Intermittent fasting is not a type of diet but a pattern of eating. The pattern consists of cycling between fed and fasted states. Some believe that this is a more natural way of eating rather than the recommended every 3-4 hours. After all, our hunting ancestors had to eat this way. It could be days between large kills where food would be scarce. Today, people practice intermittent fasting for a couple of different reasons such as a religious need/belief or to improve their health and lose fat.
All of us fast nightly as we sleep. Typically if you eat dinner at 6:00pm and then breakfast at 6:00am, you have fasted for 12 hours. Many believe this pattern of eating has health benefits. First, some believe it can extend our lives by improving blood lipids and blood glucose levels. Next, there is the theory that intermittent fasting can help us lose fat based on what is occurring within our body when we are in a fed state versus a fasted state. When we are in a fed state, it is very difficult for us to burn fat because of the elevation in our insulin level from digesting and absorbing food. We do not enter a fasted state until about 12 hours after our last meal and that is when we can more easily burn body fat. So it is simple to see that many of us never enter this fat burning stage in our current eating pattern. Cycling between states of eating and fasting also naturally lower caloric intake and this can also help us lose weight. The greatest benefit though to intermittent fasting is it simplifies your life. That is the number one reason I practice intermittent fasting one day a week. Typically on Sundays, I don’t have breakfast. It is not a normal training day so I can be a bit lazy and just drink coffee or water while enjoying the morning. I then will eat my first meal around noon or sometimes later depending on what is going on. It is a nice break from my normal routine of eating every 3-4 hours plus gives my gut a rest. I don’t have to think about food.
So how do you begin to practice fasting to see if it is right for you? The simplest way is to extend your overnight fast. If you ate last at 6:00pm then don’t have breakfast until 10am the next morning. Once you decide to eat then consume your meals for the next 8 hours and then stop. This is known as a 16/8 split. That gives your body about 4 hours to be in fat burning mode. The times can be adjusted if you find that 16 hours is too long to go without eating. Some can stretch it out 24 hours but that is tough! During your fast, you are permitted water, coffee and other non-calorie drinks. Another time to try practicing IF is the day after you have overindulged or consumed a big holiday meal. Allow yourself to listen to the hunger cues that your body naturally sends out that are often over looked and ignored. You may only need 1 or 2 meals after having eaten enough for 3 people the night before.
So in closing, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. Some say it works best for men rather than women. If you try it and find you are miserable and grumpy then stop. If you aren’t sleeping well or your diet consists mostly of processed/junk food then you need to work on those first. You also want to get started on a solid exercise program before attempting IF. It is definitely not a magic pill for weight loss. This is something to experiment with once you are training regularly and eating well to see if it can benefit you.