Intermittent fasting is a strategy whereby I fast i.e. I don’t eat, for a period of time, usually 16 hours (and for half of which I’m asleep), and then have a period of 8 hours in which I eat. Then, I do it again the next day. That’s really all there is to it. But the one thing more surprising than its simplicity, are the results in terms of weight loss.
A little background
Intermittent fasting probably sounds outrageously simple because we all fast anyway… while we’re asleep. That’s why breakfast is called breakfast: it’s when we break our fast.
As humans we’re evolved to fast. As hunter gatherers we ate when we could and our bodies are evolved to cope with shortage. It’s WHY we store fat.
Since inventing agriculture and finding ways to store food outside of our bodies, we haven’t had to reply on our internal storage mechanisms quite so much. But don’t kid yourself that we have evolved out of it. We still store fat. We still can and probably should, fast.
It is also worth noting that many cultures embrace fasting. Most religions incorporate periods of fasting. Many significant thinkers and achievers throughout history, and who are alive today, recognised and regard fasting as a beneficial practice. Scientific evidence backs up this thinking.
So fasting is not some weird cult fashion. Fasting is normal, and would be regarded as such if it were not so advantageous to the food industry to brainwash us through advertising into thinking that even the slightest feeling of hunger or desire can and should (we deserve it) be dealt with by consuming their product.
Why does Intermittent Fasting Work
Think of it like this:
You feel hungry so you go to the kitchen, open the fridge, and get something to eat. You also have food in the freezer… but apart from the ice cream it needs defrosting and probably cooking. It’s easier to satisfy our needs with food from the fridge than from the freezer. What’s more, so long as we keep restocking the fridge, it’s going to be our first port of call. Most of us will admit to having stuff in the freezer that’s been in there for months. It’s also true that if we get back from the store and have bought more than we can fit in the fridge, we some of that into the freezer too.
Our body’s equivalent of the freezer is body fat. It’s where it put stuff for long term storage and so long as our bodies can get what they need from more easily accessible sources, it won’t use those fat stores.
That’s why fasting works for weigh loss: with no food going in, the body first of all “raids the fridge” and then is HAS TO “delve into the freezer” i.e it is obliged to burn fat.
INTERMITTENT fasting, because we’re all aware of the concept of our bodies going into “starvation mode” i.e. the thing where by metabolism slows down. An analogy I like to use for that is: imagine you have a note pad / jotter with lots of pages. Chances are that you write big, use only one side of the paper, and think nothing of tearing out half used pages and starting again. Now imagine you go into a lecture/seminar and discover that you only have two pages left! You’ll be more conservative.
That’s what our bodies do when they go into “starvation mode”. They recognise that there’s less food coming in, and become more conservative about it.
The thing about INTERMITTENT fasting is that we’re not fasting long enough for our bodies fo go into starvation mode. The fasting periods are long enough for ketosis (fat burning), but not long enough to lower metabolism.
The best and key things about Intermittent Fasting
The best thing about Intermittent Fasting is that you don’t have to deny yourself ANY of the foods you like. If you want pizza, crisps, a chocolate bar, whatever. You can have them… during the eating period.
The key thing about Intermittent Fasting however is that during the eating period you should satisfy your hunger, but no more.
It could be that during your fasting period you fancied a burger, a chocolate bar, a packet of crisps, and a cream cake, but you stayed strong, said “no” and told yourself that you would wait. Now when it comes time to eat you could stuff yourself with everything from you list on the grounds that you wanted them earlier. But what you will find, and what you should go with, is that when it comes time to eat, there will be one that you fancy more than the others, and having eaten it you will be satisfied or at least taken the edge off your hunger you probably won’t want ALL of the other items.
A couple of things happen when you get into Intermittent Fasting, that help with this:
One is that your stomach gets used to less food. Back in the day I would go to MacDonalds and eat two cheeseburgers, large fries, and a large milkshake. Nowadays I could not physically eat that quality of food. Nowadays, if I cook burgers at home, I have one burger with a handful of fries and a glass of water… that’s my meal, and it satisfies me. I don’t want more.
The other thing that happens is that you develop an “I can have this later” attitude towards foods you fancy that replaces the “I must have it now” attitude promoted by advertising. So maybe you break your fast with the burger and maybe have the crisps. But then rather than forcing down the chocolate bar and cream cake, you save them for later. If you’re doing 16 hour fasts with 8 hour eating periods, then at the point you break your fast you have another 7 or 8 hours ahead of you in which to ENJOY the cream cake and chocolate rather than cram it all in at once.
Of course you may choose to break your fast with the cream cake and have the burger later. It doesn’t matter. The crucial thing is that you don’t eat ANYTHING for 16 hours.
An additional point that makes intermittent fasting easy
As I already pointed out: we all fast anyway… while we sleep.
So if you have supper at say 9pm. Go to sleep before midnight, and wake up at say 7am, you already fasted for 10 hours. 10 hours of your fast already done! How easy was that?
With 10 hours done, you only have 6 to go to “get in” your 16 i.e. all you really need to do is skip breakfast and mid-morning snacks and not have lunch until 1pm, and you’ll have done 16 hours without food.
Of course if you eat after 9pm at night then you have to wait until later the next day to break your fast.
An important note: don’t go to bed hungry… but don’t go to bed “full” either. Either one of those will disturb your sleep. Most especially DO NOT think to yourself later in the evening “better eat something because I’m fasting tomorrow”. If you’re not hungry come “supper time” don’t have supper. Don’t force feed yourself in anticipation of fasting.
Breakfast – the most important meal of the day?
My suggestion to skip breakfast probably already triggered the thought that breakfast is widely advocated as being the most important meal of the day.
To answer this let me return to the fridge / freezer analogy: if you NEED food and both fridge and freezer are empty then you HAVE to hit the shops in order to eat. But if there’s food in the freezer, you don’t.
Breakfast provides your body with energy and if it has none in reserve then you do indeed need to have breakfast. In that situation breakfast IS the most important meal of the days. However, if you have reserves that you want your body to use i.e. you want it to burn body fat, you don’t need breakfast.
Crucial elements and reasons for failure
The CRUCIAL elements of intermittent fasting are that you need to do 16 hours, with no cheating. Some people say you can have juice, milk tea, etc. but I think of it this way:
Imagine that you have a pet dog whom you feed at 6pm. Come 5:30 he’s hungry. Now he has bones buried in the garden but that requires effort and he knows the food is coming soon so he waits by his dinner dish instead.
But you don’t feed him… and so by 6:30 he’s really starting to think about those bones in the garden. But then you throw him a biscuit. Just one. It’s not enough to satisfy his hunger, but it’s enough to dissuade him from going out into the garden to dig for bones.
The whole point of intermittent fasting is that we want our bodies to dig into its reserves. So giving it a little fruit juice, milk in tea, etc, is probably going to do a disproportionate amount of harm as regards the goal. DO NOT CHEAT. Tell yourself: I only have X hours to go and then I can have anything the hell I like.
16 hours. Not 15. Not 15.5. 16 hours. Why? Because if, for example, you are doing 10 push ups, which one is the hardest? The last one right? That’s where the real work is happening. Similarly the 16th hour of your fast is more important than any one of the hours that came before it. I got results by doing 16 so that’s what I advocate.
Good news for Intermittent Fasting for beginners
You don’t have to do this every day. Of course you will see greater / faster results if you do it every day. But you will still see benefits by doing it a few days a week. Lots of people do it Monday to Friday and take weekends off. How hard would it be to go 16 hours from when you had supper, by skipping breakfast and mid-mornings snacks? It will take some will-power if you’ve developed the habit of “snacking” in the morning but it IS a habit. Your body doesn’t NEED it and you can break that habit by telling yourself: I’ll have it later.
Hardcore Intermittent Fasting
You might be expecting that I’ll suggest doing longer than 16 hours… but that would be a mistake. Why? Because if you go too long you risk slowing metabolism and all that bad stuff. By going hardcore what I mean is: be more careful about what you eat when you eat, AS WELL AS doing intermittent fasting. Rather than eating, burgers, crisps, chocolate and cake, during your eating periods, try to eat better when you do eat.
Note that this does NOT mean give up those things. But what some people do, and what I do (unless I am really REALLY craving something at the end of my 16 hours) is to break my fast with something nutritious but low calories.
Let’s face it: after 16 hours of fasting, you have 8 hours in which to eat. You’re hungry… but does it HAVE to be cream cake right away? If it absolutely HAS to be cream cake, right now, or you’re going to start killing people: eat the cake. But maybe (and as I said this gets easier as you get into the “I can do it later” mindset) you can break your fast with, for example, a cup of soup, a green smoothie, salad, or some fruit?
My go to fast breakers include Bouillon, Huel, or a bowl of oats. In each case I find they are quick, easy, better than “junk food”, and satisfy me long enough that I can make some proper food rather than just raiding the fridge to make a sandwich.
Some people advocate 16 hours of fasting followed by 3 hours of “healthy food” and then 5 hours for anything the hell you like. I will say again, because both points are so very true: if you get into intermittent fasting you WILL find that your hunger is satisfied by smaller quantities than previously, and you WILL develop and “I’ll have that later” attitude to food related cravings and desires.
Additional Sources of Information
My starting point on this was with YouTube videos by Thomas DeLauer and the guy knows a mind boggling amount about nutrition. Just be aware that he didn’t get that body by intermittent fasting alone; the guy also puts time in at the gym. Also be aware that you don’t have to do everything he talks about on his channel and go full time, hardcore, special foods + supplements, blah, blah, blah, to get results from Intermittent Fasting. If all you do is to incorporate 16 hour fasts into your routine, you will see results.
There are plenty of other sources and it’s always a good move with any subject, to consult a few. I’m not going to draw attention to any others but I will give two warnings:
The first is to be wary of anybody who says you can do less than 16 hours or that it’s okay to have a small amount of juice/fruit/whatever, during those hours. I’m not saying they’re wrong. What I am saying is that I got results by doing 16 hours with no cheating and it makes sense to me why that works. I was suprrised by how well it worked. But it did make sense. For reasons I have already explained: I have doubts about anything less.
The second thing to be careful of is that some sources warn or hint that you can cause problems for yourself with intermittent fasting if you don’t do it right… which often means: by buying their book/videos/supplements/etc.
Look: you can cause problems by having pastries for breakfast and do you honestly think that sandwich you bought for lunch was assembled for the purpose of giving you a balanced diet with good nutrition? Hell, do you make sandwiches at home with nutritional value as your number one criteria?
From what I have seen, read, and experienced intermittent fasting has no more potential to cause problems that “eating normally”. I feel confident that you as a person who has read this far are not so stupid as to think that intermittent fasting will allow you to LIVE on burgers, crisps, chocolate and cream cake. If skipping breakfast means skipping your primary source of roughage, calcium, whatever, then you need to incorporate that into your eating hours. Beyond that it shouldn’t be a problem.