What is intermittent fasting, and does it work?

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I know mine. I’d have the ability to survive without food.

Does that count? I think it does. And since I’m the one writing this, we’re going with it.

Not eating! Could you imagine? Never stopping what you’re doing to eat, prepare food, grocery shop. I’d only eat if and when I wanted to. If I did. When I did. I could eat whatever I wanted. It would be amazing!

Turns out that we actually need food. Damn it! But, it’s also true that we can survive (and thrive) on less food than you might think. Far less than any typical diet would lead you to believe.

The death of dieting

Dieting. Grr! I hate that word.

That’s where my disdain for eating stems from. Hence my choice of superpowers. Counting calories. Eating 5-6 meals per day. It’s madness.

Trust me. I know. In a former life I was a 230 pound college football player. I wasn’t a fatty, I was muscular – and strong. Trouble is, my body is meant to carry about 185 pounds. As a result, I had to consume a massive amount of food. Epic amounts of food. Because, as we all know, the only way to gain mass is to eat, and eat, and eat some more. Right?

Later, when I made the switch from linebacker to endurance athlete, I was left trying to reverse my mass building diet. You know – five or six small meals per day. Keep the metabolism humming. Batch cook chicken breast and broccoli on Sunday. Top off some Tupperware containers. Load up my lunchbox each day. Eat every two hours. It’s the only way. Right?

Wrong and WRONG!

If you’re trying to gain muscle or lose fat, you’ve probably had a similar experience as me. Maybe it worked for you. There’s a good chance it didn’t. You tried. Got frustrated. And gave up. It’s not your fault. Our concept and understanding of what to eat and when to eat it is skewed. Put simply, we’re misinformed.

My solution – stop eating!

I was frustrated and misinformed. We all are. I knew there had to be a better way to “diet.” I wanted to make food fit into my life. I couldn’t continue to allow my life to revolve around food. My solution was to stop eating. No, I’m not a superhero. My dream of surviving without food was not fulfilled. But, I did find the next best thing. It’s called intermittent fast.

WTF is intermittent fast?

Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe not. Either way, the following entry will give you something to ponder. Plus, it will provide you with some resources and direction for digging deeper into the topic.

What is it?

Intermittent fasting, or IF for short. It’s a method of eating that features periods of caloric restriction followed by “feeding windows” wherein you consume all your calories for the day. It’s less of a diet and more of a strategy.

How does it works?

When we eat, our body breaks down the food to use whatever we just consumed as energy. If we don’t eat (read – fasting) our body taps into fat stores for energy. So if you fast, and especially if you workout in a fasted state, the body will pull energy from stored fat in our cells.

Plus, the food you eat when you do break the fast will be used more efficiently. Instead of being stored as fat, because there’s already carbohydrates/glycogen in the bloodstream, food that enters a body that’s been fasting will be put to good use – energy and building muscle.

Does it REALLY work?

Well…define “work”. Technically, scientifically, I should say – it does work.

IF has been shown to increase growth hormone [1], accelerate fat loss [2], and provide a host of cognitive benefits [3]. Not to mention the fact that it simplifies the eating process and takes far less time than preparing and eating six meals.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Right. You know what I’m getting at here. The thought of skipping meals, gaining muscle and losing fat sounds little nutty. Trust me, I felt the same way. Until I tried it. It might be one of the best moves I’ve ever made.

Now, I wake up in the morning, do a little stretching, mediate, drink some butter and start writing. I don’t have to prepare a meal. Don’t have to stop my workflow to eat. I’m ultra-focused and ridiculously productive. Around noon I get restless. That’s when I workout. I’ll do some kettlebell swings, sprints or a bodyweight workout. Shower. Then it’s time to eat!!

I eat two meals per day. Usually around 2pm and 7pm. I’m not tied to the timing. It’s just how things play out. On training days I consume lean protein, fruit and/or sweet potatoes and some healthy fats. On non-training days I swap out the sweet potatoes for veggies. That’s it.

Sure, it’s taken some trial and error to get to this point. I messed up. Didn’t eat enough. Ate too much. Stressed about the timing. Fortunately, I stuck with it. Now, it works wonders for me. That said, I’m not saying fasting is for everyone. I think it’s worth a shot.

I am saying that you should be open to rethinking what you eat and how you go about consuming it. Consider your why. Ask questions. Don’t buy into every diet you see on TV. Figure out what works for you.

Start here

By no means am I an expert on IF. But, Brad Pilon is. He’s the author and mastermind behind Eat Stop Eat. So, when I wanted to give IF a try, I knew exactly where to look.

I dove into eat stop eat and found Brad’s IF process incredibly useful and easy to implement. Basically, you fast for 24 hours one or two days per week. You pick the days, working it into your schedule where it fits. In this way, eat stop eat is a user-friendly, newbie-friendly fasting protocol.

Getting it right

When I first started fasting according to Eat Stop Eat, things we’re a little rough. I thought I was hungry. I wasn’t actually hungry. I was so used to eating that I didn’t know what to fill my time with. So here are some tips to help you survive the start of your fasting experience.

1. Drink water. Lots and lots of water.

2. Drink coffee. It will give you a boost in the AM and stave off hunger a bit. But, don’t abuse it. You’ll get irritable and dehydrated if you do.

3. Stay busy. Keep your mind occupied and you won’t even realize the fact that you’re not eating. Pack your fasted days with all sorts of activities. Otherwise, you’ll just sit around and think about how hungry, or HANGRY, you are!

4. Choose wisely. Your food that is. Fasting is not an excuse to eat whatever you want when feeding time rolls around. You have to eat real food. Lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.

5. Give up. Look, fasting isn’t for everyone. There’s no perfect workout or diet plan out there. So if you try it. If you actually commit and give it your all, only to be disappointed or frustrated with the results – give up. It’s okay. You tried and it didn’t work out. Now, go find something else that does work for you.

Check out EAT STOP EAT for a complete intermittent fasting program.