What is Intermittent Fasting? – Key Components for Success
Being active in sports and the fitness industry, you have probably heard the phrase intermittent fasting thrown around time and time again.
Are you wondering what the heck this craze is about?! Investigation of the positive effects of intermittent fasting is an area of rapid growth in the world of research. Although the effectiveness of intermittent fasting on humans is still limited, some studies suggest that intermittent fasting may be beneficial for improved health and weight loss.
Is it right for you? How is it best implemented to avoid any negative side effects? In this article, I will explain what intermittent fasting is and how/why it may be useful in your weight loss journey!
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Contrary to most diets, intermittent fasting does not tell you what to eat, but rather when to eat. Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating where your daily calories are consumed during a specific window of time in the day. In other words, from the time you eat your last bite of food at the end of the day to the first bite of food you eat the next morning, makes up the “fast.”
Wait? Don’t I already do this every night? Correct…you do! Unless you are frequently waking up during the night to snack, you are already practicing the pattern of intermittent fasting whether you knew it or not, just to a lesser degree.
So, how is intermittent fasting any different? This pattern of eating prolongs to fasting window, so the difference lies in the length of time that you go without eating.
New research, which has primarily been performed on animals, supports the perceived benefits of this natural fast; however, there is still a need for research to prove the effectiveness of intermittent fasting on humans. Just like with any weight loss approach, there is no magic pill or single solution to successfully dropping those unwanted pounds. A healthy, well-balanced and nutrient dense diet, combined with exercise is going to lead to successful weight loss…however intermittent fasting has been shown to help facilitate the weight loss process.
A few of the perceived benefits of following an intermittent fasting plan include:
- Blood sugar control
- Reduce onset of disease
- Improve memory and learning
- Appetite control
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Regulation of gut microbiome
These have been shown to result from…
- LDL (your bad cholesterol)
- Disease production
- Blood pressure
- Oxidative stress
- Cell turnover and repair (prevents disease and infection)
- Fat burning (increase in beta-oxidation during the end of the fast, which is the mechanism involved in fat breakdown)
How do I fast intermittently? Will I starve?
Who wants to starve? Um…nobody! Don’t let the term “fast” scare you or make you feel that this lifestyle is unrealistic. Think of it this way…we naturally “fast” at night when we go to sleep for 8-10 hours, so you’re just going to prolong that fast when you wake up for a few more hours.
Remember, you will not be eating less food with intermittent fasting; rather you will consume your calories in a shorter window of time. Will there be times towards the end of the fast that you will begin to feel hungry? Most likely… but since you’re consuming a large portion of your food in a shorter amount of time, you will probably feel more full, satisfied, and experience fewer cravings following your last meal!
What might a typical day look like?
Good news! To a degree, the time frame used is up to you. There is no single perfect schedule, just make sure to fast for the recommended amount of time. To experience the perceived benefits of intermittent fasting, you may need to lengthen the time of your typical overnight fast.
Effective approaches that have shown reductions in weight loss for individuals are between 12 and 20 hours. For most people, the sweet spot seems to be between the 14-16 hour range.
Within this window, plan to consume 2-3 balanced meals with one or two snacks in between.
- If you begin eating at 7am, stop eating at 5pm (14 hr)
- If you start eating at 10am, stop eating at 7pm (15 hr)
- If you start eating at 12pm, stop eating at 8pm (16 hr)
- If you start eating at 2pm, stop eating at 8 or 10 pm (18-20hr)
You may also reverse this plan. Many individuals find that they can alter the time of day that they eat breakfast but dinner time is somewhat set in stone. If using the first example as a template, you may consider eating your last bite of food by 6 or 7 pm, then not eating your first bite of food until sometime between noon and 2 pm the next day. It may depend on your work schedule, ability to control blood sugar, preferred meal timing and so on.
Is intermittent fasting safe?
For people without nutritional restrictions or conditions, intermittent fasting is safe if done the right way! However, extended periods of time where food is restricted is not safe for diabetic individuals, breastfeeding moms, or moms-to-be.
Specifically for pregnant women, intentional weight loss throughout pregnancy shouldn’t be your goal, as ensuring your fetus is getting proper food and nutrients is crucial! One study in pregnant women who fasted during Ramadan found that children of these women had low weight at birth.
Doctors argue that this type of fasting could cause irregular menstruation, increased stress and anxiety around food, and irregular sleeping patterns, none of which are going to be beneficial for a pregnant or breastfeeding woman.
What separates intermittent fasting from other weight loss plans?
It’s Not Magic:
- Intermittent fasting usually results in calorie restriction, which is inevitably going to result in weight loss if done consistently.
- Intermittent fasting prevents unnecessary late night binging that is almost always destructive for the goals of a person trying to lose weight.
SO why am I saying this…? Along with the potential biological effects of the fasting process, this regiment encourages several very important eating habits that will result in weight loss regardless of what time you eat. Whether you want to believe it or not, eating more than your body needs is going to result in weight gain. Having said this, the intermittent fasting life could be the answer to your prayers. It may help you break the habits previously preventing successful weight loss in the past!
Tips for Success With Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can be a recipe for disaster if not done right. The key to success with intermittent fasting is having a plan and making this lifestyle sustainable for YOU.
- Quality is as important to this plan as any other. Eating healthy, nutrient dense food that supports your health and performance is going to be so important! Bingeing on a juicy burger and fries within your window of eating is NOT the purpose or goal of intermittent fasting. We want to experience the biological benefits of fasting, while also maintaining healthy and sustainable habits.
- Quantity: The amount of food you eat is just as important as what you eat…eating enough to support your individual calorie needs is crucial to any successful weight loss plan, especially intermittent fasting.
- Ease yourself in: If you are somebody who consistently eats a late night snack at 10 or 11 pm, don’t start 100 miles an hour by completely depriving yourself of this. Maybe start by moving up your snack an hour or two until you have trained your body and mind that you aren’t hungry late at night!
- Be realistic: Start with a fasting time frame that you believe is achievable for you. Try a time frame that you know you will be successful with. Maybe you start practicing the fasting regiment by eating no later than 8 o’clock and eating breakfast at 10 o’clock the next morning…When you begin to feel comfortable and confident with this timing, try moving another hour each way.
- Don’t skip meals: Skipping meals will negatively impact your performance, and that is not what we want from this! You are already consuming the majority of your meals in a small time frame. If you miss this window, you may experience delayed hunger, feel exhausted, have low blood sugar, and experience highs and lows.
- Work your exercise regime around your fast: Maintaining exercise throughout your intermittent fasting regime will enhance the benefits of both. Research says that combining intermittent fasting and regular exercise can have positive effects on energy balance and enhance the weight loss process!
So, is intermittent fasting a trend? No. It may be “trendy” right now, but there is great research to support it thus far and more promising research may emerge in the near future.
Remember, weight loss should not be about starving yourself. Not only is a severe calorie restriction not sustainable, but it will likely lead to decreased athletic performance. From mindful eating strategies to healthy snacks, to meal timing, there are a variety of components which can help improve your chance of success with weight loss. We truly believe, when done right, you can achieve weight loss stress and starvation free, all while enhancing performance, not sacrificing it.