When some of us hear the words “intermittent fasting,” we think deprivation + calorie restriction + starvation = disordered eating.
I am here to tell you that those limiting beliefs deprive you NOT of food you love, but of the opportunity to thrive inside the healthy body you want to have. Period. Full stop.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that switches between eating nourishing food and not eating anything but still hydrating.
Drink water, still or sparkling, unflavored green, black or oolong tea or black coffee any time during the period when you’re not eating. During your eating period, continue hydrating and add any other beverages on your protocol, including alcohol.
The time frame in which you eat is called your eating window. Eat anything on your food protocol, including your exceptions, during your eating window. When the eating period is over, you stop eating and “close” your eating window. Then you enter the fasting period.
It’s really as simple as that.
I have enjoyed the benefits of IF for the past several years and have maintained my weight loss with ease.
Adding this tool to your food protocol can accelerate your weight loss and help you keep it off long term.
The word “fasting” too often gets a bad rap.
Not eating is not a about deprivation or starvation.
It’s not even true that you need to eat every several hours to keep your metabolism humming. Frequent eating keeps your insulin levels high. High insulin prevents your body from accessing stored fat for energy.
IF is merely about limiting the hours in which you eat to give your body a chance to rest. For high insulin levels to subside, your body needs time to recover from all the hormonal signaling and messaging that food delivers to your digestive and food storage systems.
Think about it like this: when you’re asleep, you’re not eating for 8+ hours. Your body is not suffering. It’s not plummeting into impaired functioning.
Instead, it is repairing and restoring. When you’re sleeping, i.e., not eating, your body continues to perform exactly as it was designed.
Extensive research shows that intermittent fasting is not only a way to manage your weight, but a way to prevent, and even reverse, some unhealthy conditions and diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and more.
Your diet describes what you eat. Intermittent fasting is all about when you eat.
Combine eating nourishing foods with a defined eating window to super charge your weight loss process.
When you add IF to your food protocol, you only eat the food on your protocol within a specific time range. You eat to satiety. You don’t count calories, macros or points.
You do not snack or consume calories outside of your eating window. This also includes avoiding sugar free products like soft drinks, gum, mints, etc. outside of your eating window.
If you think that something labeled low/no calorie is a “free ” food or snack and can be consumed with impunity, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. It’s a hard no outside your eating window. These edibles can spike an insulin release too.
Within your eating window, you can choose to eat several meals or condense a day’s worth of food into one meal a day.
It is essential, however, that you do not restrict calories. And, that you eat adequate amounts of proteins, fats and carbs. What is adequate? Enough food to keep you feeling full, strong, energetic, clear headed.
During your eating periods, “eating normally” does not mean going crazy. You’re not likely to lose weight or get healthier if you load your eating times with processed foods, junk food and sugary treats.
Whether you fast for a certain number of hours each day, eat just one meal for a couple days a week, or fast on alternate days, IF can help your body burn fat.
Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson, Ph.D., has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years.
He explains that our bodies have evolved to be able to go without food for many hours, several days and even longer.
More than 10,000 years ago, before our ancestors learned to farm, they were hunter/gatherers. They evolved to survive, and even thrive, for long periods without eating.
They had to! It took a lot of time and energy to hunt game and gather nuts and wild berries.
Even 50 years ago, it was easier to maintain a healthy weight. Johns Hopkins dietitian Christie Williams, M.S., R.D.N., explains:
There were no computers, and TV shows turned off at 11 p.m.; people stopped eating because they went to bed. Portions were much smaller. More people worked and played outside and, in general, got more exercise.
Nowadays, TV, the internet and other entertainment are available 24/7. We stay awake for longer hours to catch our favorite shows, play games and chat online. We’re sitting and snacking all day — and most of the night.”
Extra calories, less sleep and less activity can mean a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses.
Lucky for us, scientific studies are showing that intermittent fasting may help reverse these trends.
You can adapt IF to your lifestyle.
There are quite a few different ways to make intermittent fasting part of your life style. However, they are all based on choosing regular time periods to eat and times when you do not eat.
The times can vary day to day. This is not a strict regimen but a very flexible way to organize your eating times.
Remember, you are a study of one and you must try and tweak until you learn what works best for you.
For instance, you might try eating only during an eight-hour period each day and fast for the remainder of the 24 hour period. Or you might choose to eat only one meal a day on two days a week. IF schedules can be personalized to reflect exactly how you want to structure your days and when you choose to include eating time.
Some people, like me, skip breakfast and enjoy lunch and dinner. Other’s skip dinner. The key is to limit your eating activity to within an 8 hour or less time frame. Therefore, eating a hearty breakfast, skipping lunch and eating a normal dinner is too long an eating window to reap the maximum benefits of intermittent fasting.
If your first meal of the day is at noon and you finish dinner by 8:00 pm, you have established an 8 hour window. You can play around with your window, shortening or lengthening it depending on what you have scheduled on any given day.
Teach your body to flip your metabolic switch.
Mattson says that after hours without food, the body exhausts its sugar stores and starts burning fat. He refers to this as metabolic switching.
Intermittent fasting contrasts with the normal eating pattern for most Americans, who eat throughout their waking hours,” Mattson says. “If someone is eating three meals a day, plus snacks, and they’re not exercising, then every time they eat, they’re running on those calories and not burning their fat stores.
IF works by prolonging the period when your body burns through the sugar/glucose/glycogen stores consumed during your last meal. Only after the sugar based energy is used up can your body access your fat stores for energy.
This is important to understand. When you are eating 3 meals, plus snacks, or grazing throughout the day, you are constantly providing your body with ready sugar-based energy. It never needs to or gets the chance to access your stored fat for energy.
This is why the worst advice we’ve ever been given is that we need to eat every several hours to keep our metabolism humming. Eating this many times a day is what’s locks our fat away and prevents its use for energy.
As you know, and as my disclaimer on this site reminds, I’m not a doctor or a therapist.
I am a certified life and weight loss coach. I share my views on how to lose weight and keep it off for good. The tools and skill sets I teach are based on my own research, coach training and personal experience. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
It’s important to check in with your doctor before starting IF.
Depending on where you live, your doc may not be well-informed about IF. If that’s the case, you can share this article from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the gold-standard medical publication. And this further clarification here.
From the Science Daily, here’s a brief review of the NEJM article.
Keep in mind that intermittent fasting may effect each of us differently. Talk to your doctor if you start experiencing unusual anxiety, headaches, nausea or other symptoms after you start IF.
Once you get the go-ahead, the actual practice is simple.
Popular intermittent fasting plans.
The Daily Plan
This approach limits daily eating to one time frame each day.
Many people begin by trying the 16/8 eating plan. this means you don’t eat for 16 hours, which almost always includes 6-8 hours of sleeping time, and then consume all the food you intend to eat for the day during an 8 hour eating window.
As someone who never was too interested in eating in the earlier part of the morning, this worked very well for me when I began IF.
Williams is a fan of this daily regimen: She says most people find it easy to stick with this pattern over the long term.
The 5:2 Plan
Using this approach, you eat regularly five days a week. For the other two days, you limit yourself to one 500–600 calorie meal. An example would be if you chose to eat normally on every day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays. These days would be your one-meal days which can be eaten at any time during those days.
The Alternate Day Fasting Plan
This approach limits eating to every other day. So, for a 24 hour period, you do not eat. The next day you do eat without any restrictions. It’s called a refeed day.
This method of refeeding every other day prevents the body from assuming we’re going into starvation mode and, therefore, slowing the metabolic process to conserve energy.
Longer fasting plans
Longer fasts without food, such as 36, 48 and 72-hour fasting periods are for experienced fasters. A doctors supervision is recommended for extended multi-day fasts. Refeeding when the fast ends, requires a careful approach that is best managed by professionals.
Going too long without eating might actually encourage your body to start storing more fat in response to starvation.
Mattson’s research shows that it can take two to four weeks for the body to become accustomed to intermittent fasting.
You might feel hungry or cranky while you’re getting used to the new routine and using up it’s sugar/glycogen stores.
But Mattson found that research subjects who made it through the adjustment period tended to stick with IF.
No foods are strictly off limits if eaten during your eating window.
While I choose to follow a no sugar/no flour protocol with planned exceptions, your food protocol will be uniquely customized to you.
What Williams likes about intermittent fasting is that it allows for a range of different foods to be eaten — and enjoyed. She says:
We want people to be mindful and take pleasure in eating good, nutritious foods…eating with others and sharing the mealtime experience adds satisfaction and supports good health.
She regards the Mediterranean diet as a good blueprint of what to eat. It’s hard to go wrong when you pick complex, unrefined carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and protein.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Research shows that the intermittent fasting periods do more than burn fat. Mattson explains:
When changes occur with this metabolic switch, it affects the body and brain.
One of Mattson’s studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the one I mentioned and also linked to above, revealed data about a range of health benefits associated with the practice. These include a longer life, a leaner body and a sharper mind.
Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers.
Here are some intermittent fasting benefits research has revealed so far:
- Thinking and memory. Studies discovered that intermittent fasting boosts working memory in animals and verbal memory in adult humans.
- Heart health. Intermittent fasting improved blood pressure and resting heart rates as well as other heart-related measurements.
- Physical performance. Young men who fasted for 16 hours showed fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Mice who were fed on alternate days showed better endurance in running.
- Diabetes and obesity. In animal studies, intermittent fasting prevented obesity. And in six brief studies, obese adult humans lost weight through intermittent fasting.
- Tissue health. In animals, intermittent fasting reduced tissue damage in surgery and improved results.
Is IF safe long term?
Some people try intermittent fasting for weight management, and others use the method to address chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol or arthritis. But intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone.
Williams stresses that before you try intermittent fasting (or any diet), you should check in with your primary care practitioner first. Some people should steer clear of trying intermittent fasting:
- Children and teens under age 18.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- People with diabetes or blood sugar problems.
- Those with a history of eating disorders.
But, Williams says, people not in these categories who can do intermittent fasting safely can continue the regimen indefinitely.
Want to add IF to your weight loss protocol?
I structured my It’s Never Too Late Weight Loss Coaching program to help you incorporate Intermittent Fasting into your weight loss efforts.
Isn’t it time that you made use of the free Strategy Call I offer to find out more?
Start today! Learn how to make intermittent fasting and weight loss easier than you ever imagined.
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