One of the most effective and least talked about methods for burning fat and losing weight is intermittent fasting. Books such as The Warrior Diet have been written about this increasingly popular approach to dieting and weight loss.
The way intermittent fasting works is to cycle your body through two phases: fasting and feeding. This is contrary to how most of us eat. We start our days with a big breakfast and are snacking all the way to bedtime. Intermittent fasting aims to put a stop to this. When on an intermittent fasting diet, you only eat in a 4-8 hour window each day.
The Warrior Diet suggests 20 hours of daily fasting with a 4 hour “feeding” window. Martin Berkhan of LeanGains.com suggests a little bit more realistic approach: 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of feeding per day. Berkhan’s approach also differs from The Warrior Diet in that he advises the fasting hours to be a true fast meaning no calorie intake whatsoever whereas The Warrior Diet allows small meals like an apple or some vegetables during the fast.
Biologically, the human metabolic system naturally responds well to this diet since it more accurately reflects how our earliest ancestors ate. In the hunter and gatherer era, there were no stockpiles of cereal and milk in the refrigerator in the morning. Nor were there restaurants and fast food options available at the snap of a finger. Humanity evolved in a way that our metabolic processes are accustomed to fasting. It was not uncommon for an early human to go days with little food before eating a huge feast following a kill.
Intermittent fasting is more effective for fat loss since we give our bodies a few hours a day where there is no food in our system. During this time, the body is forced to burn its fat stores for energy. Unlike the claims of many fad diets, intermittent fasting has a substantial amount of science supporting its effectiveness for keeping the human machine operating in a healthy fashion.
Various remixes of the intermittent fasting concept exist today. The Fast-5 Diet recommends an approach of 19 hours fasting, 5 feeding. The Alternate Day Diet takes it to a further extreme in recommending 36 hours of fasting following a 12 hour feeding window. This approach may be a bit extreme for fitness enthusiasts or anyone aiming to build lean muscle mass.
Berkhan’s 16 hours fasting, 8 hours feeding approach is a great place to start an intermittent fasting lifestyle. It’s important to keep your objectives realistic and sustainable. A diet you can’t stick to forever is sure to fail. Give yourself a chance to succeed and leave the more extreme versions of intermittent fasting, like the ones suggested in The Warrior Diet and The Alternate Day Diet for others.
Here are some more important tips for setting yourself up for success with an intermittent fasting diet:
1. Break the fast following a workout. Ideally, you want your largest meal of the day to take place right after a workout. If your schedule permits, try working out at the very end of your fast. This might be challenging and require a major overhaul of one’s daily schedule for anyone used to exercising in the evenings after work. You might consider trying to incorporate workouts on your lunch break if possible. It’s key to intake a large quantity of protein immediately following your workout. Break the fast with a big meal that includes plenty of animal protein. Protein supplement shakes are also a very wise idea following a workout.
2. Stick with the same pattern. Figure out what 8 hour feeding window and 16 hour fasting window works for you and stick with it. Our bodies grow accustomed to eating at certain times each day. Allow your body to get into a good rhythm where an intermittent fasting diet becomes the new norm.
3. Don’t give up. The first few days transitioning from a typical diet in which we are feeding for 14-18 hours down to just 8 hours of feeding will be pretty rough. You’ll experience stomach rumblings and intense cravings. This is all perfectly normal. Try some coffee or tea in the morning to help stave off cravings.
4. Eat sensibly. A major reason for the growing popularity of intermittent fasting is that the decreased number of feeding hours in a day means there is less pressure to watch what you eat. When you’re eating all throughout the day, it’s important to be really careful with your calorie intake. With intermittent fasting, there is not as much of an emphasis on weighing your blueberries to make sure you’re not overdoing it. However, don’t let this bit of relative flexibility allow you to think food choices don’t matter. If you’re binge eating Taco Bell and cupcakes during your feeding phase, you are unlikely to experience any of the weight loss promises of an intermittent fasting lifestyle.
5. Try it with a friend/spouse. If you have a history of trying and failing at diets, get an accountability partner for your new intermittent fasting lifestyle. The great part of this lifestyle is that it’s really easy once you get used to it, but a friend can go a long way in helping you stay motivated and disciplined while you adjust to the new rules you’ve placed on your body.
6. Stay distracted. Once you’re in the full swing of sticking with an intermittent fasting diet, you’ll find that it’s really not too tough outside of 2-4 hours a day of moderate hunger. Keep yourself distracted during this time by working, running errands, exercising, etc. Sitting around watching TV thinking about how much you want to eat food will only make it harder on yourself.