Understanding intermittent fasting benefits, in popular culture, has become increasingly popular over the last decade as a potential way to lose weight...and keep it off! Advocates of intermittent fasting suggest that humans evolved to eat intermittently, much in the same way humans evolved to eat in a Paleo-type way.
To truly understand intermittent fasting benefits, we have to start with a deeper understanding of intermittent fasting in general.
In this post I'll explain:
- What exactly is intermittent fasting?
- What are a few intermittent fasting benefits?
- Will intermittent fasting help you lose weight?
- What's the difference between calorie restriction and intermittent fasting?
- What is an intermittent fasting schedule?
In my opinion, there are some people who could see great success with an intermittent fasting diet. On the flip side, I believe some people should absolutely steer clear. I'll explain my thoughts toward the end of the post.
But for now...let's jump right in.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is simply eating on an abbreviated schedule. Bottom line: you don't eat or graze on food throughout the day. There are no hard and fast rules with what you can or can not eat when following an intermittent fasting diet. Naturally, you should eat as healthy as possible to gain the greatest benefits.
You can intermittently fast by following one of several schedules (which I've outlined below). The main focus of intermittent fasting is that you adhere to a period of the day in which you are not eating anything. The goal through intermittent fasting is that you'll be able to:
- better manage your blood sugar levels
- increase muscle mass
- decrease unnecessary body fat/lose weight
Many people, however, intermittently fast to improve their health, reduce inflammation, increase energy, etc. There are several other areas of research that point to cognitive benefits, but that's mostly related to calorie restriction, not intermittent fasting.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
There are a lot of studies on animal models using intermittent fasting, but very few using human subjects, so it's really difficult to point to the mother lode of literature showing these spectacular benefits. Anecdotally, however, you can't swing a dead cat without bouncing into someone's story of how they used intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight - or benefit their lives.
My very own intermittent fasting benefits were related to the 16:8 schedule of only eating for eight hours a day. I really loved the schedule and how I felt when I ate this way. I go into a little more detail below on how and why I enjoyed intermittent fasting.
But intermittent fasting, like all diets, is not meant for everyone. There are several intermittent fasting benefits, but also has it's pitfalls. I'll explain a few of each.
The Upside of Intermittent Fasting
1 - You Can Weight Loss
A vast number of the studies done that include the effects of intermittent fasting on weight loss are done in tandem with other variables, such as high intensity interval training or caloric restriction. This study, however, looked specifically at intermittent fasting in healthy individuals. It's kind of a gem.
The study is pretty small, only 59 people, resulting in a seven-pound average weight loss over eight weeks of following the alternate day fasting I mentioned above.
Whether you choose to intermittent fast or not, no substitute can be made of high quality, nutritious foods. Here's what I mean.
Let's say that your regular everyday diet intake is around 2500 calories.
But now you've started intermittent fasting and your goal caloric intake is 2000 calories. This should be easy as you're not eating throughout the day as you normally would.
Over one week, you'll be eating about 3500 calories less than you normally would, so in theory, you should be lose exactly one pound. Sounds amazing!
But not all calories are created equal. This is where nutrition comes in.
Eating 2000 calories a day of cookies, bread and soda will probably NOT provide you with the same weight loss benefits as eating 2000 calories of a day filled with vegetables, clean protein and healthy fats.
2 - You Can Increase Human Growth Hormone
I'm a super fan of human growth hormone (HGH), and getting our body to increase HGH naturally. It's what keeps us feeling and looking younger.
It turns out there are studies that show intermittent fasting can boost HGH, but only in fasts that are a couple of days. If you're willing to fast for 48 hours, your body might give you a generous boost of HGH. That's pretty nice as HGH helps our body repair, build muscle and metabolize fat more efficiently.
In the realm of intermittent fasting benefits, muscle growth or development is big. This is where HGH comes in. I know I briefly mentioned it above, but if you're over the age of 25 (which is about the time HGH starts to greatly diminish), giving your body a boost of HGH through your diet is a big benefit.
Eating alone doesn't boost HGH. If that were the case, fewer of us would be overweight and more of us would be toned and fit. HGH increases, and therefore muscle mass increases, through proper intermittent fasting and clean eating. Simple as that.
If you're thinking, CRAP, that's the only way I can increase HGH, don't worry. Here are a few other ways you can give your body a nice boost of HGH without having to intermittent fast.
3 - You Can Manage Insulin Levels Better
Diabetes, especially type 2, is a really big problem among both adults and children. Anything we can do that can safely control our blood sugar levels and insulin levels - keeping them within normal range should be done! However, if you're currently experiencing problems in this area, then you need to talk to you doctor before jumping on an intermittent fasting diet. You can also get some tips on how to prevent diabetes here.
While studies show that many people manage their insulin levels benefit by following intermittent fasting, it's still a good idea to talk to a medical practitioner if you're not sure, and certainly if you're someone who is already pre-diabetic or diabetic.
The Cons of Intermittent Fasting
To bring a little balance to all the intermittent fasting benefits, I think it's only fair to explain the potential downside of intermittent fasting. Keep in mind, I use "downside" loosely. Intermittent fasting isn't really anything scary. If you're a healthy individual, you can try it. If you don't like it, you can stop.
You Might Actually Gain Weight
Of course, you could always gain weight, which is the opposite of committing to intermittent fasting in the first place, but it happens.
I've worked with clients long enough to understand how this might happen.
- Eating too much: despite the fact that you might be limited to 8 hours of eating a day, for example, you could overeat in that period of time. Intermittent fasting means that you should eat a reasonable amount of food within the timeframe that works for you. Eating too much will throw your efforts in reverse.
- Eating the wrong foods: eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) might not completely stall your efforts on intermittent fasting, but I promise they will not give you the results you would otherwise see if you ate healthy, nutritious foods that turn your metabolism on.
- Simply not committing: If you're only half willing to commit to intermittent fasting, it might not be right for you - and that's totally fine! Intermittent fasting isn't the only way to lose weight. You can try my favorite way of eating - found in The Belly Burn Plan. Or you can look around my blog for some great recipes that are always anti-inflammatory and good for you!
Will Intermittent Fasting Help YOU Lose Weight?
In full disclosure, I followed the 16:8 intermittent fasting schedule for years - but mostly because that's just how I ate naturally. I experience intermittent fasting benefits up the wazoo, but not because I was counting calories or watching what I ate. I went to bed early, and woke up early to workout. By the time I finally got around to eating breakfast, it was 16 hours from dinner. I ate throughout the day and felt great.
Below is an example of what I ate during my 16:8 schedule. I sometimes naturally fall back into this if I'm training for a race - which is pretty rare these days!
Because I have three children, I want to sit down an eat with them. I think it's the most important thing a parent can do to show their kids the benefits of healthy eating. After all, kids who eat healthy are more likely to turn into adults that eat healthy, right?
I should also mention that after I stopped eating the 16:8 schedule, which I fell out of naturally, largely due to a crazy kid-work schedule.
A typical day for me on the 16:8 schedule looked a little like this:
- Early morning wake up: drink room temp water with a little lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
- Late morning breakfast (10:00 - 10:30am): 1/2 cup oats with cinnamon, 1/4 c. walnuts and 1/2 c. blueberries + a little maple syrup
- Lunch (1:00 - 1:30pm): Big (GIANT) mixed greens salad with chicken, a ton of veggies, avocado and olive oil
- Snack: Apple + Nut Butter or Carrots and Hummus
- Dinner (6:00 - 6:30pm): Fish or chicken with vegetables and a little rice +coconut oil
You might notice that my diet is not terribly exciting. I do go out to eat. I eat the occasional piece of pizza and I like a glass of wine once in a while. But 85% of the time, this is what my days look like - even today when I'm not intermittent fasting.
- No added sugars
- Whole, clean foods
I include grains in my diet. A lot of people who practice intermittent fasting don't include them, and follow more of a Paleo diet. My diet is purely my preference.
So can intermittent fasting help YOU lose weight?
Yes, but think about this first...
For years I worked with clients in a gym, trying to get them in shape, build muscle and shed a little fat. A few of these clients were workaholics. Their eating habits were terrible. They skipped breakfast and only ate at lunch and dinner.
They were naturally intermittent fasting, too, but they never lost a pound - and only gained weight.
Why? Their food choices.
Their diet was loaded with refined carbohydrates, too much sodium and way too much sugar. Even if they were only eating 1200 calories a day, their calories were useless.
It simply wasn't nutrient-dense enough and their bodies needed more.
You can intermittent fast all day everyday, but if your food choices are garbage, you will have a tough time losing weight.
Even if you do lose weight, once you start eating normal again, the weight will crawl back on faster than it came off.
The bottom line: think wisely about eating the right foods.
Calorie Restriction vs Intermittent Fasting
Restricting calories and following an intermittent fasting schedules are similar in some ways and very different in others.
Calorie restriction is cutting back on the amount of energy you consume throughout the day, with no boundaries on when you should or should to be eating.
Intermittent fasting is eating within a specific timeframe with no real guidance on how much you should eat. One particular form of intermittent fasting does focus on calorie restriction, but I'll get to that in a moment.
The benefits of calorie restriction have been well researched, showing benefits in the areas of longevity, cognition and even cancer prevention.
Naturally, calorie restriction in someone who is eating too much for their body, even if it's eating only a small amount too much, can be quite beneficial.
I really believe before people jump with both feet into the sea of intermittent fasting, they ought to get their around around their day-to-day nutrition, starting with the question "Am I eating too much?"
I'm not a proponent of the "calories in-calories out" notion. I think it's a bunch of crap and opens the door to calorie counting and obsessive diet-related behaviors and thoughts. That said, there is a point where we can do a little self observation - simply cutting back on the foods we're eating.
A lot of the overweight people with whom I work eat really good foods. They don't eat garbage. But they eat too much.
I work with them on modifying their behavior and suddenly the weight comes off.
I'm not trying to discourage you from intermittent fasting, and I know that's why you stopped by. So let's get down to business - and back to talking about intermittent fasting!
Popular Intermittent Fasting Schedules
The 16:8 schedule involves eating for 8 hours a day, and not eating for 16 hours a day (water permitted). A typical day starts with breakfast at 11am, and eating regularly throughout the day until about 7:00pm. From 7:00pm until 11:00am the following morning, you fast.
Other people follow a very similar schedule, but closer to a 20:4 (also known as a Warrior Diet). In other words, these people abstain from eating for 20 hours, with only a 4-hour window to eat.
I referenced above, you can still drink water. Some people say that you can still drink coffee or other non-caloric beverages, but if this is the path you want to follow, I would stay away from caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can throw off cortisol and insulin, making you hungrier.
Hunger doesn't always happen with caffeine consumption, but for people who have a tough time controlling their blood sugar levels, it should be avoided.
The 5:2 schedule based around fasting for two non-consecutive days of the week and eating for five days of the week. The fasting days are restricted to 500 - 600 calories a day, so there is some energy intake. The non-fasting days are eating as you normally would.
A typical schedule might look like:
Non-fasting: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Fasting: Tuesday, Thursday (500-600 calorie days)
Even though this might sound tougher than the 16:8 schedule, it's definitely a place people start with more often in intermittent fasting as you can essentially eat whenever you want - and just about everyday.
The 500 - 600 calorie consumption on those two non-consecutive days is still eating, albeit significantly curbed from any adults' recommended calorie intake.
I've never followed this schedule, but if I did, I would choose those calories wisely. I'd be less concerned with natural hunger or the normal desire to eat, and more concerned with unruly blood sugar levels that could lead to a crash.
Alternate day fasts step up the game on intermittent fasting when you commit to fasting for a full day, then eating regularly on the following day. So that is a full 24 hour fast, followed by one full normal day of eating.
A typical alternate day fast schedule might look like:
Non-fasting: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
Fasting: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday (zero calorie days)
This type of schedule tends to be the most difficult to commit to because there is a full day of fasting in between normal days of eating.
So what do you think you'll do? Do you want to give intermittent fasting a try? It's a total lifestyle and something that works best if you can commit 100%.
I only recommend this if you're a healthy individual and think you can give it your all.
If not, then there is always simply eating healthy. Of course, I recommend eating right for your body type through The Belly Burn Plan.
But if that's not for you, then focus on foods that are as anti-inflammatory as possible. Anti-inflammatory foods are always very healthy and do your body good. I made a list of 20 anti-inflammatory foods (read) to load up with at the grocery store that will help your body.
Do you have any questions for me? Let me know! I'd love to hear from you.
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