Before jumping into the details on intermittent fasting, let me take a walk down memory lane to put some perspective on the various diet plans which have risen to popularity over the years.
When I was a kid in the 1980’s, fad diets seemed to come and go really fast. Basically, some celebrity, doctor, or other marginally qualified person would write a book and suddenly men and women across the country would blindly follow some crazy plan. I remember one diet called “The Grapefruit Diet”; this diet recommended that dieters should choose one day a week to eat nothing but grapefruits for the entire day – I always thought that one was particularly stupid. This seemed to be how things worked until the early 2000s when “The Atkins Diet” rose to popularity.
For those who do not remember Atkins, it basically was/is a ketogenic diet. This was a transcendental moment for the diet industry because (as any keto dieter would gladly tell you), keto is a “lifestyle”. Unlike the dozens of fad diets that came before the Atkins diet, people who followed this diet had to legitimately change their behavior for an extended period of time, versus doing something crazy like eating a bunch of grapefruits for a whole day. This expanded mindset on the definition of a “diet” is what opened the door for intermittent fasting (IF).
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
As the name suggests, it means that the dieter should “fast” (not eat for an extended period of time), then eat during a specific time period (maybe a few hours), and then go back to “fasting” again. A recent article in the New York Times interviewed Mark P. Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and he put it this way, “It takes 10 to 12 hours to use up the calories stored in the body as sugar; after that, the body has to look for stored energy – meaning burning body fat for energy. So, in theory, once a dieter gets into hours 13+, the calories burned should be coming from stored fat; thus, making them leaner and dropping a few pounds.” That sounds logical enough…
How Many Hours Should I Fast And How Many Hours Should I Eat?
Let me site my best-case study on intermittent fasting, my wife. She was successful with this diet plan during the summer and dropped a few pounds; I will add though, that she also exercises daily. In my opinion, daily exercise is the best tool for weight loss and should always be step one to any diet plan. Through her adherence to IF, I became familiar with some of the lingo; she did a 19:5 or 20:4 fast, meaning she fasted for 19 or 20 hours and then ate “normally” in the remaining four or five hours of the day. After much research, I actually found out that there are three formal structures to following an intermittent fasting diet plan:
· Daily time-restricted feeding (This is what my wife was doing.)
· Alternate-day fasting (This is often outlined as limiting consumption of food to only 500 calories one day and then eating “normally” the next day.)
· Periodic fasting (An eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.)
From my research, it seems that 16:8 is the most common and most effective way to following an intermittent fasting diet. This structure of an intermittent fasting diet is also known as Leangains protocol. This structure is simple to follow because it counts your nighttime/sleep hours as part of your fasting window. To dumb it down a bit, you can achieve 16 hours of fasting by sleeping, skipping breakfast, and skipping lunch. After this stretch, your feeding window will be open for eight hours. Then you just repeat the cycle again.
Should I Eat A Full Day's Worth of Calories In A Few Hours?
I consider myself to be an extremely basic and logical guy, so as my wife followed the IF plan, my immediate thoughts were:
· What should you eat during your eating time? Do you cram a full day’s worth of calories into your shortened feeding window or do you just naturally consume less calories on this diet? Obviously, this diet is to help you lose weight but if you cram a full day’s worth of normal calories into just a few hours, how does that jive with the concept of IF or how do you actually lose weight that way? Why not just eat a reduced calorie amount throughout the day and night and skip the drama of not eating/fasting?
· What do you do during the fasting period to maintain your diet without giving into the hunger?
Water Keeps You Fuller, Longer
In researching these questions, I learned a few things. The first thing I’ll mention is that every post and blog I’ve read stresses the importance of proper hydration and recommends that you drink a lot of water during the fasting and eating windows while following an intermittent fasting. This sounds simple but it is actually very important that you remember this. As a part of this, I recommend looking for foods or supplements that contain electrolytes to aid in proper hydration. It comes as no surprise that drinking a lot of water helps with IF because, as a recent publication from Johns Hopkins explains, that drinking water may naturally suppress appetite, stimulate metabolism, and reduce your overall liquid calorie intake.
Another question regarding what to drink while following an intermittent fasting diet is whether drinking coffee, tea, energy drinks, and/or other caffeine drinks are safe to consume. The consensus out there seems to be that caffeinated drinks are okay to drink while doing IF. Dr. Josh Axe, a best-selling author who wrote “Eat Dirt”, who explains that tea and coffee are fine to consume as long as you don't add any milk or sweeteners. This comes as no shock to me because caffeine found in black coffee, tea, and other drinks, has been shown to help accelerate fat burning and weight loss. Since weight loss is the main goal for most intermittent fasters, caffeine, and other complementary ingredients like Dynamine, seem to be a logical fit.
Fight Off Cravings With Fiber and Protein
Now back the eating window. There does not seem to be any major rules as to what you should eat during the eating window; however, it is clear to me that you are not supposed to cram 12 hours of eating into your eight hour window. Also, the first meal you consume to break your fast is the most important. There is a lot of advice floating around the internet and on social media pages on how to manage your eating during the feeding window. Two common recommendations that I found online is that you should try to eat a cup of tomato and cucumber salad with some chopped up parsley as the first meal; you will also want to try to consume some sort of fruits and/or vegetable smoothie.
My personal advice for this all-important first meal, is to eat something filling and low in processed carbohydrates. When my wife was on the 16:8 plan, I always recommended oatmeal or a whole protein food source like tuna or chicken for her first meal; my thought was that a wholesome first meal would create a sense of satiety and provide some appetite support. This wholesome first meal would help combat the desire to overeat during the eating window, versus letting the fasting increase her hunger. It is important to remember that the eating time IF allows is not for “binge eating”.
Better Sleep, Better Results
One final thought and recommendation on the IF plan, make sure to get a good night’s sleep. I’ve read countless studies on the correlation between poor sleep habits and their affect on metabolism and unwanted weight gain. Plus, since your sleep time is a huge portion of your fasting period, it’s obviously important. For better relaxation and sleep, I would personally recommend taking a nighttime supplement that contains melatonin, especially if you are consuming coffee and other sources of caffeine throughout the day. Melatonin and other nighttime sleep aids like zinc and magnesium, have been shown to help promote better rest and support hydration levels (Magnesium plays a vital role with hydration because it is an electrolyte. According to research on PubMed, “The administration of nightly melatonin, magnesium, and zinc appears to improve the quality of sleep and the quality of life in long-term care facility residents with primary insomnia.”
Intermittent Fasting - APPROVED!
As with any diet plan, there is one undeniable benefit to intermittent fasting, and that is the fact that it makes you focus on your eating and your weight loss goals. There seems to be plenty of good science suggesting that a fasting period may create a metabolic state conducive to fat burning and a properly planed eating window may give you enough time to recoup from the fast and avoid chronic feelings of hunger and tiredness. Between the plethora of information available and my experience watching my wife successfully implement this diet strategy, I can confidently say that intermittent fasting is a diet strategy and weight loss plan worth considering.
- CEO Chris Mackenzie