Intermittent fasting has stood the test of time as one of the most effective weight loss techniques out there, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Let’s dig deeper into why you should consider implementing this lifestyle change at a time when opportunities are aplenty.
First things first, what is intermittent fasting?
It’s important to make the distinction that this is not a diet. Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating where you get the most out of every meal. How you do this is by fasting for an intermittent period of time before consuming food as you normally would. Simply put, it does not change what you eat as diets do, but rather when.
According to Josh Hewett — an accomplished personal trainer, coach and author — intermittent fasting really isn’t a diet: “I don’t consider IF to be a diet per say. It’s really just an eating schedule.”
Why would this have an effect?
How Intermittent Fasting Works
To understand why you might consider intermittent fasting and why it is something that might help you to lose weight, you need to understand your body’s relationship and reaction to food. When attempting intermittent fasting, your body will go through 3 different stages:
The Fed State: Immediately after eating, your body goes into what is known as the fed state. While in the fed state, your body is digesting and absorbing the meal you have just eaten.
Post Absorption State: During this phase, you are no longer digesting food. This phase lasts for around 8-12 hours after you finish your meal.
Fasted State: In this phase, your insulin levels are low and your body is able to burn fat that it doesn’t have access to while you are in the fed state.
Generally, on a normal eating schedule, your body won’t enter the fasted state because it is very rare to go 8 to 12 hours without eating.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Let’s start with some of the pros of Intermittent Fasting, and I mean the real ones. A quick and precise internet search will lead you to claims that IF will do everything from save you millions to prevent cancer. That doesn’t mean however, that none of the pros are legitimate.
An obvious pro of intermittent fasting is that you will eat less, and as old school thinking in terms of weight loss goes, if you want to lose weight, eat less and do more. Kathleen Trotter, personal trainer, Pilates specialist and author of Finding Your Fit, explains “one possible positive of intermittent fasting is that it makes abstaining from food between meals ‘non negotiable’, which can be helpful if you are a person who mindlessly grazes at food.”
Others point to intermittent fasting as an incredibly easy form of meal scheduling, because you will put less time and effort into meal prep and planning, since you will be eating less meals each day, particularly if your current schedule of eating is along the lines of a meal, or mini-meal every four hours. That’s also a nice ease on your food budget!
Proponents of intermittent fasting are always quick to point out that its main benefit is that you are taking in enough calories during your two meals to lose fat without sacrificing muscle. According to Josh Hewett, this holds true. “In my experience it certainly does work. It does what it promises, helps you lose fat faster while maintaining muscle.”
Drawbacks of Intermittent Fasting
As with anything to do with health, diet, and fitness, we need to always weigh the good with the bad. We’ve seen the good, so let’s look at a few of the downsides that can accompany intermittent fasting.
Like all diets and eating plans, it isn’t for everyone, and there is a chance that in some particular cases it will have serious consequences. As Trotter points out, “a negative is if you have blood sugar irregularities (such as diabetes), when not eating for sustained amounts of time can be detrimental. On the other hand, for those looking to add muscle and drop weight (and let’s face it, that’s a lot of us), this schedule of eating can make it difficult to achieve your goals. “It may be challenging to consume the necessary calories and macro-nutrients while following this protocol”, says Hewett.
How you handle the few meals you have will go a long way toward what kind of impact intermittent fasting can have for you. If those meals are full of unhealthy choices, it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference. As Trotter says, “Intermittent fasting is not healthy if you abstain from food for 16 hours and then eat large amounts of McDonald’s or Pizza. We all have to address why we eat. Are we bored? Depressed? How much we eat, when we eat, and how we eat.”
So beyond just following a proper schedule, there is a lot more that goes into successful intermittent fasting than some of the advocates might have you believe.
How To Start Intermittent Fasting
There are a few different ways you can go about intermittent fasting, the most common of which are outlined below:
The 5:2 Diet: Unlike the other forms of IF listed, you are not obligated to fast with this method, but instead must restrict your caloric intake to 500-600 for 2 days while eating as you regularly would during the other 5 days of the week. So you don’t have to go completely cold turkey on food for an extended period of time, but you are going to give your digestive system some room to operate.
The 16:8 Diet: Easy to implement, 16:8 constitutes fasting 16 hours per day and scheduling your meals for the remaining 8 hours. It provides all the aforementioned pros outlined above without putting too much of a strain on your daily routine. This is a great place to start for those who want to test the waters with intermittent fasting.
Eat Stop Eat: This version of intermittent fasting has you fasting two full days per week, and is one of the more intense patterns of eating. It will help you lose weight and potentially promote the retention of muscle mass, but can be a difficult lifestyle move, as it can interfere with your day-to-day and be mentally draining.
Upon selecting one of these options, there are several apps you can download to help track your fasting and take the work out of dieting. The most popular one — and my personal favourite — is Zero, but other apps such as BodyFast and Life Fasting Tracker should do the trick.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of different diets and eating plans out there, and like Intermittent Fasting, they all have their pros and cons. Hewett points out that “… intermittent fasting is not a miracle solution. If you don’t address why and how you formed your unhealthy habits, any current unhealthy habit will just follow you from one diet to another.”
So before giving intermittent fasting a try, be sure to do your due diligence. Maybe try one of the more traditional methods such as the 16:8 and see whether or not it works for you.
But remember, in the end there are no miracles or easy roads when it comes to weight loss, and there is no substitute for eating properly balanced meals made up of quality foods.