There have been many articles and studies recently to support intermittent fasting for weight loss and other health benefits. Lane and I recently completed 8 weeks of IF and wanted to share our experience.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
To begin, intermittent fasting is eating your calories during a specific window of time therefore helping teach your body to use food more efficiently. During the “fasted state” there is no food for your body to use for energy therefore your body may pull energy from body fat. Because calorie restriction plays a key role in weight loss, when you fast you are making it easier to consume less calories over the course of a week.
Intermittent Fasting is not necessarily a diet, but a way of structuring your eating where you only consume calories during a certain period of the day. There are two approaches to IF. The first is to eat only during a specific time period each day such as 12noon to 8:00 p.m. The second approach is to skip two meals in one day therefore entering into a 24 hour fast. For example, eat your last meal of the day at 7:00 p.m. and then not eat again until 7:00 p.m. the next day.
Intermittent fasting works for weight loss and improving your overall health due to the fact that your body responds differently in a fasting mode versus a feasting mode. When you consume a meal your body will use the glucose from that meal to break down the nutrients because it’s readily available versus using stored energy (fat) in your body to digest and break down that meal. During the fast your body doesn’t have a recent meal available to use for energy so it will pull from the stored energy (fat) in your body for your energy. Most people want to burn fat and IF can encourage your body to do that.
Simply put, fasting can help your body to work more efficiently at burning fat therefore promoting fat loss and encouraging muscle building when done properly.
IF puts most people at a calorie deficit over the course of a week. Finishing the week at a calorie deficit will promote weight loss (it’s a basic calories in – calories out approach). Not only can intermittent fasting promote weight loss but studies have started to show that IF can also have improvements on your health overall. Studies (mostly in animals) have preliminarily started to indicate that IF can improve appetite control, blood sugar, cardiovascular functions and the effectiveness of chemotherapy. IF can increase cellular turnover and help release regenerative hormones for cellular repair. IF has been proven to help with fat burning and increase an individual’s overall metabolic rate. IF can decrease blood pressure, inflammation in the body and risk of cancer. Studies conducted for humans doing IF is very limited but science is trying to catch up.
Our IF Experience:
We chose the method of IF where we consumed our calories during a certain window of time. In our experience with IF, it made our days and mornings a bit easier. We chose to have our eating window between 12noon and 8pm. Because mornings are often hurried, we just grabbed water and headed out the door. In a way, skipping our traditional breakfast made the mornings easier and made meal prep less daunting for that morning timeframe.
Most days during IF, we ate our first meal at 12:00 p.m. and then had a smoothie or larger snack a few hours later. Our last meal was dinner around 6:00 p.m. If we were still hungry, we would have another healthy small meal or snack around 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. before our “eating window” closed.
Questions about Intermittent Fasting:
“Won’t I be so grumpy and hungry?”
Most people that I’ve talked with about our experience with IF have the same initial reaction. They ask “Are you not so hungry and tired in the morning?” When I (Payden) began the fast I thought that would be the case especially as a self-proclaimed ‘breakfast lover’. The first few mornings I was not sure how this would impact my general mood and energy levels. Surprisingly after my first cup of coffee and plenty of water, I got over the first initial “hunger surge”. IF is more about a mental retraining as well for your body and mind – telling yourself that I am okay with being moderately hungry. I will eat soon.
“I workout in the morning. Won’t I be hungry?”
I (Payden) often workout in the morning - as early as 6:30 a.m. and as late as 11:00 a.m. A quote from “Mark’s Daily Apple says, “Fasted training can actually result in better metabolic adaptions (which means better performance down the line), improved muscle protein synthesis, and a higher anabolic response to the post-workout feeding (you’ll earn your meal and make more muscle out of if you train on an empty stomach).” Before my morning training session, I consumed a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) drink before my workout. It made that “empty stomach” feeling go away prior to my workout. Because my “eating window” was 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. sometimes that late morning workout ended just in time for my first meal. If my training session was over around 9:00 a.m., then I made a protein drink with a scoop of protein and water to drink immediately after the workout. The protein drink after a workout doesn’t break the IF “fasting rules” and is actually encouraged by most articles on IF.
“What about coffee?”
We had coffee during our fast. It’s important to not over think the little things, in my opinion. You can consume zero calorie beverages during your fasting window. So if you drink tea or coffee in the morning, continue to do so. You might find that you can even wean yourself from the sugar you might normally add during this fast. During our fast, we had coffee in the morning, BCAA (branched chain amino acids) drinks and sparkling water.
“Won’t I lose muscle mass?”
The research on IF doesn’t support the fact that the fasted state makes a person lose muscle. Our bodies can adapt at preserving muscle during the fasted state. The key during your IF is to consume lean meats and vegetables to promote lean body mass. If you are concerned about losing muscle mass during IF, then keep a record of your strength training to make sure IF isn’t impacting your strength.
“How many days per week?”
That is up to you. We did intermittent fasting during the week Monday through Friday because our days are predictable during the week. We didn’t want to be concerned with our fasting window during the weekends and with kids. If Monday through Friday feels like a lot to start with, pick 2-3 days per week that you know you can do IF and start there. With anything, it’s about consistency over time that will produce results.
“How long should I do this?”
If you’ve got a few pounds of nagging body fat that you’d like to lose or if you want to see if this is right for you, I would recommend trying IF for 6-8 weeks. The first week or two is an adjustment period. Lane saw results of fat loss around week three and four. It took a few weeks to get adjusted to the new eating schedule. I personally, loved the permission to eat until 8:00 p.m. at night because that is when I start to feel hungry again right before bed. I enjoyed having the freedom to have a little healthy snack before bed.
“What are the side-effects of IF?”
In some studies, participants reported that they had headaches and insomnia. Lane nor I experienced these side effects. I believe that the key to avoiding these side effects during IF is consuming a lot of water during the day and maintaining our morning coffee routine.
“What kind of results did you see during Intermittent Fasting?”
Lane started the IF weighing 214 pounds. Over the course of 8 weeks, he lost 8 pounds. Lane said the following about his experience: “I work out in the afternoons around 2:00 p.m. and I started to feel tired towards the end of my training session. Overall during the day, I felt more energy compared to my previous eating schedule. During IF fasting, I felt a bit more irritable and that side effect didn’t go away for me. The results I saw were worth the irritability and it was an easy way to lose excess body fat. I believe that IF is a great way for people to lose a little bit of body weight before vacation or to see if it works for you. The key is to really eat well during your eating window. Eating poorly will make you feel and perform worse.”
He followed by saying, “Since I didn’t do IF during the weekends, I gained about 2 pounds over the weekend but by the end of the week I would be 3 pounds down. So two pounds up, then three pounds down. It was mostly water weight since the weekends I was not as strict with my eating.”
I (Payden) didn’t weigh to start with. I am not a big “scale-person”. I chose to do the IF to join Lane and to be able to give my honest feedback if our clients asked about it. I was honestly really skeptical since I love breakfast and typically wake up hungry. In my experience, I certainly got leaner in my mid-section and I have a few signs of abs appearing after a five-year hiatus due to pregnancies. In my experience, getting a bit leaner without the restrictions of a typical diet and eating plan was a huge plus. Most people turn to a traditional “diet” to lose weight. That mentality leaves most people, including myself, feeling far too restricted.
I believe that our approach to do it for a certain period of time (8 weeks before a vacation) and only during the week made this feel very manageable. Although, I stuck to healthy choices during my eight hour eating window, it didn’t feel so restrictive like a “diet” can often feel. I knew each morning of my fasting I had to keep busy. I worked, walked, took the kids to the park and caught up on house chores. The days that I didn’t have as much going on felt like the mornings were dragging and my feasting window would never come!
In summary, Lane and I both benefitted from a few pounds of body fat lost during the fast. We both choose to fast a few days during the week.
As a disclaimer, if you are pregnant, nursing or have trouble maintaining your blood sugar, check with your physician before trying intermittent fasting.
For more on IF, check out the following articles: