In my previous article on the benefits of intermittent fasting, I discuss the myriad benefits to intermittent fasting (commonly called IFing). Fat loss, improved cognition, insulin sensitivity, strength training and workouts are just a few. Today I will briefly explain the logistics to intermittent fasting and offer the preferred eating window, and some suggestions and warnings.
To review, we are meant to fast. Our paleolithic ancestors fasted for millions of years as we foraged for food. During the lean times, we would consume our excess fat as energy (ketones). This is why we have adipose fat in the first place. When we killed the saber tooth tiger, we would feast on it since we did not know when our next protein-based meal would come next. All of our mammalian relatives mimic this cycle. Fasting while waiting for the next meal. How many overweight lions do you see? Indeed!
One of the common retorts posited by opponents of intermittent fasting that it will slow your metabolism. This would only possibly occur if you fasted for several months, which is virtually impossible. Aside from hormonal imbalances, the main way in which your metabolism would be slowed is by limiting your caloric intake for an indefinite amount of time. For example, if you reduce your caloric intake to 1,000 calories/day your body’s thermostat will re-calibrate to that amount and think that is the new norm. IFing doesn’t do that. Again, think about our mammalian relatives.
Also, another retort is that intermittent fasting is a type of diet. To be clear, you are solely shortening your eating window to sync to your body’s natural rhythms. Evolutionary speaking, we are not meant to be eating all day. It doesn’t allow the body to rest and restore itself. Therefore, intermittent fasting is not a diet. You are still eating the same amount of calories you normally would ingest in a given day. You are just shortening the window to optimize the benefits.
Fluids while intermittent fasting
One of the key things to remember about fasting is that hydration is key. After you wake up, you must be drinking ample amounts of water. What can you drink that won’t break your fast?
The opinions are mixed if eating a very high fat breakfast will keep you in the fast. To be safe, I would stay away from food and keep to the aforementioned beverages. Also, using artificial sweeteners in your tea and coffee would not break the fast, but to be honest, you should be staying away from these toxins altogether.
First, let’s discuss the two major types of intermittent fasting. Both have their unique advantages and disadvantages.
Most commonly associated with Martin Berkhan at Leangains, the 18-6 fast is rather simple. In a given 24-hour period, you should consume all of your calories in a 6-hour window and fast the remaining time. Now a couple ways exists on where to place your eating window. It is largely contingent on your favorite meal. Most IFers will have their eating window from approximately 1:00-7:00pm to allow them to eat both lunch and dinner fare. Others enjoy the 8:00am-2:00pm window to accommodate breakfast.
- 18-6 fast may be done daily.
- Most prefer the 1:00-7:00pm since it is easier to skip breakfast than to stop eating in the mid-afternoon as in the breakfast window. The beauty of this format is that you are asleep most of the hours of your fast. How easy!
- If you enjoy breakfast foods but opt for the 1:00-7:00pm window, eat breakfast at dinner, or “brinner.” I do! I love eggs at night.
- Endeavor to extend your fast as long as you can in a given day. Eat when you get hungry, so if that isn’t until 4:00pm then don’t eat until then. Consume all your calories during that abbreviated 3-hour window or extend your window to 8:00-9:00pm.
- It it recommended women engage in a shorter fast, perhaps 15 hours.
- It is not recommended that pregnant women nor children fast.
24 hour fast
As the name suggests, one does not eat for 24 hours. The most common format for 24-hour fasting is fasting from dinner to dinner. The benefits of an 18/6 are impressive, but mitigated by the brevity of the window. A 24-hour fast optimizes the benefits of fasting.
- If one does a 24 hour fast, eat regularly the next day. Do a 24-hour fast every other day. The benefits will still linger.
If you decide to begin fasting, you should consult your doctor first. Granted, he may have never heard of ritualized fasting, but he/she should be notified. It is best to begin 18-6 fast. You could do that format for years or if you like transition to the slightly more arduous but more beneficial daily fasting. From there, you could do weekly fasting, but let’s not get carried away yet!
At the beginning of IFing you might feel lousy as the body is transitioning from your carb-heavy, insulin-prevalent diet to the fast. You may experience “brain fog” and serious energy drops and hunger pangs. As with all things, good things come to those who wait. After a few days, you will notice in the mornings of your 18/6 that pangs dissipate and the mental clarity waxes.
In full disclosure, I have been doing an 18/6 fast daily for over two years. The first few days after I began it was relatively difficult but it dissipated. The mental clarity that comes with fasting is amazing and to be honest, I don’t think I will eat before noon ever again. I find that fasting is a nice bio-hack in that it gives you a little latitude on the foods you eat. You can eat maybe some bread, or some tasty desserts, or even fast food (heaven forbid!). With the mechanism behind fasting, your body can handle that “crap food” with ease. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!
Reach out to me. I am a certified health coach. Let me help you achieve your goals.
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified health consultant
I would appreciate your comments below.