, but rather, simply adjusts your “feeding times” so as to spend approximately one third of the day eating, but then fast for the other two thirds. For some people, this will sound very strange and possibly even “impossible” to implement into their daily routine, but that is just a mental block that is easily overcome once you give it a try and see it work in practice.
Funny enough – if you’ve read my last CXP Fitness post where I talk about Hugh Jackman and how he got “jacked” over the years – when it comes to Hugh’s nutrition, he – in fact – also uses this version of Intermittent Fasting. He and I use the exact same “feeding windows” too, so basically, our first meal of the day will be at midday. Yep! That’s right – we “skip breakfast”!! But stay with me here. The time within which we get in all of our meals is between noon and 8pm. So, just eight hours to get in all of our day’s calories. Now, Jackman needs about 4000kcal per day, and I’m good at around 3500kcal. But with only 8hrs to smash through that much food, it means that even 3-4 meals can end up being about one THOUSAND calories a piece!
This may sound like a lot, but really – it’s not. You should definitely whip on back and read [or listen to] The Misconception of Calories where I discuss the importance of understanding calorie intake – that way, the notion of this post won’t seem quite as daunting.
Let me just touch upon that “breakfast skipping” part… now, it’s not really *skipping* the meal, rather just eating it later than ‘normal’. See, most people will have dinner around 6ish, then eat breakfast the following morning anywhere between 6am and 8am (depending on your schedule); but think about it – you’re still going 12-14 hours without food here. All we’re doing with the noon-to-8 method is eating your last meal later on (meaning you won’t go to bed hungry), but then eating your first meal of the [following] day later than you might usually have it.
‘… for sixteen hours, insulin levels will be significantly lower…’
The idea is to still get in the same amount of nutrients that you would normally seek to consume (calories/protein/etc), but instead of spreading it out over the course of roughly twelve hours, trying to fit it all within eight.
But okay, what are the actual benefits to even doing this, right? Well, there are many. However, I want to focus on the three biggest ones, so let’s turn our attention to those right now:
Firstly – and this is huge for me [personally – in the past], but also anyone who has any predisposition towards [Type II] Diabetes – is that Intermittent Fasting is able to mitigate the effects of Insulin Resistance. See, every time we put food in our mouth, we elicit an insulin response. The bigger spikes will occur when we eat carbs, but even protein and fat will trigger insulin secretion (just to a far lesser extent than carbohydrates).
With Intermittent Fasting, we are limiting those responses so that they are not occurring constantly throughout the day, but are confined to an 8hr window, then for sixteen hours, insulin levels will be significantly lower than they would be if we just kept spiking them every few hours throughout the entire day.
Think of your body like an Amazon Warehouse – stock (food) comes in and either the floor workers (insulin) go ahead and store it, or the delivery handlers (other appetite-regulating hormones) will get it sent out for delivery (to whatever parts of the body require the nutrients), and so, it spends little to no time stored.
‘… macronutrients (such as carbs) spend less time getting stored [as fat]…’
Standard eating habits (including eating several “smaller” meals throughout the day) mean that there is constant “stock” coming in, but the “delivery handlers” can only handle so much, therefore, leaving a lot of excess just sitting around not getting used, and so – with so much insulin “on shift” [wanting to do its job] – insulin will go ahead and store a whole lot of it instead.
See, constantly ‘grazing’ over the course of twelve [plus] hours means that there are constantly elevated levels of insulin in the blood stream, which will lead to any nutrients that aren’t used right away getting stored instead. Now, you’ll probably be wondering/asking, ‘If you eat all those nutrients in a shorter time-span, surely that’s worse because they’re not all going to get used up in just 8 hours, right?’ Well, that’s a fair point, however, what we’re trying to avoid is having insulin constantly storing everything (which is its role); instead we want to allow insulin levels to lower, thus meaning that nutrients that aren’t used straight away will remain “in line” (so to speak) until they’re needed, at which point they will then get used (as opposed to stored).
Intermittent Fasting causes lower insulin levels, which means that macronutrients (such as carbs) spend less time getting stored [as fat], and more time actually being used by the body. See, we’re allowing the body time (approx.. 16hrs) to actually use the nutrients that have been taken in, and that’s long enough that a *real* “demand” [for that “supply”] comes about again, as opposed to creating a demand (i.e. just eating because ‘it’s time to eat’).
‘… think of it as a “cleaning out” process.’
The second major benefit of Intermittent Fasting is that it can help reduce inflammation. On a personal level, this was another significant change for me – as I became overweight a number of years ago, I suddenly developed kinda gnarly skin blemishes and irritations; even as a teenager I never had skin as bad as I did when I was overweight (but then – as a teenager – I was always super lean, so…). Intermittent Fasting helped me see [surprisingly] fast results in so far as clearing up my skin went, and this was due to reducing the inflammation that was occurring.
Now, if we have constantly elevated levels of a hormone – like insulin – then inflammation is going to occur. Thing is, hormones require symbiosis – an equilibrium if you will. Many hormones in the body work in pairs, and much like [yep, you guessed it] the Yin & Yang, they must balance each other out. The problem with the endocrine system (your hormones) is that even just having one out of whack can have a domino effect on others.
This inflammation can present in different ways; you may find that – like I had – skin blemishes flair up. In extreme cases, conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome may occur. Or you may find inflammation in the form of painful joints (and the worsening effect of various arthritic conditions).
Thing is, when we fast, we allow a process in the body called autophagy to occur. The best way to “decipher” this term is to think of it as a “cleaning out” process. Autophagy basically means that the body “eats itself”, but not in some weird auto-cannibalistic way. No. What it does is it “eats” the dead cells that would otherwise just sit around in the body – a build-up of which can be part of the problem when it comes to inflammation; think of skin blemishes – they’re essentially just blockages of dead skin cells and excess oils that pile up under the surface of the skin.
So… if Intermittent Fasting allows for a recalibration of insulin levels (so that they’re not just constantly elevated), and this “re-balancing” of hormones leads to more autophagy, then we’re paving the way for an internal environment that is more efficient, effective and healthy; inflammation will then become notably reduced as a result.
And finally, the third amazing benefit of Intermittent Fasting is the correlation it has with both weight loss and decreased appetite. Obviously, over the first couple of days, you may find that you’re famished in those few hours leading up to your first meal [at noon]. However, once the body comes to realize that this is your new “pattern”, it will adjust and regulate as necessary, and you’ll quickly find that you’re no longer hungry all the time.
A new client that I took on recently said that he and his wife had been incorporating Intermittent Fasting into their daily lives, and his first major revelation was how he no longer felt hungry constantly!
See, there are two other hormones related to eating [besides Insulin & Glucagon], that are crucial to appetite control. These are: Leptin & Ghrelin. Now, I’ll dedicate an entire post to this duo in the future, but for now, we just need to know that: Leptin tells us that we’re full (i.e. to STOP eating), and Ghrelin tells the body that we’re hungry (i.e. to find food).
Clearly, if one of these two isn’t functioning properly, then weight-gain is somewhat inevitable! Buuuuut… if our hormones are all balanced (and working properly), then this “time adjustment” will just mean that Ghrelin won’t be telling you that you’re hungry until it gets closer to noon – the body will know to start secreting that hormone at the new time that it expects to receive food.
So, if our “hunger hormones” are doing their job, then we won’t be voraciously hungry all the time (owing to the body constantly expecting to receive food every few hours), and so, our appetite becomes better regulated, and as a result, it is also easier to lose weight [healthily].
And there you have it – Three Benefits of Intermittent Fasting. Now – again – you’ll find a lot of experts tell you about even more benefits than just the ones I’ve listed here, but I believe these three to be the most significant in terms of potential impact and results yielded when implemented.
As with anything concerning diet & nutrition, I advise you to consult your doctor/dietician/nutritionist first – especially if you have any serious health conditions (including – but not limited to – Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoporosis, and others). You may find that some Healthcare Professionals might advise against Intermittent Fasting, but I would say that it is pertinent to ask WHY! If it has any implications on a particular medication you may be taking or other ramifications regarding your health, then clearly, this may not be a good option for you. But if your health is perfectly normal/in check, then you could seriously benefit from trying this.
I hope – as always – that you’ve learned something new here. Catch the next post [for CXP Edge] where I’ll be discussing: The Six Best Supplements for Weight Loss! So, I look forward to catching you then.
In the meantime, remember – Eat Healthy, and Eat Smart!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO