Throughout history, various cultures have incorporated fasting regimens into their lifestyles. Justifications for fasting run the gamut from cleansing and detoxification to religious edicts (such as Ramadan) to the health-promoting properties of fasting. Still other people approach it from the ascetic view of denial of pleasure.
I approach Intermittent Fasting from a standpoint with several benefits, which we'll explore below. First, there are two basic versions of Intermittent Fasting (IF). While you'll derive the benefits of fasting from either method, a little experimentation will show you immediately which is your preferred method.
The first version looks at the day's meals through a hunter-gatherer perspective and could most appropriately be called a Compressed Window IF. In this version of IF, you fast for 18-20 hours each day and eat for 4-6 hours. By fitting all of the day's calories into a 4-6 hour window, rather than spreading them over the course of 14-16 hours as most people do, the day is freed up for other activities. The hunter-gatherer perspective, a lens through which all human endeavors should be viewed given our evolutionary history, is that during the day, our ancestors would have been out finding food. The evening would have been reserved for eating and celebrating with family and friends.
The second version is the Alternate Day fast, whereby you fast for 24 hours, then eat for 24 hours. You can implement this form of IF in various ways, for example, eat until 6pm, then don't eat again until the next day at 6pm. By doing so, you still get to eat everyday, but you have a 24-hour period for the body to relax and not deal with digestion.
Let's Cut To The Chase. What Are The Benefits?
I have tried both versions and find that the Compressed Window version of IF works best for me. I work all day, then head home and eat a large salad loaded with colorful vegetables, nuts, eggs, sardines, and olive oil. After allowing some time for digestion, I then cook my evening meal, which is typically some sort of meat with prodigious quantities of vegetables and sometimes a sweet potato. Basically, I eat only two large meals per day, a total of about 3000 calories.
Of course, the question in your mind now is probably something along the lines of, "Yeah, but everybody knows you have to eat 5 times per day to have a lean body. What do you look like?" I easily maintain my weight of 185 pounds and 10% bodyfat at a caloric intake of over 3000 calories per day. It is so effortless that for the last few years, I've only gotten leaner and stronger while doing IF.
The benefits I derive from fasting, and which many others report as well, are numerous:
- I sleep better
- I have improved mental clarity during the fast
- I have improved workout performance during the fast
- My body fat percentage is lower at the same bodyweight (i.e., more muscle mass)
- I don't worry about food during the day - I can get up, run out the door to work, work all day, then go home to eat. I don't have to be concerned with fitting in lunch and food is no longer the focal point of my day.
- No food-induced crashes during the day - I'm on top of my game all day. Even eating low-carb Paleo on a normal eating schedule left me more lethargic than this
- Better in-tune with my body - I have learned to distinguish psychological hunger (i.e., it's noon and I should eat) from real hunger. When I get truly hungry, I break the fast and eat, even if it's outside my "window"
- More energy - You'd think I'd experience fatigue with no food intake, but I can't quit moving and having an urge to go run around the block during a fast
- Food tastes better - it's amazing how much better a well-cooked meal tastes when you haven't eaten all day
Most people think fasting means lacking energy. On the contrary, my body has learned how to tap into its fat reserves to provide more than ample energy during a fast. In fact, I find my workout performances are significantly better when working out fasted. Other people report the very same thing too! It's as if the body is meant to work this way.
Ok, I'm Intrigued. But How Do I Start?
The easy answer to that question is "slowly". You can't just stop eating every other day and expect your body to react with approval. I found it easiest to slowly increase the length of my fast. I started by just skipping breakfast and increasing the size of my evening meal to compensate for the calories. I broke my fast every day at lunch time for a few weeks, then started moving lunch closer to dinner, about an hour every week. Eventually, my first meal was moved to the evenings when I was home from work and I no longer needed to take or buy a lunch.
About a year ago, I started an experiment with a 24-hour fast, eating from 6pm to 6pm, then fasting until the following 6pm. I found that many of the benefits of fasting, such as the lack of food-induced crashes were missing. On the days that I woke up and ate breakfast, even a low-carb breakfast of eggs and spinach left me a bit less perky than simply not eating.
That's why I say that you'll have to figure out which version of IF works best for you. For you, Alternate Day Fasting may be perfect. Or perhaps a 3-hour eating window or a 6-hour eating window is best for you. Fasting really becomes about listening to what your body is telling you and reaping the benefits of that.
One Final Word of Advice
One very important thing about fasting is that, while you can get away with less optimal food choices than you can on a normal diet, food quality makes fasting much, much easier. You can actually gain weight while fasting if you are loading up on sugary processed foods during your eating periods rather than focusing on quality meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits.
In the end, there is no "best" way. The best way is what fits easily into your lifestyle and allows you to focus on living, not when your next meal is going to come. I urge everyone to try this approach to eating.
Ready To Give It A Try?
If you're ready to give Intermittent Fasting a shot to improve your health, check out the excellent ebook "Eat Stop Eat". In this book, you'll learn the hows and whys of Intermittent Fasting and see exactly how to incorporate it into your lifestyle.
Just click here to start implementing this healthy change into your life!