This time of year people around the world make resolutions for improvements in their life. Not surprisingly the number one resolution year after year is to lose weight. Studies show that over 24% of New Year’s Resolutions revolve around weight loss. It’s well documented that what we really want is FAT loss which is where the true benefits lie. For the purposes of this article, let us agree on that simple point.
The greater debate revolves around the best way to achieve this fat loss. Some people will tell you it’s exercise as simple as walking. Others will tell you about interval or high intensity training. Many experts will tell you that nutrition is the key and there is no shortage of new diets and diet advice coming out all the time. The reality is that the best recipe for long term health is the combination of diet and exercise. Diet alone doesn’t strengthen your muscles and bones. Exercise doesn't provide your body with the nutrients necessary for health and energy. Therefore it’s obvious that the combination of the two is best.
In this article we will focus on the nutrition side of the equation and the popular topic of Intermittent Fasting. If you are not familiar with the term it simply refers to a pattern of eating that involves periods of feeding and periods of fasting. It is much more about WHEN you eat, not WHAT you eat. It’s not a new concept as humans have been fasting since the dawn of creation. At that time it was often out of necessity because there simply wasn’t food to eat as readily as it is today.
Intermittent Fasting has been studied for years and the benefits are numerable and undeniable. Here are a few key benefits:
- Increase in Growth Hormone up to 5x. This is beneficial for both fat loss and muscle gain.
- Decrease in Insulin levels. When insulin is lower the stores of body fat become more accessible for energy. The less times you eat, the less insulin in your system.
- Fat Loss - because you are taking in less calories your body starts to burn fat. On average people have seen decreases of up to 8%.
- Increased Metabolism - studies have shown increases of up to 15%
- Reduced Inflammation - Inflammation is a key driver of many Chronic Diseases.
- Reduced Risk of Heart Disease - Studies show as reduction in LDL (bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides.
- Reduced Risk of Certain Cancers
- Improved Brain Health by increasing certain brain hormones. This may be beneficial in the prevention of Alzheimers Disease
That list of potential benefits is powerful but keep in mind that research is constantly evolving so there will be more evidence to come as the studies become longer and more detailed in Intermittent Fasting. The bottom line is that the benefits come from the reduction in calories. If you eat massive amounts of food during you feeding periods you may not see the benefits. At the end of the day there is still no getting around the simple equation of calories in vs calories out. If you are burning more than you are taking in you lose weight - period.
So if the benefits of Intermittent Fasting sound good, the next question is HOW do you do it? Keep in mind that before starting any new diet or exercise program you should consult with your physician to be sure its appropriate for you. That being said, here are a few of the common protocols.
This is the most common protocol for Intermittent Fasting and where it is recommended that most people start. Simply you are eating only 8 hours during the day and fasting for 16. For example If you have your first meal at noon then you would have your last meal by 8PM. If you can’t wait til noon and have your first meal at 10am then your last would be at 6PM. In general you would eat 2-3x during this 8 hour period. You can drink non caloric drinks at any point in the day and this will often satisfy feelings of hunger.
24 Hour Fast.
This approach is a bit more demanding but very effective. As it sounds you are taking complete 24 hours periods where you don’t eat anything at all. So if your last meal is at 8PM on Monday, you don’t eat again until 8PM on Tuesday. It’s challenging to go for this long at first with no food but you do get used to it. Again - non caloric liquids are recommended. The 24 hour fast is particularly beneficial if you know you are going out socially and don’t want to watch your diet at the event. For example if you know you have a party Saturday Night then make your last meal Friday Night so that you can indulge a bit more at the party.
This plan has been around since the late 90’s and basically allows for a 4 hour feeding period and 20 hours of fasting. Typically you are eating one large meal each day and perhaps a few small snacks if needed during the 4 hour period. Typically the meal is at the end of the day. The upside of this is that you are typically taking your 1500 -2000 calories in one meal so you have a bit more latitude on what you are eating. In general it should be healthy but but you can binge a bit more here on carbs and possibly even a sweet.
There are several more methods of Intermittent Fasting available but the key is that you maintain the periods of eating and fasting. The results are real, both from a fat loss and health perspective. If you think it sounds like something for you give it a shot. Research more and then start with 1-2 days per week on the protocol that fits you and see what you think. There is a little discomfort at first but that is true with any area of improvement. I suspect however that it could become a new way of life for you!