If you have come across the term intermittent fasting, the chances are that you have been researching the topic of weight/fat loss. It is easy to confuse intermittent fasting with the myriad of diets that are currently in fashion. Intermittent fasting cannot be technically defined as a diet but rather, a pattern of eating.
What is a Pattern of Eating?
Unlike a regular diet, that incorporates control mechanisms regarding the types of food that you can eat (and their amount), a pattern of eating focuses primarily on when you eat. Instead of using caloric restriction or food selection as its main driving force, intermittent fasting centers squarely on having individuals going without food for extended periods of time. This is meant to be done consistently, essentially establishing a new eating pattern for its adherents.
A More Natural Eating Pattern
The proponents of intermittent fasting frequently mention the fact that regular fasting is the norm in human eating patterns and that they have evolved around that principle. They claim that modern eating patterns make people more susceptible to weight gain, diabetes and a host of other maladies.
In a way, they are correct. It has only been in the last 6,000 years, thanks to the dawn of agriculture, that our species could have multiple meals on a daily basis at regular intervals. Before then, eating patterns were more sporadic, and people would frequently have to endure periods lasting dozens of hours between meals. Intermittent fasting is meant to replicate those conditions.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
While there can be many permutations of intermittent fasting, the three most popular methods include the 16/8 method, the 24-hour fast and the nightly feast method.
The 16/8 method involves fasting for 16 hours while keeping an eight-hour time window open for meals each day. During the 16-hour fasting period, you can only consume black coffee, water or non-caloric beverages. While the 16/8 method sounds harsh on the surface, when you consider that six to 10 of the 16 hours will be taken up by sleep, it suddenly seems less extreme.
The 24-hour fast, on the other hand, does take a bit more acclamation. It involves undergoing a 24-hour fast every other day. Most variations have you limiting your fasting period to only once or twice per week, but others do propose adhering strictly to the alternate-day pattern.
The nightly feast method has you limiting yourself to one large meal “a feast” at the end of each day. This has led to the rise of social media influencers concocting one outrageous meal each day prompting their followers for new suggestions (e.g. a giant pancake).
What Intermittent Fasting Accomplishes
Studies have indicated that those who adhere to intermittent fasting experience improved insulin sensitivity which in turn makes it easier for the body to metabolize fat for energy. Also, the majority of intermittent “fasters” experience increased levels of natural human growth hormones. That is important because this allows the body to retain or even increase muscle mass while simultaneously losing fat. The cellular repair process has also been seen to experience improvements in efficiency when intermittent fasting is involved.
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
One might say that intermittent fasting is meant to be a lifestyle, not a short-term diet. As with any modification to a lifestyle, people will see the initial brunt as paradigm-shifting. In short order, however, it will become routine. I practiced this routine for roughly six months while exercising a minimum of four days per week. I personally chose the 16/8 method. This method fit my lifestyle best because, most of the time, it meant having my first meal at lunchtime.
In the past, there were many mornings where it felt like I was forcing myself to eat breakfast. The 16/8 method allowed me to negate that and work straight on until noon—without missing out on a potential lunch with friends. This made my mornings before work incredibly simple—starting my day with either a black coffee or tea. I have always been a big snacker, so this method really simplified my eating habits (only having to worry about lunch, a mid-afternoon snack and dinner).
I felt leaner most mornings, and ultimately, I lost about 1 percent of body fat. In addition, eliminating late-night feedings gave me more overall energy and mental clarity—I felt less sluggish in the hours before bed. Giving my body time to digest at night also led to a more restful sleep.
While mornings were typically much easier using intermittent fasting, the first few weeks of not eating after 8 pm were a challenge. Not just due to breaking habits and hunger pangs, but because it meant saying “no” to those late-night food runs with friends and family. This ultimately led to the adoption of a more liberal eating pattern (12 pm to 10 pm). Even still, eating so much in such a small window sometimes left me feeling as though I’d done more harm than good.
Another, more physical hurdle was the lack of energy for morning workouts. Sure, I embraced things like black coffee and branch chain amino acids for energy. The tricky part was, I always found myself a bit shy of what I was capable of. This pushed my workouts to the late afternoon/evening times when the gym is at its peak. And while it’s always good to lose a percentage of body fat, I definitely found it more challenging to gain lean mass.
Although I’ve reverted back to “normal” eating patterns, intermittent fasting has left me more aware of my eating habits and food consumption. And ultimately, it’s helped me figure out more about myself.