Last updated on March 7, 2016 | Follow @deanyeong on Twitter
When talks about health and fitness, most people are focusing on what workout you should do and how hard you should train, but the truth is that training is just 20% of the whole picture. The other 80% will be what we put into our mouth – our diet, and I guess we all knew about this already.
So, what’s my diet? Simple. I skip breakfast and eat only 2 meals and 1 small snack between my meals each day. I have my first meal at around 1 pm, which is my lunch, then a green juice (vegetables and fruits blended juice) at 5 pm and finally the second/last meal at around 8 pm. Then I fast for 16 hours to 1 pm in the next day.
You may be wondering… Isn’t it bad to skip breakfast?
Honestly, I thought so too. But I started practice intermittent fasting only after 2 years knowing about it just because I thought skipping breakfast is bad too. Then I take it as an experiment after some period of consideration.
Surprisingly, my body fat dropped 5% after 3 months with intermittent fasting (from 24% to 19%) and I see no negative effect on my energy level. Besides, I trained during my fasted state every morning with bodyweight routine and see significant improvement in my strength, endurance, and explosive power.
I had practiced intermittent fasting for 1 year till the time of writing. My initial purpose was to lose weight and body fat, but then I started to dive deeper to understand other advantages and benefits of intermittent fasting.
Since this is a long article, here is the content table I prepared for you to navigate through each sub-category:
Intermittent fasting has taken the Internet by storm. There are many debates about its practicality and effectiveness in the past few years. There are researches that prove its benefits from weight loss to promote longevity, yet there are people who claim intermittent fasting is just another diet trend without sufficient evidence and proofs.
This is a super-size article about IF through my personal experience and extensive research. I’m not saying that IF is the best diet remedy everyone should practice, but if you’re currently seeking for more information about IF to decide whether you should start practice it, this is for you.
To make it clear, intermittent fasting is not a diet plan, it should consider as diet pattern. Rather than what you should eat and shouldn’t eat like most diet program available in the market, intermittent fasting is about when you should and shouldn’t eat.
Most diet programs suggest you eat (more) specific foods and avoid (eat less) specific foods, such as:
But intermittent fasting is just as what it said – fast. Intermittent fasting doesn’t suggest increasing specific food intake or reducing specific food intake. You simply need to fast during a certain timeframe by reducing your meal frequency with larger portion per meal later on.
In my case, I’m following one of the intermittent fasting variations to eat in an 8-hours window and then fast for the other 16 hours, every day. This might be hard for most people to accept since we’re living in the society to have at least 3 meals a day, and the health industry then suggest us to have small portion but more frequent meals.
But fasting actual being practice by many others in different religion such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Besides, there is proofs show that fasting is being practiced and promoted by a few great philosopher and scientist from the history perspective.
“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency.” – Plato
“Fasting is the greatest remedy – in the physician within.” – Philippus Paracelsus
“A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can be the best medicines and the best doctors.” – Mark Twain
Most people start practicing intermittent fasting with the purpose of fat loss just like I do. So, when talking about how intermittent fasting works, I’m going to explain how it actually helps us to lose fat.
To understand how intermittent fasting works, you need to understand the difference between fed state and fasted state.
Our body is at fed state when we’re eating and absorbing foods. In most cases, fed state start from the time we eat (or short period of time later depend on the portion) till 3 to 4 hours after we stop eating while we’re still digesting and absorbing the foods we just ate.
It’s very hard for our body to burn fat during the fed state because while we’re eating and absorbing foods, the insulin level in our bodies are high.
In another hand, fasted state occurs a few hours later after our last meal when the foods in our digestive system are completely digested and absorbed. During the fasted state, our blood sugar is low and so our insulin level. Burning fat becomes much easier when with the absence of insulin in our bloodstream.
When we’re in fasted state, our body can burn fat that has been inaccessible during the fed state.
With that said, we don’t usually enter the fasted state with the typical 3 meals diet pattern. And that lead to very minimum fat burning process happening in our body. This is one of the reasons why people who start intermittent fasting still lose weight without changing what they eat, because their body is now getting into fat-burning state that they usually don’t.
Below is an illustration to demonstrate the blood sugar level and insulin level in the typical 3 meals diet pattern.
And here is another illustration to demonstrate what happen with our insulin level with intermittent fasting.
Clearly, fat loss is one of the benefits of intermittent fasting. But it’s proven that intermittent fasting does more that just fat loss to our body.
Scientists have long discovered that calories restriction is a way to promote longevity. A large portion of data supports the idea that limiting food intake reduces the risks of diseases common in old age and lengthens the period of life spent in good health.
But in recent years, researchers have focused on this strategy – intermittent fasting – as a promising alternative to calories restriction. Which means you don’t need to continuously starve yourself to live longer.
The first cross research between calories restriction and intermittent fasting was done way back in 1945 – discovered that intermittent fasting extends the lifespan of mice. You can read more about this here.
Besides, there are researchers claim that intermittent fasting also reduces the risk of cancer at the same time improve our brain function. The theory behind is this that intermittent fasting acts in part as a form of mild stress that continually revs up cellular defenses against molecular damage.
In my personal experience, this is the part I love the most (because I haven’t lived long enough to experience what it means to live longer) – it makes your day simpler. I’m a big fan of minimalism and simplistic, and I prefer to put my focus on many important things in life.
I enjoy eating and don’t mind cooking, but at the same time, I prefer to read, write, make coffee, plan for my business, spend time with family, and go for vacations. Obviously, I’m not the one who prepares 7 meals a day for 7 days a week, I just don’t have time for that.
When the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg was asked why he’s wearing the same t-shirt all the time, his answer is gold.
There are many more important decisions I need to make, what to wear today is just not one of those.
That’s how I look at intermittent fasting – I will only have two meals a day, and they’re almost the same stuff (with my simple diet rule – good amount of protein and fibers, less refined carbs and no sugar).
For sure, this is way easier when compared to dieting.
Now you should have better understand about intermittent fasting, but how can you start? If you’re considering giving intermittent fasting a try, here are a few types of intermittent fasting schedule you can follow.
As mentioned, this is a schedule to fast daily and this is what I’m practicing most of the time. I first got to learn about how this from the blog of Martin Berkhan –LeanGains.com. Since he’s the one who popularized this intermittent fasting schedule, most people name this daily intermittent fasting schedule as LeanGains too.
In this daily intermittent fasting schedule, you will have 16 hours fasted window and 8 hours fed window. It doesn’t matter when you start your fed period as long as it lasts for only 8 hours.
I usually start eating at around 12 pm to 1 pm and end my fed period at around 7 pm to 8 pm. Personally, find this suit me very well because I don’t need to miss dinner with friends and family. Besides, my family used to take lots of carbs such as rice and noodles during breakfast (Asian’s culture), by skipping my breakfast, I can avoid consuming too much carbs throughout the day.
PS: Note that you don’t need to change what you eat when your start practicing intermittent fasting. For my case, I started to reduce my carbs intake since 5 years ago long before I start practicing intermittent fasting.
The best part of this 16:8 daily intermittent fasting is that you’re practicing it every day. It’s easier for you to plan ahead and slowly make it your diet pattern. It’s more likely to become a habit for you compared to other intermittent fasting schedules where you only do it once a week.
But remember that you’re not cutting off the calories intake of a meal, you’re just changing your meal frequency and eating time frame. With that said, you will need to up your portion for the 2 meals you have in a day.
For me, I only increase my portion a little bit for my lunch, but then I add a snack – green juice in between my meals. This is to replace the calories intake of my breakfast. Besides, green juice also bumps up my micronutrients and fiber intake.
During the early stage of my intermittent fasting journey, I tend to find some books and do research online to know more about this practice. One of the books I read is The Fast Diet by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer.
The book covers lots of scientific studies and researches on intermittent fasting – a great resource if you like to know more about the benefits of fasting.
But the fasting schedule is a little different from 16:8 intermittent fasting. Rather than fast every day, Dr. Michael Mosley proposes to fast for only 2 days in a week (you can do less if you just started, or do more days if you feel good about it). Besides, you’re allowed to eat during your fasted days, but in very low calories – suggested 600 kcals for male and 500 kcals for female.
The biggest advantage of this intermittent fasting is that you don’t need to do it every day. And you’re allowed to eat whatever you like during your non-fast days (personally think you should still maintain a balanced healthy diet for the best results) and see results in fat loss, extend longevity, lower the risk of diabetes and cancer.
I don’t practice this schedule personally due to the need of calories counting during the fast days. But it’s good for anyone who just started with intermittent fasting and never thinks of doing it every day.
Now you have a clearer picture on daily and weekly intermittent fasting schedule, and here is another much intense way to practice intermittent fasting. In alternate day intermittent fasting schedule, your fed period will last for 24 hours, and then you will need to fast for 24 hours.
Just like the daily schedule, you can pick the time that suits you the most. In the illustration below, your first meal starts at 8 pm, and you’re allowed to eat for the next 24 hours till 8 pm the next day. After you will need to fast for 24 hours from 8 pm to 8 pm again in the next day.
The extended fasting timeframe allows your body to stay in the fat burning state longer compare to daily and weekly intermittent fasting schedule. But it’s more challenging because you need to have no food for 24 hours. This will become very challenging for people with an active career or lifestyle.
I personally find the most challenging part is not during the fasted period, but the fed period. In order to compensate the calories intake during your fasted period, you will need to eat more during your fed period. Even I’m practicing 16:8 daily schedules, I find it hard to take a big portion of a meal at once, that’s why I incorporate green juice into my diet between my first and last meal.
Practicing alternative day intermittent fasting means that you will need to chuck down all the foods to meet the total calories requirement for 2 days within 24 hours – if you never want to suffer from significant weight loss and muscle loss. If eating a big portion of food every 3 to 4 hours isn’t a problem for you, you can definitely go for this intermittent fasting schedule.
And here is my personal experience for a year of intermittent fasting. I did cover some of these above but I think I should share this in a much-organized format here.
The reason I started intermittent fasting is simple – to lose fat. Even after I switch to low carb diet (note that Asian diet usually high in carbs, we used to have rice and noodles all day), I still find myself difficult to lose fat, unless I go hard into crazy bodybuilding style strict diet.
Since I’m not a bodybuilder, and those diet patterns are very hard for me to sustain, I choose to stay in low carb (and avoid refined sugar at all cost) and start practicing intermittent fasting.
It helps me to lose fat in 2 ways – first is what I just explained above about our body insulin level; second, I will have less supper and junk foods after I get into intermittent fasting, which then reduce the chances for me to overeat (that lead to calories surplus).
I heard about intermittent fasting 2 years ago before I start practicing it, from an Australian friend of mine. I did some intensive research on how to do it before I get started. I personally think the LeanGains (16:8) method suit me the most with my lifestyle, habits, and daily activities.
After practicing intermittent fasting for 3 months, I lose 5% of body fat, from 24% to 19%, then the progress slows down. What I learned here is that intermittent fasting is not the magic eating pattern, you still need to slowly adjust what you put into your mouth to see the best results from it. Having all junk foods for 8 hours then fast for 16 hours won’t bring you the lean body shape (and other benefits) you want.
I had been practicing low carbs diet long before intermittent fasting. So, I eat mostly what I used to eat – lots of protein from chicken breast, fish, beef, and eggs with a crazy amount of vegetables and fruits. Personally found green juice is the best way for me to boost my fiber intake rather than having a super-size portion in my meals.
Supplement wise, I’m taking BCAA (without any calories) in the morning to compensate the energy spent during my workout routine in the morning. Basically, I trained in my fasted state to boost the fat loss effect, and BCAA is there to help reduce the chance of muscle loss.
You can learn more about this part at LeanGains.com.
There are two strategies I’m using to make intermittent fasting stick. It might be hard at the beginning for you to skip breakfast or dinner, or starve for a certain period depends on which schedule you’re practicing. To make sure you don’t eat during your fasted state, stay away from foods.
Secondly, plan ahead. I make my food choice ridiculously simple where I don’t need to think about what I want to eat most of the time. Make it a habit of making healthier food selections, when you meals time comes, you default to those diet habits.
I believe in progress and I don’t force myself to go 110% into anything, especially for things that require a certain period of time to see results (health, business, relationship). I choose to practice sustainable behaviors 90% of the time and have 10% freedom over things. So, if I decide to have breakfast with my family or go for a drink session with friends someday, I feel no guilt for that. But remember, make it only 10% of the time.
One of the reasons why I like intermittent fasting is because I tend to default myself to healthier foods due to the short eating timeframe. I can only have 2 meals a day, so to have junk food for lunch means my diet are 50% crap for that day.
Another benefit of intermittent fasting is something I mentioned above – it makes my day simpler. I spend less time to think about what to eat, where to eat and actually eating. It’s even simpler when I compare this diet pattern to what I used to do when I was in strict diet plan – spend less time to cook, less effort to force myself eat what I don’t really like.
It depends on your lifestyle, daily activities and surrounding. There are advantages and disadvantages for each fasting schedule. Know your goal and purpose of practicing intermittent fasting.
I suggest you start with weekly or daily intermittent fasting first, give time to adjust and see which works the best for you.
No. Even with the benefits I mentioned above from fat loss to promote longevity, I don’t think intermittent fasting is for everyone. You still need to give it a try before you know if it suits you. When I say it’s not for everyone, I’m not talking about the challenges on the practicality, what I mean is more towards the overall biochemistry effect of intermittent fasting did to one’s body
I don’t know. I have quite a good experience with intermittent fasting but my girlfriend doesn’t when I introduce this to her. But I did read about some case studies and testimonials of female intermittent fasters from The Fast Diet.
Feel free to get a copy to know more or you can go here – all female Facebook page and group that discuss intermittent fasting.
I did experience a minor amount of weight and muscle loss when I just started due to the calories deficit because I was not eating big portion enough during the fed period. By the way, I’m fine with it because my sole purpose during the initial stage is fat loss, I was ready and prepared to lose some weight and muscle during the process.
But you definitely can avoid that if you wish to – by taking BCAA with very little or no calories during your fasted state. This can compensate the amino acids supply in your body without sabotage the fat burning period during the fasted state. Again, I learned about this from LeanGains, highly recommended you to check it out if you really wish to learn more.
Again, no, this is not. If you search for intermittent fasting online, it’s very unlikely for you to find crazy unrealistic promises from this diet pattern. Intermittent fasting simply creates a biochemistry effect of putting our body into fat-lose state, but every person reacts to it differently.
Besides, you will still need to keep a balanced and healthy diet with an active lifestyle to gain the best result from it. You can’t eat crap with any fasting diet here and expect for miracles (even if some articles said so).
So, here is the complete guide to intermittent fasting for beginners. Hopefully, this is helpful to you if you’re at the beginning stage of this new diet pattern or in the mid of consideration whether to take on this practice.
Feel free to share this with anyone you think who need to read this.