It was February 2011 when I began the "Intermittent Fasting" diet. If you haven't heard of this diet it's basically a period of eating followed by a longer period of "fasting".
When I started intermittent fasting I used the leangains approach, which is 16 hours of fasting followed by 8 hours of feasting.
Since this diet is getting into the mainstream and clients are asking about it, I decided to write about the benefits and drawbacks from my experience and those of clients I've worked with.
But before I get into the benefits/drawbacks let me just get something off my chest. No diet is perfect for everyone.
One more time. NO DIET IS PERFECT FOR EVERYONE!
Even if you find a diet works great for you right now, it may not work the same three years from now for you.
Intermittent fasting, along with every other successful diet plan that helps people lose weight/lose fat/transform their life, reduces calorie consumption just enough to allow for the positive change to occur.
There are a ton of claims about intermittent fasting you can read about with plenty of studies to back up every theory. For every study that says it's the next-best-thing that can cure all modern man's ill's there's an opposing theory that says it's not true and there's a better diet out there.
In my opinion, you have to try it to know for sure if it works for you.
That being said, let's get into the good and the bad of intermittent fasting.
There are so many ideas about what intermittent fasting really is. Just do a quick google search to see what I mean. You'll find more positives than negatives but I want to show both sides here.
No, you can't eat more chocolate just because you are only eating for 8 hours each day.
You'd be surprised what people will do to convince me or themselves they can eat more chocolate (or other favorite snack/dessert)
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
1- Big Satisfying Meals
3- Less cooking/clean-up
Big Satisfying Meals
Who doesn't love big, satisfying meals?
I know I do. I'd rather eat one big meal and be full over two small ones and feel not quite satisfied.
Eating this way can give you a sense of relief if you are used to eating 5-6 small meals each day.
Maybe you have it in your head that you have to eat many small meals to increase your metabolism and if you don't eat for a few hours it will slow down. This is not accurate. The body is incredible at adaptation. We survived for many years without having grocery stores at every corner and food readily available in drive-thru lanes at any hour.
Usually with diets, everyone wants to know how much weight you can lose and how fast. One less popular benefit from intermittent fasting is that you learn about your eating habits. From how you eat in the morning to how you snack at night in front of the tv.
You will come face-to-face with your cravings and eating patterns. This is always beneficial to become aware of how much you eat, what times, when you get hungry, the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
Who doesn't love to cook less and have less clean-up? Maybe there's a few of you out there that just LOVE to cook but I'm not one of them.
When you only need to eat 2 meals a day (maybe 3) you won't need to cook/clean-up as much. Cooking in bulk is one of my favorite strategies for busy folks to save time and still get in solid nutrition every day.
Drawbacks of Intermittent Fasting
1- 8 Hour Feeding Window
3- Mood Swings
8 Hour Feeding Window
A feeding window sounds funny, doesn't it? It's really just the hours you eat during the day.
When you are used to eating from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. this can be a challenge. With the leangains approach you will eat for 8 hours, for example. It could be from Noon to 8 p.m. which is what I did for many months.
I had some success with this but as time went on I needed more calories than I could consume in 8 hours to maintain my muscle mass.
I like big meals but I found this to be a great challenge, especially because I was so hungry at noon but didn't want to devour a meal of 1,500 calories because I would want to take a nap at work.
For fat loss this is usually not a problem, as you are generally trying to reduce caloric intake anyway.
I would break my fast at 12-1 p.m. and would be ravenous. I watched the clock and it caused anxiety. There were days I would eat foods like pizza, subs, cheeseburgers and fries.
Before IF I ate these foods occasionally. The intermittent fasting guides recommend your first meal after fasting to be full of protein and fats. Not junk.
Was this because I craved these foods or because I felt I deserved them after fasting? I had to observe my thoughts and habits and learn more about my relation to food. It was a struggle early on.
I've had clients run into the same problem but for some people this is not an issue. You don't know until you try it.
You ever get "HANGRY"? Or know someone who does? Well, that was me.
Intermittent fasting affected my mood. I found myself easily irritated when I was waiting for the clock to tell me I could eat again. This wavered somewhat but never fully disappeared.
I lifted between 6-8 p.m. This was a big reason I changed back to having breakfast and eating more meals. When I switched I lost about 15 lbs.
I felt like I was eating more. In reality I was consuming fewer calories but more meals. This minimized cravings and kept me feeling full while avoiding big jumps in blood sugar levels.
Back to Breakfast
Towards the end I had shifted from daily intermittent fasting to a few days a week. It became more intuitive.
As I started to eat breakfast again I noticed some changes in my mind and body. The anxiety I would get from fasting was gone. I had more sustained energy at the gym.
Also less irritability and moodiness. It became apparent that eating more meals spread evenly throughout the day was a better way for me to eat.
Irregular eating can lead to spikes in insulin and erratic blood sugar. Hormones, neurotransmitters, and circadian rhythms get out of whack.
Some say intermittent fasting is a fad but I don’t think so. There are many variations out there that are still popular and I think some form of it will continue to thrive.
The best aspect about intermittent fasting is you learn about your eating habits. Your relationship to food is revealed. You see if cravings are mental or physical. In a way one of the drawbacks can be seen as beneficial.
I learned much from this 2 year period. It may work great for you. Just give it some time to see the benefits and remember there are different variations of intermittent fasting also.
P.S - If you have an eating disorder or other health ailment you should talk to your doctor before trying out ANY extreme dieting protocols.
p.s.s Get your free copy of my best diet tips "NUTRITION HACKS FOR BUSY MEN"