Focus On: Intermittent Fasting

When I first heard the intermittent fasting hype, it caught my attention, as most trendy diets will do. I always like to be familiar with food and fitness fads so that if I train a client who is following something new, I’m already familiar with what they’ve been doing. Once I heard the premise of the intermittent fasting, I was intrigued to learn more, but wasn’t interested in implementing it with my lifestyle. With my teaching schedule and the fact that I won’t turn a meal away if I’m greeted with food I didn’t have to make myself (things change so much when you have a baby), it just wouldn’t work with my schedule or activity level. However, I do know a few people who have seen great results from this style of eating. It just goes to show that there really is no “one size fits all” when it comes to diet; it’s just a matter of educating yourself, experimenting and determining the best path for your unique needs.

Table

That all being said, I thought it was worth a focus on post, especially with the media attention over the past couple of years. Since I haven’t tried IF myself, I sought out some guest posts from both sides: one person who has followed and loved the IF style of eating, and one who has researched and decided it wasn’t for her. I thought it would be cool to post differing opinions and perspectives as some food for thought 😉 One lesson that I’ve been able to take from the IF lifestyle: eat when you’re hungry. For so long, I “trained” myself to eat at certain times, even if I wasn’t necessarily hungry. Now, when I’m hungry, I eat. It’s funny how something so simple can be made so complicated.

Dinner 3

Here are two viewpoints on the intermittent fasting style of eating, first from Maria, who writes at Lift, Love, Life. She is a super fit mama, amazing cook, fellow personal trainer and military wife, and I keep wishing we’ll be stationed in the same location! The next post is from Catherine, a nutritional therapy practitioner in Seattle. She has a wealth of knowledge.. and I’m probably going to try her pizza recipe for lunch today.

Take it away, ladies! <3

_____________________________________________________________

Hello there fellow blog readers! I’m Maria and I blog over at Lift Love Life where I blog about my sweet family, my love for all things lifting and yoga, and occasionally I’ll even put up a recipe. I am beyond thrilled (like letting out a high pitched squeal and waking my napping toddler kind of thrilled) to be posting for Gina since her blog is one of my favorites!  She also asked me to write about intermittent fasting, which is a topic that I get VERY excited about.

So let’s get down to business.  What exactly is intermittent fasting (IF)? In simplest terms, it’s skipping meals for an extended period of time to promote fat loss.  We basically do a form of intermittent fasting every night we go to bed and then break the fast with breakfast in the morning. But the kind of intermittent fasting I’ll be talking about are the two most popular ways to practice IF – the daily 16 hour fast, and the longer 24 -36 hour fast.

Daily 16 hour Fast
The daily 16 hour fast is simply fasting for 16 hours, usually at night. So if your last meal is at 7pm, you would skip your normal breakfast time and eat around 11am the next morning which gives you a 16 hour window for your body to fast and an 8 hour window for you to eat your 3 normal meals. Essentially, you’re not actually “skipping” breakfast, but delaying the time you eat it. By extending the length of time our bodies fast, we’re allowing our body to secrete more human growth hormone, which is the hormone responsible for burning fat and building muscle.

This happens to be my preferred method of fasting because of its simplicity and how easy it is be consistent with. I sleep for the majority of my fast and I have no qualms about delaying breakfast since I’m never hungry in the morning anyway.  

24 Hour Fast
The 24 hour fast is exactly what it sounds like. Not eating anything (but hydrating like crazy) for 24 hours. Pretty simple, right?

Fasting for 24 hours is thought to lead to an even greater fat loss because you’re removing a whole days worth of calories. On average it takes 3500 calories burned to lose a pound per week, but by fasting for 24 hours you’re removing a significant portion of those calories lost in a short amount of time. Couple in a normal exercise routine and you’ll definitely see results.  This method of fasting isn’t just beneficial for calorie burn though. Skipping meals for a longer period allows your body’s insulin levels to stabilize, which in turn leads to fat loss over time.  

This form of fasting is considered the easiest since you simply pick a day and just don’t eat until the next morning, but I choose not to go this route because going 24 hours without food would definitely not make for a happy momma. I love food too much to entirely skip it for a whole day. I’ve tried it a few times and while I did feel great the next day, during the fast I was not a very nice person. Just keeping it real here 😉

So now after reading all this, I bet you’re wondering why people would subject themselves to this kind of torture?

Well for one, intermittent fasting isn’t tortuous at all. Besides the benefits of actual fat loss (not weight loss), intermittent fasting has been found to be beneficial for a number of things such as life longevity, the reduction of blood glucose and insulin levels, and it supposedly lowers inflammation and blood pressure. But the personal benefits I’ve reaped from IF are the ones that I have to rave about the most:

-I am no longer a slave to food: Gone are the days where I constantly worry about when my next meal is or what I’ll have for my next meal. I don’t feel like I need to eat 5-6 small meals a day to keep me satiated, as I’m not as hungry as I used to be. I’ve learned that it’s not necessary to deprive myself of something delicious to maintain my weight. I still aim to eat somewhat healthy but now have much less of a problem splurging since I know my body will take care of itself. I also spend less time preparing food and love not having to worry about eating all day long.

-I have a stronger sense of mind over matter: Because of IF, I’ve learned to really listen to my body and it’s cues. I can now better differentiate when I’m really hungry or when I’m just thirsty. There is also a huge sense of accomplishment in knowing that my mind has deprogrammed itself from years of thinking that I HAVE to eat every couple of hours. I’m not actually hungry all the time, I was just listening to what others were telling me. As a result, I also don’t feel the need snack as often.

-I noticed increased performance: While fasting I noticed that I gained a significant amount of strength in a few of my favorite lifts in a short amount of time. Fasting daily led to increased focus in the weight room and I also noticed a huge gain in energy during my workouts as well.

-It’s easy and aligns with my preferred lifestyle: I was never much of a grazer. To me, eating is a social and pleasurable activity as I grew up eating huge family meals with my family. IF allows me to eat bigger meals and to take my time enjoying my food, without any guilt. And as I mentioned earlier, I’m never hungry in the mornings so if I’m not actually hungry, why force myself to eat? Finally, intermittent fasting can be a more affordable way of eating. Since you’re not eating so much, you’re spending less on food. Cha-ching! I am always a fan of spending less!

Img 660412 months after starting IF

Img 6597

I’m currently expecting our second child but when I’m asked if I plan to return to the IF lifestyle, my answer is always a big resounding HELL YES. It’s a lifestyle change that I really enjoyed. I loved how I felt, how I looked after having my sweet baby, and I love how food is rarely on my mind. If there is a day where I notice myself eating horribly, it’s not a big deal. I simply move on because when it comes down to it, intermittent fasting is about WHEN you choose to eat and not so much as what you choose to eat.

Before I end this post to save my toddler, let’s just be clear on what Intermittent Fasting ISN’T:

-It is NOT a starvation plan. 
You should still aim to get the same amount of calories during your window of eating. If you normally eat around 2200 calories a day, you stick with that amount.

-It is NOT a means to start eating unhealthy foods, all the time. Yes, you can enjoy life and a slice of real cake or two. But just because you fast doesn’t mean you eat the whole cake.

-It is NOT a trendy way to lose weight fast. IF is a lifestyle change and a way to promote living an overall healthy lifestyle.  

And one last disclaimer before I’m really out of here. Because Gina has such a huge audience, I definitely have to throw it out there that with all diets and lifestyle changes, results can vary. We all have different goals, backgrounds, and body compositions that play a huge factor in how our bodies handle withholding food for long periods of time. I wouldn’t recommend trying intermittent fasting if you are prone to binge eating, you severely restrict calories, have a low BMI or if you’re diabetic or hypoglycemic. But if you’re looking for a way to break a plateau or if you just want to try something new, then go for it!

Just remember that we are all different and what may work for some, may not work for others; listen to your own body and be aware of how you are really feeling. And have fun! Thanks for listening and thanks to Gina for being generous enough to share her blog J

Some sources to get you started on IF:
My original blog post on IF
My WIAW post on IF
Eat, Stop, Eat
LeanGains Guide
Nia Shanks IF guide

_________________________________________________________

Hi! I’m Catherine, a nutritional therapist at Butter Nutrition. I love helping people use real food to take health into their own hands and create nutritional wealth!

Here some reasons to avoid intermittent fasting:

1) Our bodies already have fasting built into every day. We naturally fast at night during our sleep.

2) Most people are already lacking in food and nutrient intake.

A skipped meal would perpetuate this deficit further. With eating allowed fewer hours of the day, our window to consume many nutrient dense meals shrinks.

3) Intermittent fasting (IF) is not an appropriate diet for all stages of life.

I’m a big fan of nutritional abundance, and a diet that is appropriate for all stages of the lifecycle, including childhood, and during/after pregnancy.

4) IF can cause us to ignore our bodies’ communication system.

Listening to your hunger and cravings is part of the body’s natural intelligence system that maintains health and homeostasis. Eating regular meals ensures multiple opportunities to nourish our bodies, and build nutritional wealth! Any dietary regimen that leaves you feeling deprived or restricted can be a slippery slope.

5) Fasting is anti-metabolic and can harm thyroid health.

Fasting stimulates the use of glycogen (stored sugar in the liver) for energy. Once glycogen stores are depleted, tissue breakdown begins (the breakdown of proteins and fat to make glucose [sugar] for energy). This process releases amino acids that are anti-metabolic to our thyroid. “Muscle catabolism also releases a large amount of cysteine, and cysteine, methionine, and tryptophan suppress thyroid function,” Ray Peat, PhD.

6) Fasting increases stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.

Life today is full of stressors, and stress increases our bodies’ demands for nutrients. Once liver glycogen is depleted, adrenaline and cortisol are released to stimulate the breakdown of tissue to provide fuel. That “high” you may feel while fasting is a signal your body is using stress hormones to provide fuel. Also, because fasting raises cortisol levels and cortisol raises blood sugar, it can be especially problematic for those with blood sugar handling issues.

If you do choose IF, know the signs it’s not working for you:

Some clues of slowed metabolism are:  lack of energy, a body temp of less than 98 during the day or less than 97.8 upon waking, slow pulse, cold hands/feet/tip of the nose, increased food allergies and digestive distress. These are signals your body is adapting by taking protective measures and choosing short-term survival over long-term health. “If metabolism continued at a normal rate, stress or hunger would quickly destroy us.” Ray Peat, PhD. Intermittent fasting is another “diet” in disguise. Diets of any kind produce an energy deficit and short term fat loss at the expense of our metabolism.

___________________________________________________________________

There ya go! Two different and very interesting perspectives on IF.

Hope you enjoy reading both posts and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section! Have you tried, or would you try, intermittent fasting? 

xoxo

Gina

More Focus On eating styles:

Paleo

Weight Watchers

-South Beach

Meal Plans I Like

You might also like:

Comments

  1. I doubt I’d try IF any time soon. I’m not in the right headspace to do so.

  2. Chiming in to say I started IF a few weeks ago after watching the Mosley/BBC documentary. (5:2 – 2x a week, 500cal dinner only. I drink loads of green and herbal teas thru the day until then, then right before dinner I usually make a cup of organic broth just for something savoury. My boyfriend has much less to lose but was curious to try it to improve muscle definition in his abdomen (the only place he needed to really lose anything). In the evening, I prepare a 500 calorie meal, always lowcarb (tonight for instance was spinach, tomato and cucumber salad with balsalmic dressing and grilled halloumi), and my SO has his with extra crispbreads or portions to add the additional 100 for men.

    As for me, I’d previously lost about 21kg (50ish pounds, I believe?) over two years of what I’d say was lowcarb/primarily paleo eating (I say “primarily” because I did continue to eat organic yoghurt almost daily and relied on the odd Atkins bar when in a bind)….but weight loss had stalled after 21kgs, and I have felt – even though I’ve kept it off – that I needed to shake things up a bit. I also felt I was eating healthy calories overall, but still too many of them. (I don’t eat junk food and I rarely touch sugar or wheat – but calorically its easy for me to get too many, since many beneficial foods that I rely on – coconut oil, macadamia nuts for instance – are not exactly low-calorie. I take a few supplements daily (based on the Jaminets’ “Perfect Health” recs – Vitamin D and K2, a B complex, a probiotic, Magnesium, Copper, etc).

    Still – I feel these choices laid a good foundation for IF, because I don’t have issues with blood sugar “crashes”, headaches, I sleep very well if not better since I started this…..so when I see irritability/headaches/blood sugar crashes being described by people for whom it’s not working, I would only question if that could be in part due to nutritional deficiencies or bad diets.

    I see a few stories now and then about people who experienced some issues like this – but then in the same story talk about the gorging on “feed” days, describe junky or carby meals, etc – and I have to wonder if IF has gotten a bad rap when in truth, other factors can be the root cause. I feel like my body isn’t needing anything because nutritionally, I’ve given it what it needs and fuel-wise, it’s already fat-adjusted and not seeking carbs for a quick fix.

    Of course, we’re all different, and I know what works for one won’t for another – but I for one find the research compelling not just for weight loss but improving quality of life as we age and as long as I’m feeling better on it, and feeling my body streamline somewhat, I’m all for it.

    For my part I’m in my 40s, have about 13kg (30 lbs or so?) left to lose and IF has, at least so far, been not that hard at all.

    For what it’s worth, my 2p/tips:

    I deliberately choose my 2 busiest days to fast until the small dinner meal, Tues and Thurs

    I keep lots of herbal and green teas around to enjoy through the day – helps me stay hydrated, keeps my taste buds entertained.

    I have a cup of 5cal broth before the evening meal, takes that edge off if I’m hungry so I don’t eat too quickly, and it tastes surprisingly good.

    On my “feeding” days I make an effort to eat normally and I actually use an app to track calories even on THOSE days so I am sure I have a “feel” for what my suggested goals actually amounts to.

    on Wednesday and Saturdays, we opt for more indulgent foods but keep the day’s food within an 8 hr window and usually just have 2 meals that day.

  3. Charles says:

    Hi. I just recently started IF in the form of the Leangains method (16 hours fast / 8 hours feed) and have had great results so far, without any of the side effects Catherine mentions. In fact before I started IF I did a lot of research into it, specifically due to the negative things I’d been hearing about it.

    Two things that Catherine mentioned in her post regarding the negative aspects of IF I must take issue with:

    – Fasting is anti-metabolic
    – Fasting increases levels of adrenaline and cortisol

    To the first point: what Catherine didn’t mention is that fasting only starts to become anti-metabolic after 72 hours or longer of continuous fasting. There are quite a few studies that show that the human body’s metabolism actually increases when you fast for short periods of time (up to 36 hours). Published research shows that there is actually no noticeable difference in metabolic rate between those who fast for short periods and those who eat “regularly”.

    To the second point: the increase of stress hormones during short fasts only last for a brief period. These hormones are returned to normal levels once food is eaten. Besides, working out also increases stress hormones, so it’s not really that big of an issue when doing IF. It only becomes an issue when one fasts for 72 hours in a row or longer.

    Finally, keep in mind that a lot of times when we feel “hunger”, its actually a form of withdrawal, not hunger in the true sense of the word.

    Of course IF isn’t for everyone, just like any other diet trend is not tailored for every body type. But there is a lot of scientific research that shows that IF is nowhere near as bad as its detractors would have you believe.

    • Yes! You took the words right out of my mouth! It’s kind of funny that she talks about the body’s intelligence system on letting you know when nutrition/sustenance is needed when there is still such a huge problem with obesity. I’d say for a lot of people, their bodies are lacking in intelligence. Key to IF of course is eating highly nutritisious foods while in the fed state. Drop the junk food, except as a rare treat of course, and eat more nutritious foods. And in terms of stress, not sure what she’s getting at. I actually feel more emotionally grounded, balanced and get more pleasure out of living during a fast. Sensory input skyrockets and awareness goes up.

  4. I have done 72 hour fast on occasion and I am glad I do every time. Sadly the medical community by in large does not recognize fasting with the exception of a few. I like how you mention that a 24 hour fast stabilizes insulin levels, which is so true. Our main energy we use first is glucose, its what the brain runs on when we sleep. Fasting does maintain the right levels of insulin, its really amazing.

    Intermittent fasting is like you say not for everyone, but generally speaking its usually one of the more safer fasting options out there. Of course doctor consultation is needed for extended amount of times when it comes to fasting.

  5. I’m a big fan of IF. What I learned from IF is that I don’t need to graze all day. I didn’t even realize how much I was grazing on snack food until I started IF but I was snacking all day. At first it was hard because I found myself hungry all day. What I realized is that I’d taught myself to be hungry all day by snacking all day. Once I really embraced IF I got better and better at it and I retrained my body on when to send me “hunger signals”. My favorite thing about IF is the energy I feel. I used to think I was tired so much because of Celiac disease and no matter what “natural” energy products I bought nothing would give me more energy. Suddenly, with IF, I was waking up to the alarm and getting to work on time and I had energy throughout the day. I lost weight as well. I even got down to my goal of 124. Well, I’m 11 weeks pregnant now. I decided to stop IF when I became pregnant and eat what and when I want. Now, I’m finding that tired feeling sinking in again and yes, I’m putting weight on in places other then my belly. So, starting today, I’m an IF woman again. IF is awesome and I can’t recommend it enough!

  6. Your blog are an inspiration!!!

  7. Some research is critical of the effects of fasting on women, but almost all of them focus on women of child-bearing years. It really isn’t a good idea to fast when you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding. It may be a bad idea of you are already lean. However, I found that it is a great lifestyle for me now that I am in menopause. I put on about 15 lbs when the hot flashes started, and no amount of low carb or low cal or exercise would budge them.Two or three 24-hour fasts a week are very easy for me to stick to. It seems to regulate my digestion, doesn’t affect my sleep, and actually leaves me LESS hungry on non-fast days! At least, I am more easily satisfied with smaller amounts of food. I take in no calories from after dinner one night until the next night’s dinner. (5 p.m. Sunday to 5 p.m. Monday, for example) That gets me a 24-hour fasting window, but I never go an entire day without food. For some reason, this is much more comfortable for me than the 16-hour/8-hour pattern.

    Two absolutely unshakeable rules, however. Never start or end a fast with refined sugar or alcohol. No after dinner drinks or dessert with the last meal on Sunday, and no sweets or cocktails before the break-fast supper on Monday. You’ll regret it!

  8. I LOVE IF. I’ve always eaten healthy, nutrient dense food….but WAY too much of it. Like, as in 20+ pounds extra weight of it. I’ve never been a breakfast eater (even though I love bk foods) and hated the idea of eating anything until 4-5 hours after waking up. But once I started eating…oh boy, watch out!! I started watching my portions and exercising almost 4 months ago (as I’ve done countless times over and over…) and, looking for diet inspiration on the web 3 months ago, I discovered IF. OMG, a revelation. I do mostly 16 hour daily fasts but have gone entire weeks on 20 hour fasts and even a couple of days of 24 +. Thanks to this system, as so many people have experienced, I find my food issues more under control and I ADDOOORRE being able to sit down and have a couple (sometimes only one) nutrient rich meals a day. I am almost 43 years old–I’d wish I’d known about this in my 20s. It would have made a huge difference in the quality of my life.

    Anyhow, for anyone who hates small meals and is tormented by hunger/food issues, try IF. It’s been a real revelation. I still count calories, some days to the teaspoon, others just eyeballing the servings and stick to1500-2000 calorie days (I’ve lost two dress sizes and aiming for one more). Yes, I’ve blundered it a few times–but I get back on track. Seriously, this system has been a godsend for me.

  9. I am 52 years old and have been using IF protocols for 3 months. It has been the only thing that has helped me LOSE menopausal weight gain! I work out with weights 3x/week and do HIIT 2x/week as well. I work nights and have battled with fitting in workouts, high cortisol levels from working nights, and all the other issues that menopause throws in. Despite the large lack of research on women doing IF, I thought i’d give it a go.

    I’ve lost fat and managed to GAIN muscle mass, without having hypoglycemic crashes, brain fog, or episodes where I want to inhale a house (lol). The first few days I took my blood sugar readings during the fasted state and it never dipped dangerously low. I eat my 3 mini-meals in my eating window and feel completely satisfied! Eating 1800 calories NEVER tasted as good!

  10. IF has cleared up my persistent heartburn.

  11. I love intermittent fasting! I’ve been doing the 16:8 way of eat for two months and I’m down 19.2 pounds. This way of eating is so easy. I still count my calories with an app on my cell phone, but I find eating in an eight hour window doesn’t give me enough time to overeat. I typically eat between 10 am and 6 pm. After six I won’t eat anything at all. I feel better then I’ve felt in years.

    One thing I’ve realized since eating this way is that I used to snack way too much, a bite here and a bite there, they all added up.

    Catherine –

    1) Our bodies already have fasting built into every day. We naturally fast at night during our sleep.
    ~ So? I don’t understand the point you are trying to make. IFers are just stretch the fasting time.

    2) Most people are already lacking in food and nutrient intake.
    ~ Okay so grazing all day leaves some people lacking, why would you assume they’d be lacking any more by fasting? Since I started IF, I’ve actually found my cravings for junk foods and fast food are gone. If anything I think I’m eating more healthily. I eat real meals made from whole foods.

    3) Intermittent fasting (IF) is not an appropriate diet for all stages of life.
    ~ What diet is appropriate for all stages of life?

    4) IF can cause us to ignore our bodies’ communication system.
    ~ I think if anything, the opposite is true. Since starting IF, I have finally started listening to my body. I realize that being hungry isn’t such a bad thing and it sure beats the mindless eating I used to do before. Knowing that I’ll be able to eat what I want to eat during my daily eating window makes this diet so easy. With IF I never feel deprived because I’m eating everything I want to eat. My cravings for sugar and fried foods are pretty much gone, I no longer think about food all the time. IF is quite freeing. I’m not eating frozen diet foods, I’m eating the same food I make for my family, and eating out in restaurants is easy because I order what I want. In the past I’ve lost weight by following Weight Watchers, I pretty much felt hungry all the time, and was living off Lean Cuisines. I ended up gaining almost all the weight I lost with Weight Watchers back, because I couldn’t stand to eat another Lean Cuisine or salad.

    5) Fasting is anti-metabolic and can harm thyroid health.
    Care to cite the study?

    6) Fasting increases stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
    ~ Cortisol scaremongering? Research on fasting shows there is very little if any change in cortisol levels when fasting up to 72 hours. Being overweight does cause an elevated level of cortisol and losing weight helps lower that level.
    ~ Why is an increase in adrenaline bad? Rapid heart beat or something? This study shows IF and calorie reduction diets produced about the same results in the resting heart rate. http://www.fasebj.org/content/20/6/631.full.pdf

    There are numerous studies on IF which show benefits:
    ~ Longevity
    ~ Detoxification
    ~ Weight Loss
    ~ Hormone Regulation IF with medium intensity exercise increases HGH. IF allows the body to regulate Leptin (Hormone responsible for turning off the body’s hunger switch when you’ve eaten enough fat) back to normal levels.
    ~ Cuts risks of developing certain cancers
    ~ Cardiovascular benefits http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15741046
    ~ Cuts risk of diabetes
    ~ Cuts risk of “Type 3” diabetes aka Alzheimer’s Disease http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17306982

    If you are on the fence and aren’t sure if IF is right for you I recommend getting reading Eat Stop Eat, by Brad Pilon. His research is cited. You can read it free online.

    I also recommend watching Michael Mosley’s “Eat, Fast and Live Longer”, which is free to watch on Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/103656060

  12. This is an awesome post. I bought Brad’s system about 15 years and it has changed my life, and I am a guy. 🙂 Now going along with Intermittent Fasting is something new that I heard about called Hight Intensity Weight Training, which is about using low reps with slow movement. It is popularized by Dr. Mc Guff at this link. http://www.drmcguff.com. Keep up the great work.

Speak Your Mind

*