What’s Intermittent Fasting, Again?
From time to time, we write about various diet strategies on here. Why? Because obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are linked to tons of diseases that wreak havoc on our health. Weight loss isn’t just an industry; it’s a return to fitness and health that produces a ton of benefit. One of our team members tried intermittent fasting for just under a year, and we’ll discuss the regime and results near the end of the post.
Previously we wrote about the keto diet and interval training. These things capture our imagination because we all know that guy who lost 30 pounds doing them. Intermittent fasting (IF) is another one of those buzz-worthy topics that seems to keep coming up. How does it work?
Basically, the way IF diets work is complete abstinence from caloric intake (i.e. food) for a specified period of time on a rotating schedule. In the medical world, we call this “total caloric desistance” or just “TCD”. But that sounds weird, so we’ll just call it “fasting”. Fasting is more of a lifestyle choice than an actual diet since it’s not so much what you eat, as when you eat (or don’t eat).
Dieting is hard! You get hangry and tired of eating the same old things. That’s one of the reasons that fasting has become popular. Compliance is improved. The hunger that’s produced with typical dieting is relieved when you break the fast.
Types of Fasting Schedules
Some regimens that have been described are below. By the way, we aren’t endorsing any one of these, in particular. You should always talk to your doctor about what’s right for you. We list them simply for your information.
- The 16/8 Method: Most of you do this anyway. Skip breakfast? Basically with this one, you fast for 16 hours, and limit your eating to 8 hours. Say 1pm-9pm or something like that.
- The 5:2 Method: With this one, you eat normally five days out of the week, and fast for two days. On the fast days, you can eat something. Just not a lot. You typically restrict yourself to about 500-600 calories.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This method involves a 24 hour complete fast once or twice a week. That’s right. No food. A little more strict.
The medical literature is surprisingly sparse on fasting. One of the more robust reviews indicates that there could be significant benefits to intermittent fasting. While we see intermittent fasting showing up a lot in the lay press, there seems to be little in the way of scientific evidence to back it up. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means that a lot of the theories behind it are just that. Or they are based more on animal studies than humans. Given that disclaimer, here are some of the purported benefits of fasting:
- Weight loss: Okay, this is the biggie. You want to lose weight right? Fasting can help you do that, as well as reduce belly fat.
- Lower cholesterol: Fasting can reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), triglycerides, and blood sugar. All of which is really good for your heart long term.
- Insulin resistance: We hear this term a lot. What does it mean? If your body is becoming increasingly resistant to insulin, it means diabetes could be developing. Fasting can lower blood sugar and insulin levels. Which means that it decreases insulin resistance and helps prevent type-2 diabetes.
- Longer life? This one is a stretch, but some animal studies show that rats live longer (36-83% longer!) when fasting.
- Reduce chronic disease: By reducing inflammation in the body as well as cholesterol and blood sugar, fasting helps long term health and decreases chronic diseases. It may even help prevent cancer.
Safety data are lacking in this area. We know that fasting is probably safe for most people for short periods of time. However, we also know that prolonged sustained fasting becomes dangerous – but usually not until after a few weeks when “fasting” turns into “starvation”. All this to say, that we recommend you talk to your doctor if you are considering it to see if it’s right for you.
What We Tried
Recently, one of our very own Remedy team members tried an IF diet / strength training program. We should note that he had no significant health issues before the program that would have created additional health risks, per his doctor. The basic program was as follows:
- 2-3X Weekly Strength Training Sessions (30-45 minutes, compound movements, 5×5 sets)
- Daily fasting from 8PM-12PM the following day. Basically, skip breakfast, even on morning workout days (more on that shortly).
- Calorie tracking, every day – Additional calories in the form of carbs on workout days. Low/no carbs on non-workout days. Use of a Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) tool to determine calories needed for healthy monthly weight loss. For reference, calories were 2200 on workout days, 1600 on off days.
- 1G of daily protein consumption per pound of body weight
Notes and Results
Over the course of 8 months, he lost 24 pounds. And his % body fat went from 15% to as low as 9%, without losing significant muscle mass. But it wasn’t without a few challenges:
- Skipping breakfast on a morning with a workout isn’t something someone should try cold. A scoop of protein powder is an acceptable way to help ease into it. Coffee is also fine on all fasts. Some have tried BCAA powders as well, but we haven’t studied the long-term benefits of these.
- It took several weeks to figure out the best daily caloric intake for loss. For those with above average body fat %, you can safely lose a pound a week in the early stages, but it gets harder as time goes on.
- Some sort of strength training is essential in order to preserve and develop muscle mass. At a certain (unhealthy) point, your body will start burning that instead of fat without exercise.
- Unless you use a rigid meal plan system, like Snap Kitchen, you need a calorie tracking app. Eyeballing and estimating just won’t work, especially if you dine out with any frequency. To be honest, it gets boring, because you find yourself eating the same things with known calories and macros. We used the MyPlate app.
- What are “Macros?” Protein, Fats & Carbs – the 3 things to track. Every day, protein was constant, and fats a little higher on non-workout days. Workout days, as mentioned previously, allowed for more carbs. But total CALORIES was the most important thing to track. So what does that mean?
- Over time, you find ways to “eat efficiently.” That means lots of fish and white meat, in order to hit protein goals without excess calories. Sorry, brisket fans.