Have you heard all the buzz about intermittent fasting?
Everyone from The Rock, Wolverine, and even the lead singer of Coldplay swear that fasting is the silver bullet to fat loss and muscle gains.
Others, however, say fasting will destroy your thyroid and make you fat.
And many, especially in traditional media, confuse intermittent fasting with starving yourself.
Personally, I enjoy the practice of eating my “breakfast” later in the day. I often eat my first meal of the day around noon or even later. And no, my muscles didn’t fall off when I started eating less often.
In fact, when I first experimented with fasting and feasting 4 years ago, I gained muscle.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Against the relentless onslaught of advertising that taunts our deep-seated, primal urge to eat as often as we can, willpower isn’t enough. Every thirty seconds, most of us are interrupted by a boisterous distraction that demands our gustatory attention.
“Quarter-Pound Hamburger for 99 cents!”
“Hungry? Grab a Snickers!”
Unlike our ancestors, who spent all day chasing a beast and all evening enjoying it, the smells, sights, and sizzles of food nag at us 24/7. In a world where everyone is eating all the time, it’s difficult to know when we should actually eat.
As it turns out, three square meals a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—is arbitrary, more a cultural artifact than a biological necessity.
Eating from dawn to dusk gives our bodies a steady stream of glucose, damaging in excess. Without a break from the taxing requirements of digestion, most of our population is faced with insulin resistance, weight gain, and disease.
“Fasting and Feasting” or “Intermittent Fasting” is what I call a rhythm of meal timing that maximizes the hormonal benefits of cycling caloric intake. Instead of eating many meals throughout the day, fasting and feasting gives you a compressed eating window (typically 16 hours of fasting with 8 hours of feasting).
While skipping just the occasional meal can be beneficial, cycling periods of fasting (usually in the morning) and feasting (usually at night) can aid detoxification, encourage fat burning, and improve immune function.
Fasting and feasting isn’t meant to be dogmatic—it’s simply the concept that your body thrives by following a cyclical approach to eating and digestion.
By one definition, fasting means “to abstain from all food.” But it also means “to eat sparingly, or of certain types of foods.”
For the most part, I’m talking about the latter, less draconian definition. In the same way that our muscles and bodies recover from plenty of rest, wouldn’t it hold that our digestive system would benefit from an occasional break from food?
Why Fasting Is Good For You
If you could put the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of fasting in a pill, you would make billions. The many benefits of fasting include:
- Promoting human growth hormone production, which helps your body burn fat, build muscle, and slow the aging process.
- Normalizing insulin sensitivity, which prevents chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
- Regulating ghrelin levels, also known as “the hunger hormone.”
- Decreasing triglyceride levels.
- Reducing inflammation and free radical damage.
By under-eating most of the day and filling up at night, most people also find that they eat significantly less food (and save money) once they start fasting. Let’s dig a little deeper.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Calorie Restriction & Cyclical Under-Eating
Since the 1930s, animal studies have been telling us that restricting calories improves health and longevity. Until recently, we believed that it was necessary to “starve yourself” to reap the benefits.
But you can actually trim your waistline, improve your biomarkers of health, and increase your longevity without the pain, suffering, and hunger that comes along with restriction. Fasting works, too, but since it’s difficult for Big Food to profit from people going without their food, most of the benefits of skipping meals don’t make it into common wisdom.
There’s a monumental difference between “common” and “normal,” however. Today, more than 67% of us in the United States are overweight or obese. Being overweight is common. But it’s not normal.
Fasting, on the other hand, is historically quite normal but isn’t common in a world abundant with drive-thrus, meal-replacement shakes, and “eating 6+ times a day is healthy” dogmatism.
For millions of people across the world, regular fasting is commonplace and has been part of spiritual practice for thousands of years.
But before that, fasting was simply a way of life. With no storable grains, and few other foods that stayed fresh for very long, most of our ancestors experienced both feast and famine on a regular basis. When game was scarce, seasons changed, or the pickings were slim, hunter-gatherers did without.
To reap the full rewards of the Wild lifestyle, you might consider going without occasionally, too.
Eating all the time is not normal. But the good news is that when you get into a pattern of fasting and feasting on healthy low-carb foods, you can feel better, look better, and create your new normal.
Anti-Aging Effects Of Fasting
If you’re over the age of thirty, and especially if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you’ve likely entered a phase known as somatopause, or age-related growth hormone deficiency.
Natural production of growth hormone declines beginning in our twenties, leading to a reduction in lean body mass and bone mineral density and an increase in body fat— especially abdominal fat.
As growth hormone declines over time, you begin to look and feel older.
Here’s the good news: Fasting sets in motion a hormonal chain of events that not only burns fat but also protects hard-earned muscle.
After approximately sixteen to twenty-four hours in a fasted state, our bodies release a massive surge of growth hormone.
One study showed that while fasting for twenty-four hours, human growth hormone increased an average of 1,300% in women and nearly 2,000% in men.
But be careful: Depending on your unique situation, many find that you do begin to lose muscle with fasts that are longer than twenty-four hours.
Listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry. Another activity that can lead to a dramatic increase in growth hormone is high-intensity interval exercise like the Wild 7 Workout. Combining fasting with high-intensity exercise can provide synergistic effects to boost growth hormone.
In adulthood, the presence of growth hormone leads to a healthier body composition.
- Keeps your body lean
- Increases synthesis of new protein tissues to promote muscle recovery and repair
- Decreases fat accumulation
- Strengthens bones
- Protects your organs from the decline that occurs with age
- Promotes healthy hair and nail growth
- Improves circulation
- Gives a more favorable cholesterol profile
- Decreases signs and symptoms of aging
Did I mention that fasting is free and you can start right now?
Fasting signals your cells that it’s time to focus the body’s energy on conserving, restoring, and repairing your body’s internal machinery.
You can think of fasting as “cleanse” mode, where your cells scavenge your body for free radicals, agents of disease, and damaged cells and recycles them to conserve energy.
The trade-off is that too much fasting can stress the adrenals, so occasional luxurious feasting can actually help keep the body in balance.
LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Breakfast: The Most Dangerous Meal Of The Day
Would you eat donuts for a “healthy” breakfast? Believe it or not, most products marketed as heart-healthy “breakfast foods”—cereal, granola, oatmeal, bagels, yogurt, and muffins—pack more sugar than a deep-fried, sugar-coated Krispy Kreme donut.
Some cereals are even packed with more processed sodium than a bag of potato chips.
Cereal is a shining example of a product that Big Food intentionally mislabels to make it appear “healthier” than it actually is.
Honey Smacks contain more than 50% sugar, and Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, and Corn Pops all contain 12 grams of sugar and almost zero fiber in the paltry serving listed on the side of the box.
For perspective, a glazed donut from Dunkin’ Donuts also contains 12 grams of sugar.
Surprised? When you look at the ingredients in cereal and donuts, you really don’t see much of a difference. Donuts are made from processed flour, sugar, and industrial oil.
Cereal is made from processed flour, sugar, and . . . industrial oil.
Here’s why that’s a problem: Nobody eats a donut for breakfast and thinks they’re doing themselves a favor. But how many people eat cereal for breakfast (or dinner) and assume that it’s good for them?
People who start their days with carb-y, high-glycemic foods like cereal, muffins, bagels, and fruit juice ignite a vicious cycle of hunger and snacking.
The flood of insulin in the hours following breakfast leads to low energy, brain fog, nagging cravings and hunger throughout the day.
As any endurance athlete or adventurer quickly learns, most of your energy comes not from what you eat for breakfast but from your dinner the night before.
The more nourishing and substantial your evening feast, the more you can do or longer you can go without eating the next day.
Eating your most substantial meal in the evening can help release endorphins, improve sleep quality, reduce next-day hunger, and provide energy to fuel activities the next morning.
How To Get Started Now
How do you start? Simple. Tomorrow, make lunch your first meal. If you stop eating at 8pm and don’t eat until noon the next day, that’s sixteen hours of fasting— perfect for stimulating growth hormone, which boosts metabolism, builds muscle, and slows aging.
The fact that you sleep through the majority of your fast makes it relatively painless. If you’ve trained your body to expect food every two hours, then you might feel hungry the first few times you try fasting. But it will all be in your head.
Running just on the fat stored in their bodies, most Americans could walk from New York to Florida without technically needing a bite to eat. Give yourself a week or two for your body to relearn how to run on fat, and you’ll find fasting gets easier.
While fasting, you’re liberated from having to think about food so you can spend your energy elsewhere.
That little voice that usually nags every few minutes, “Hey, is it time to eat? I think it’s time to eat!” now has a response that works every time. “There’s an epic feast coming tonight,” you might say. “No need to bother me until then.” After all, you have important things to do today.
The best day for your first fast is your day off, perhaps Sunday, so you won’t fall prey to the stress of the workday.
Do your best to get plenty of sleep and have a satisfying feast the night before your first fast to keep cortisol in check.
Here’s an example of what today’s meal plan can look like:
8:00am: Fatty coffee or bone broth
Noon: Giant salad, leftovers, eggs, or a green smoothie
6:00pm: Bacon Cheeseburgers with a side salad, and Choconut Cookies for dessert
When is the best time to work out, you ask? Generally, re-feeding with carbs and protein is best directly following the workout to maximize recovery and the anabolic response. I tend to lift in late afternoon and re-feed in the evening.
How To Beat False Hunger
True hunger is generally experienced in the body and brain, not in the stomach. If you get light-headed or weak, or your workout suffers, you’re probably fasting too much.
It may take some practice, but once you reconnect with the feeling of true hunger, you can follow your body’s lead and eat whenever the feeling strikes.
Whenever you get hungry, ask yourself:
- Am I thirsty? Drink water and cravings may subside.
- Have I had my fill of greens and fiber today? Go for a salad, veggies, or a green smoothie.
- Am I emotional or bored? Wait twenty minutes, go for a walk, or exercise.
- Did I drink alcohol recently? Your body is probably tricking you into thinking you’re hungry because your insulin is out of whack.
- Have I eaten my fill of protein today? Grab some.
- Did I eat sugar, grains, fried food, or other “carbage”? Your insulin and blood sugar are unstable. You probably don’t need more food. Wait it out.
- Have I exercised today? Try it and you might find you’re not hungry anymore.
- Am I fasting too much? Go ahead and eat. Bonus if you make raw green veggies the first thing to hit your belly.
Who Shouldn’t Use Intermittent Fasting
There are certain circumstances under which intermittent fasting isn’t ideal or shouldn’t be used. While it is an effective tool, everyone’s biochemistry is different and can vary at different stages or times in your life.
You should NOT use intermittent fasting if you are:
- Suffering from adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue can occur when you are under a lot of intense stress, have suffered an infection or illness, or are severely sleep-deprived. Adrenal fatigue makes you very tired, and it affects the way you metabolize your food.
- Pregnant or nursing. To sustain the increased caloric needs of growing baby and/or milk production, you should be eating regularly.
- Have or are recovering from an eating disorder. It’s important to have and maintain a healthy relationship with food. If you have an eating disorder, please seek professional help. If you are recovering from an eating disorder or have struggled with eating disorders in the past, please do not use intermittent fasting as a weight-loss tool.
- Are a child. Children are growing while they sleep and need a good quality breakfast to replenish their spent energy. An ideal should not include fruit juice or grains, but rather protein and vegetables like a Green Monster Frittata or boiled eggs, meat, and vegetables.
- Consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning a fast if you have any condition you are concerned will be negatively affected by a change in diet.
Because of the female hormone cycle, intermittent fasting may not be as effective for some women. However, other women find it to be an incredibly useful tool either on a regular basis or during specific times when they want to tone up quickly.
If you’ve been watching “My Diet is Better Than Yours” on ABC, you know that my contestant Kurt has been getting incredible results using intermittent fasting. He feels great, he’s losing weight, and he’s eating delicious food!
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Have you tried fasting and feasting yet? Share your experience with fasting in the comments below.