Fitness Success: Curious about intermittent fasting?

Posted Dec. 16, 2013, at 10:46 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 06, 2014, at 1:45 p.m.

One of the “newer” ideas in nutrition is a concept called intermittent fasting — IF for short. This is a pretty big departure from the “old” idea that we should eat five or six small meals per day. In this article I’ll cover whether or not it works, and if it works, then how should you apply it to your life.

IF is a lot like kettlebells — it seems like a new thing, but it’s actually very old. I first got interested in IF four years ago when my schedule become insane: I was the only coach in my business (coaching five or six days a week), filming a TV show two days a week (some shoots lasted until midnight), running my first internship, and trying to be the husband my brand new wife deserved. I was skipping workouts and breakfast, and getting pretty frustrated with my life (and self).

I’d maintained a 70-pound body composition improvement for years using the small, frequent meal approach; and I was very afraid of trying what is essentially the opposite — two meals a day — because I’d heard all of the warnings against eating less frequently — your metabolism will slow down, you’ll lose muscle, etc. Something had to give, so I gave it 12 weeks and it was great.

Intermittent fasting eliminated the stress of trying to cram in all those little meals (and having to make all of that food, and making enough different things so I didn’t end up hating what I had to eat). The time this freed up allowed me to work more and spend more time with my wife. I lost no muscle (I actually got stronger), and to top it all off, I lost about 10 pounds of fat in 12 weeks. Since it worked so well for me, I tried it out with a few of my clients, and most (not all) of them had the same results — this is way easier, and fat-loss accelerated.

What is it, and how does it work?

Fasting is something that you already do — most people do it when they sleep. IF is just about changing how long your fasting period is — when you eat and when you don’t eat — in order to lose fat and/or gain muscle. Lengthining the period of time you go without eating (fasting) seems to do some positive hormonal things for your body that make it easier to look and feel better.

One of the biggest benefits is that IF seems to decrease inflammation and also increase how sensitive your body is to several important hormones including insulin. All of these changes create an environment where your body is more willing to give up its fat stores. If you’re the kind of person who’s always hungry, you might find that this helps fix that. It sounds counterintuitive, but research has repeatedly shown that feeding people the same amount of food less often (in fewer meals) makes them feel more satisfied and less hungry.

Getting started

If you’re looking for something to help give your fat-loss a little boost here’s how I’d suggest you get started: wait to eat your first meal. Really, those six words sum up all of the “what to do”. For most people, you’re looking to compress your eating into an 8-10 hour window for maximum results and ease of doing. The first meal of the day seems (from research and personal observation) to stimulate people’s appetite; and waiting to eat your first meal seems to suppress appetite (and therefore make this a breeze).

For example, I wake up at 5 a.m. and I’m not usually hungry for lunch until between noon and 2 pm. And I usually get home from work at 9 p.m., so I usually have dinner by 10 p.m. Most days I have a small snack at 4 of a few handfuls of nuts. I usually try to wait to have my first meal until after I workout, but sometimes I am just hungry early, so I eat early and workout later. This eating schedule is not about depriving yourself or forcing yourself to be hungry for hours at a time.

It seems to take less than a week to adjust to the new schedule — the first day might be a little tough, but every day should get much easier after that until it feels easy and natural. If this eating schedule does not get easy for you, then this means that either you’re not eating enough when you do eat, or that IF simply is not for you.

What if I workout in the morning?

I’ve experimented with this personally, and with other people; and IF usually still works. From a social perspective, dinner is the most important meal of the day. I don’t work with people who are willing to damage their family life by no longer eating dinner with their family (and I wouldn’t want to). Here’s how it seems to work best: have a protein recovery shake after your morning workout, then wait as long as you can to eat your first real meal, and have a somewhat earlier dinner.

Caveats

1. If you’re doing aerobics in the morning, this doesn’t seem to work. Aerobics (steady state running, for example) seems to make people hungry, and so faster after a long morning run seems to make people miserable. However, with resistance and interval training, we don’t often see this problem.

2. If you’re pregnant, or breast feeding please don’t even experiment with IF.

Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book Results Fitness. In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training fitness program, which specializes in weight loss and body transformations for busy people. Read more about The Body You Want at www.josefbrandenburg.com/.

@2013, Josef Brandenburg

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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