Everyone today is looking for a shortcut to lose or maintain lean body weight. From professional athletes to the obese, there is countless information on the best approach for weight loss. One approach I have found to work for everyone is called intermittent fasting.
When most people think of fasting they think starving oneself for as long as possible, which is not what intermittent fasting is at all. Intermittent fasting is simply shuffling from periods of fasting to non-fasting in a 24 hour period, and can have numerous health benefits other than weight loss. I started intermittent fasting myself by default about 15 years ago when I would taper for an Ironman race. My approach was very simple in that I would do my first and/or second workout of the day on an empty stomach which would have me eating my first meal around 12 pm(noon.) My next meal was usually around 6 pm and I stayed lean at my target race weight with this approach. I found I was getting all of my calories in a 6 hour window, and the remaining 18 hours of my day I was not consuming anything at all. After a few races using this method, I decided to test it in the off-season where my weekly workout volume is much lower than the race season. I found the same thing was happening where as long as I ate all of my calories in this short 6 hour window I could maintain being lean and still indulge from time to time without having to restrict my diet.
I started to use this approach with several of my weight loss clients and found the ones that tried this approach daily, lost weight and did not change “what” they were eating as long as they were not eating more calories than they burned. I have continued using intermittent fasting up until present day and without a doubt can tell you it works! Now most people are going to be skeptical because we have all learned that following a healthy diet means eating several small meals a day. I have had this engrained in me since college when I first started to learn about healthy eating. This is a total myth and does not have to be used ad nauseum in your daily routine. Yes there are certain medical issues that require eating every few hours (diabetics) but the general population can benefit from this approach. Below are my top reasons to choose an intermittent fasting approach to nutrition.
1. Hormones- intermittent fasting helps with insulin levels by lowering blood insulin levels which facilitates fat burning and cellular repair; human growth hormone is released when your insulin levels drop which helps with fat burning, muscle gain, recovery,improved sleep, as well as libido; testosterone levels increase, dopamine levels increase, as well as helps regulate the appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin.
2. Improved heart health- intermittent fasting has shown to lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood triglyceride levels, and lower inflammatory markers in the body.
3. Improved brain health- intermittent fasting has shown to increase the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is a protein in your brain. Lower levels of this protein have been shown to increase your chances of depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, drug addiction and bulimia.
4. Time management- intermittent fasting not only helps decreasing your chances of certain medical conditions, but it can also help with time management in your daily eating. I don’t know about you, but eating 5 small meals a day can be extremely hard to do as well as stressful! No need to worry about that with this nutrition protocol, just make sure you get your calories in during your allotted time frame.
5. Gluttony- if you are like me and love all kinds of food this is the plan for you! With intermittent fasting you eat all of your calories in a short time frame which means you can eat a lot at once which is a problem most of us have in our daily routine. This is not an excuse to over-eat, but just make sure your total calorie consumption is on par with your caloric expenditure.
Intermittent fasting can work for everyone, but keep in mind there are 3 key rules to follow. Number 1-it is not an excuse to eat too many calories, just simply have a plan on what your daily calorie allowance is. Number 2- there are time limits with intermittent fasting, which is why I recommend to choose between a 6, 8 or 10 hour eating window which simply means if you choose a 6 hour window that you “only eat” in a 6 hour time frame. Some people take fasting to another level and will go 24 hours a day without eating, which is not something I recommend! Number 3, you will want to slowly transition to intermittent fasting. If you are accustomed to eating every 2-3 hours, you can’t just decide day 1 you are going to eat in a 6 hour time frame! Your body will not like this too much too soon approach! Next time you ask yourself if your current nutrition strategy works and you say no, I recommend giving intermittent fasting a try!