I am a massive supporter of intermittent fasting (or IF) and have been doing it for over 2 years now. This coupled with other training and nutrition protocols has allowed me to transform my physique and health from mediocre to a much higher level than I was. I dropped approximately 4% body in those two years from about 15-16% to 11-12%, I have also increased my lean mass during that time maintaining a bodyweight of about 78kg. I attribute a significant portion of these changes to intermittent fasting. So what is it? And should you try it?
What is intermittent fasting?
In its simplest form intermittent fasting is abstaining from food for a set period of time on a daily basis. This is in contrast to standard fasting which can have you go without food for extended periods (days or sometimes even weeks and more!). I use the Leangains approach to intermittent fasting, meaning that I abstain from food for about 16 hours per day, I then spend the rest of the day eating my calories. I fast from 9pm in the evening until 1-2pm every day (fasting window) and then eat from 1-2pm until 9pm (feeding window) and start again. During the fast I drink a couple of black coffees and as much water as I want. It’s basically skipping breakfast.
That sounds bonkers. Why should I try intermittent fasting?
It does sound a bit weird to intentionally go without food (especially breakfast “The most important meal of the day“). But hear me out. There are a few reasons to at least consider it:
1) Manage your calorie intake
If you’re an overeater (I know I was) then this is a great way to manage the amount of food you take in during the day. With less time to eat, in theory that’s less food consumed. Obviously you will need to manage how many calories you take in during the feeding window – there’s no benefit if you eat 3 days worth of food in one sitting!
2) Give your stomach a rest
Our stomachs and digestive systems are overtaxed. They were not designed to cope with the onslaught of high calorie, low nutrition foods we throw at them on a daily basis. In fact, from an evolutionary perspective they were probably better off not having anything to work on at all from time to time. Food was probably on occasion scarce to our ancestors which impacted the way our bodies evolved. If that’s the case, then our bodies are designed to go without. If we abstain from food, it gives our digestive system a chance to clear out and rejuvenate itself. Which leads us onto…
Auto-whatty? Well, from Wikipedia:
“Autophagy (or autophagocytosis) is the natural, regulated, destructive mechanism of the cell that disassembles unnecessary or dysfunctional components.”
That sounds hideous! Why would I want that?!?! In simpler terms, it’s our bodies innate ability to repair, recycle and cleanse itself. This could potentially increase lifespan and general health. There are a few ways to kickstart autophagy in your body. These range from exercise and manipulating your diet. And of course, there’s fasting. More on autophagy here.
4) Burn fat
If you’re spending a proportion of your day not eating, your body is going to look for an alternate fuel source to carry out it’s daily tasks. It had a plan with how to deal with this all along though. Your body fat. Our fat is basically a storehouse of potential energy for periods of time when food may have been scarce (see that ancestral health theme is popping up again). The problem is, food (at least in the western world) is so abundant and calorie dense, that we very rarely get to use our body fat stores. In fact most of the time we add to them. By intentionally abstaining from food everyday your body will look to it’s fat stores to get you through the day. If you’re using your body fat, then you’re getting leaner. And that’s a good thing from a health perspective (unless your too slim already, in which case, eat more!).
5) Mental focus and discipline
Not eating when food is available to you takes effort. Doing so on a regular basis takes dedication and discipline. This discipline get easier with time though, as does anything practiced regularly. There are many anecdotal stories out there about how IF can also improve mental clarity. I’ve seen maybe flashes of this in my daily practice, but I can’t say it was massively noticeable.
Intermittent Fasting Essentials
Jordan Syatt over on Instagram has put together this useful infographic detailing the essentials.
As with anything health related that you want to try, make sure you are in a position to do it safely. If you’re on any medications or suffer from any preexisting health conditions consult your doctor. While I believe in the benefits of fasting and don’t believe it dangerous in any way, it’s best to make sure you’re in a safe position to test it yourself. If you’re clear and safe to give it a go, let me know how you get on!