“Eat 6 times a day to keep your metabolism high.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“You should be eating every 2-3 hours.”
“A good pre-workout meal is important for maximizing your workout.”
“A big post-workout meal is necessary for recovery.”
“You should be eating MORE whole grains, MORE low-fat dairy, MORE fruits and vegetables….”
If we are told that we are fat because we EAT TOO MUCH and EXERCISE TOO LITTLE, then how come most of the specific dietary advice that you hear revolves around eating more food, more often. We understand that we need to eat less overall to lose weight, but no one seems to ask the question…”How are we supposed to eat LESS, by eating MORE?”
The Thermic Effect of Food. How Food Impacts Your Metabolism.
Does eating food really stoke the metabolic fire? Yes, actually. Every time you take a bite of food your metabolism increases in order to digest, store, and utilize that food. This is known as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). What food companies don’t want you to know though is that this thermic effect is based off the total number of calories ingested, not the timing of those calories. The TEF is the same whether you consume 2000 calories in one meal or 2000 calories in 6 meals. If you consume 2400 calories instead of 2000 calories in a single day, the TEF will be higher, but the additional TEF will not come close to making up for the extra 400 calories that you just ingested.
And here’s another study that found that your metabolic rate wouldn’t even decrease after 72-hours straight of not eating! One of the other findings of the study was metabolic rate actually INCREASES after 36-hours straight of no food. It makes you wonder why you ever bothered to try to eat every couple hours in the first place.
Now that we’re armed with this knowledge, let’s see how we can use it to our advantage, welcome Intermittent Fasting.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Wikipedia defines Intermittent fasting (IF) as a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting (usually meaning consumption of water only) and periods of non-fasting. I like to think of IF as ‘eating a lot of food when you are hungry, and abstaining from food when you are not hungry’, but there is certainly more strategy and science to it than that.
What Intermittent Fasting is Not.
IF is not starving yourself. It is not the anorexic teenager that eats 500 calories a day in an effort to get as skinny as possible. It is not extreme, and can actually be incorporated into just about any diet and way of life. Many of the benefits of IF can be achieved without decreasing average or total caloric intake.
Why Haven’t I Heard More About Intermittent Fasting?
The best explanation is that there’s no financial gain for businesses to tell you to eat less. 10 billion dollars are spent every year to do the exact opposite, to advertise and promote food, so food companies will do whatever it takes to get us to eat more food, more often.
Americans are now consuming 23% more calories (almost 2700 calories) per day than we were in 1970 and our obesity rates have more than doubled over that 30-year time frame. I can’t even imagine the financial impact this has had for packaged food companies like Nestle, PepsiCo, Kraft, and General Mills. There’s big business in convincing an American public that they need to eat every 2 hours, and very little financial benefit from educating people about Intermittent Fasting.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting: Fat Loss, Muscle Retention, and The Fountain of Youth.
”Every living creature since the beginning of time has gone hungry now and then. Intermittent fasting is embedded in our metabolism.” Art De Vany, in the The New Evolution Diet
IF and Fat Loss:
Insulin is one of the key hormones that effects whether we burn fat or store fat. When insulin is high, we are in storage mode, when insulin is low, we are in burning mode. Fasting for only 24 hours was able to bring insulin levels down more than 70%. Reducing insulin is a necessary component of weight loss, and just as important for avoiding diseases related to chronically high insulin, like diabetes.
IF and Muscle Retention:
This study compared fasting with a regular calorie restrictive diet. What they found was the fasting group actually was able to burn more fat, and retain more muscle than just a normal calorie restrictive diet. Another study showed that just 3, 30-minute resistance training exercises per week was all that was necessary to not lose any muscle mass while still dropping body fat.
IF and the Fountain of Youth:
The most impressive finding for IF is its effect on growth hormone. Growth hormone has been popularized for everything from fat loss to anti-aging, and it seems to be the real deal. This study actually showed a 5-fold increase in growth hormone production after only 24 hours of fasting.
Why I Love Intermittent Fasting.
I have always been a fat kid at heart. If the average male thinks about sex every 7 seconds, well the average fat kid (aka me) thinks about food every 3 seconds. So about 10 years ago, when magazines and books started to convince me that eating smaller meals, 6 times a day, would help me burn fat, I thought my prayers were answered. I could finally have my cake and eat it too, except for my cake looked more like chalky protein bars, sugar-filled yogurts, and lots of packaged grain products.
Over the years, I became a master of eating small meals every 2-3 hours. I was the poster boy for keeping my metabolism high. I ate first thing in the morning, I ate before workouts and after workouts, I ate 6 times a day, and I ate lots of complex carbs and low-fat dairy. I wouldn’t even leave the house for more than an hour without figuring out where my next meal or snack was coming from. I was so great at eating every 2-3 hours, my friends even gave me the nickname “snacks” (true story).
But I would soon realize that what I thought was a balanced diet, was really just a false sense of control. You don’t give a drug addict their favorite drug and tell them to moderate the dose. My results were not even that good to show for it.
About a year ago, I was introduced to a concept called intermittent fasting and EVERYTHING changed. I went from eating 5-6 times a day, then 4-5 times a day, then 3-4 times a day, and now I rarely eat more than 3 times in a single day. I was burning fat and building muscle at a rate I had never experienced in my entire life and it felt easier than it ever had.
**This also happened to coincide with a lot of the paleo principles I was adapting at the same time, so the combination of reducing wheat and sugar in my diet with intermittent fasting was a complete turnaround.**
The funny part is, I actually felt like I was eating MORE food than ever before. When I would sit down, I would eat a ton of food, and actually feel full after. Something I had never really experienced in the previous 10 years, except for the occasional binge that left me feeling just as sick as it did full. And because I wasn’t worried about my metabolism stopping or losing all of my muscle, I could easily go 5, 6, 7, or even 24 hours without having to think about or worry about my next meal.
It had extra benefits that I didn’t even consider until after I had experienced them. The quality of my food got better because I no longer had to rely on packaged foods, nuts, and fruit to get me through the day. I could take more time to cook a good meal, because I knew I only had 2 or 3 meals to make instead of 6. Food started to taste better because I was actually hungry when I was eating instead of mindlessly shoving food in my face. I even became more productive since I wasn’t wasting all my time trying to figure out where my next snack was coming from.
**I actually didn’t even come across this study until recently, but this validated all of the things that I was experiencing. Eating more often, even when total calories are equal, actually makes us feel hungrier. **
How to Get Started with Intermittent Fasting.
Most of the benefits of intermittent fasting appear to occur somewhere between 12 and 24 hours of straight fasting. The good news is, these hours can coincide with the time you spend sleeping so it’s probably best to time your fast so you will be asleep during the most difficult part.
My favorite resource on intermittent fasting, Eat Stop Eat, advocates a 24 hour fast where you would have your last meal around 6 pm on one day, and then you wouldn’t eat again until 6 pm on the following day. You can repeat this 2-3 times a week until you reach your desired weight and about once a week thereafter. I should mention that even though I love the Eat Stop Eat guide, and do believe there may be additional benefits to a 24-hour fast, I find the LeanGains 16/8 fasting schedule a lot more practical for me.
The 16/8 schedule means for every 24 hours of a day, you are fasting for 16 of them and feeding for 8 of them. This usually means having my first meal at 11 am and my last meal at 7 pm. You can technically eat as often as you want during the 8-hr feeding window, but I have found 2-3 meals during that time to be the most practical.
When I first started experimenting with intermittent fasting, I stuck pretty strictly to the 16/8 schedule. I would usually have my first meal post-workout at 10 am, and my last meal of the day would come around 6 pm. It was easy to stick to and the results were great.
These days, I don’t even think about intermittent fasting in the formal sense, all I think about is eating when I am REALLY hungry and not eating when I’m not very hungry. This usually means waiting a few hours after I wake up before I have my first meal and not eating very late at night. But some days I will wake up starving and eat right away and not worry about the fact that I didn’t last the full 16 hour fast. Some days the fast may only be 10 or 12 hours and other days it will be as high as 16-20 hours, but most importantly, I am only eating when I am REALLY hungry. Its actually pretty amazing how often I come close to the 16/8 approach without even really thinking about it.
I know intermittent fasting may sound like a radical concept in today’s world where there’s always a reason to eat, but it truly is the simplest and most practical dieting strategy that I have ever used. Having food available to us at all hours of the day just doesn’t make sense with our genetic past. If we want to maximize our genetic potential, we need to start working with it, instead of against it.