Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the intentional restriction of all food and caloric beverages for a certain period of time.
I discovered Intermittent Fasting almost three years ago. I slowly got into it, settled into a routine and loved my results. However, I didn’t tell anyone, unless they were already into it themselves. Why? Because every time I mention it, people roll their eyes. “Seriously, you’re starving yourself?“
IF is not starvation. First of all, you’re eating more calories than on a calorie restriction diet. And secondly, it’s one of the oldest and most natural traditions in the world.
Snackers gonna hate, but until the 70s, everyone was fasting on a regular basis.
- Out in nature, there’s a continuous cycle of fasting and feasting.
- One-third of the human population fasts regularly for religious reasons.
- Animals fast when they’re sick because they know instinctively that not eating at that moment is good for them.
- Humans did not evolve by snacking, they took part in the feast and fast cycle for thousands of years.
- And until a hundred years ago, the word snack did not exist. The obesity epidemic did not exist either.
- My grandma did not have 3 meals a day while working on a farm most of her life – but she’s still alive, and in good health at 87 years old.
So why is Intermittent Fasting good?
Though there are many health benefits for fasting, I’m only going to focus on weight loss. But think about it this way – if the body is not required to digest food all the time, it can spend its energy repairing itself. Again, if you have a dog or cat, you might have noticed that if they’re sick they don’t eat. Even humans have a lower appetite during illness, but we still force food down our throats.
I’ve talked about the importance of balancing hormones to balance your weight in this blog post. I recommend you check it out before continuing this one.
When we talk about insulin, weight gain can happen in two ways:
- Eating the wrong foods will spike insulin levels and promote storing as fat. Solution: no processed carbohydrates.
- Regular exposure to high levels of insulin will create insulin resistance (you can compare this to resistance to antibiotics – the more you have them, the more you need for them to still be effective). So every time you trigger an insulin response once sensitivity decreases, you need more, so more storing of fat happens. Solution: allow the body to be in a state of low insulin levels for longer periods of time – aka FASTING.
What happens in the body between two meals?
- Eating time: Insulin levels rise and sugar is transported from the blood to the tissues. After the muscle and liver stores are full, the rest turns into fat.
- Six to 24h after feeding: Insulin levels fall. The body uses its stored sugar as energy and that can last for up to 24h. The sugar store levels depend on how much and what type of carbohydrates you eat.
- After the sugar stores are empty, the body starts to produce energy from the fat stores. Once this is practised long-term, you become “fat adapted” = you are a fat burner instead of a sugar burner.
How to practice Intermittent Fasting
The 16:8 protocol
The most common way to do IF is the 16h window. Only eating in a window of 8h every day, and fasting for the rest. This usually means skipping breakfast or dinner. This is what I opted for, too. I skip breakfast, eat lunch at 2 pm, dinner at 10 pm, and I don’t snack in between.
The 24h occasional fasts
Once or twice a week, due to its convenience and my schedule, I do 24h fasts. I eat dinner and then nothing until dinner the next day. I’m absolutely crazy about these days because I get to focus on other things and not waste any time on cooking, eating, thinking about food, etc. I get stuff done and my belly eats itself. AW-SOME.
The 5:2 protocol
Some call it the 5:2 diet and involves eating as you would normally do for 5 days a week, and fast or only have one meal on the other 2. Never tried it since it’s not organised enough for me, I like more discipline.
Non-weight related health benefits are triggered after about 36hours. I haven’t done one of these before, but I’d like to try.
Possible side effects of Intermittent Fasting
- Energy. When fasting, the body produces more adrenaline. This was useful for the cavemen since adrenaline gave them a push to go out and find the next meal. So exercising in a fasted state is actually good, no matter what the protein shakers tell you – they’re probably working on commission.
- Increased mental focus. Many people, including myself, can tell you that the brain loves not having to go through those energy ups and downs all day. I can get a lot of things done.
Not so good
- Headaches. Make sure you stay hydrated and have enough salt during your meals.
- Feeling cold. While I was still adjusting to IF, I felt constantly cold until the first meal; my body did not want to use any energy on warming me up. I occasionally still get cold hands, but it’s not as bad as before.
- Hunger. Let’s talk about this more.
How to deal with hunger while Intermittent Fasting
This will obviously happen, you’ll be hungry. So here are some tips:
- Start gradually. If you decide to skip breakfast, start by pushing it further out in the day with 1h, then 2h, then 3h and then eventually skip it altogether
- Drink lots of water to make sure you stay hydrated and some of that hunger is not thirst
- Your meals should include healthy fats that give you the feeling of satiety, and good carbs that provide a lot of fibre so you can feel full for longer
- Hunger comes in waves, and not responding to it is not at all a problem. Crazily enough, the more you fast, the less hungry you are.
- Play a mental game. Every time you’re hungry outside your eating window, imagine a small piece of fat from your belly, boobs, hips or your problem area, melting. “Not time to eat yet, so here, have a piece of my ass.” It takes the emergency feeling out of it, and I love how I can freak people out when I say this. “Oh, I’m not having lunch today, I’m eating myself.“
- Remember that your fat stores are there for a reason. If they weren’t designed to be used when there’s a lack of food, we would not have them. Trust that your body is a fantastic system.
- There’s light at the end of the tunnel. After doing this for more than 2years, I rarely feel hunger. And when it does come, it’s barely noticeable.
- The body knows what it needs to do, it’s your brain that needs training. Keep yourself busy in the beginning. You’ll notice how much mental energy we spend on thinking about food!
What to eat when fasting
Nothing. Zero. Nada. No food.
Non-caloric drinks like water, sparkling water, coffee or tea, without any milk or sugar added are not only accepted but recommended to keep yourself hydrated.
Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule. We restrict eating to avoid insulin response. Both protein and carbohydrates trigger an insulin response, but fat doesn’t. So in theory, if you want some energy provided from food and feel satiated, you could have some fat. My favourite way to take advantage of this is a bulletproof coffee – coffee blended with some coconut oil and coconut milk.
Saying that weight gain is an energy imbalance is an oversimplification. If all we had to do is equal calories in with calories out, everyone would have been slim by now. If the hormones are completely screwed up, anything else we do is just fixing the effect rather than the cause. IF is a simple tool to fix one part of the problem.
Let me know all your questions. Don’t roll your eyes.