Intermittent fasting is a way of eating where you fast for a certain number of hours each day and eat only during the remaining hours.
If done right, intermittent fasting can be the most effective way to lose stubborn body fat and restore your health quickly and safely. If the word “fasting” conjures up images of starvation and misery, realize that’s far from the case when you do intermittent fasting correctly.
Quite simply, intermittent fasting will dramatically improve your health and enhance your body’s ability to burn fat . . . and it’s nowhere near as difficult or painful as it sounds. In addition to helping you lose a lot of body fat in a short amount of time, intermittent fasting also normalizes your ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels.
IF also lowers your triglyceride levels and boosts your body’s production of HGH (human growth hormone). HGH is known as the “youth hormone” because it plays an important function in the longevity process and your overall health and vitality. HGH also helps you burn fat because it’s one of the fat-burning hormones.
In a nutshell, intermittent fasting involves:
1. Restricting your food intake to a specific time window (six to eight hours is ideal).
2. Skipping breakfast and eating most your food and calories in the afternoon and evening.
3. Fasting for at least fifteen to sixteen hours, four to five days a week.
Below, I will go into further detail about each of the three aspects above so that you can decide if intermittent fasting is right for you and your specific goals. Let’s start with number one: restricting your calories to a specific time window.
Recent studies on participants who restricted their food intake each day to a six-to-eight-hour period demonstrated dramatic reductions in fasting blood sugar and insulin levels.
Low-fasting blood sugar and low-insulin levels play a huge role in the fat burning process. Insulin is a fat-storing hormone, so reducing your insulin levels is critical to losing body fat. Reducing your blood sugar levels is also very important for burning fat. By lowering your insulin levels, you will burn a lot more body fat throughout the day and during your workouts. Low insulin means your body’s fat stores are being used as the primary energy source. This is exactly what you want when fat loss is your goal.
Number two: skipping breakfast and eating most of your calories later in the day. You’ve probably heard it many times before from so-called health “experts”: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eat breakfast to kick start your metabolism. Never skip breakfast etc.” . . . Intermittent fasting breaks the “golden rule” of fat loss because it does not involve eating the traditional “breakfast.” The word “breakfast” simply means to break your fast. You certainly do not have to break your overnight fast as soon as you get up in the morning and can choose to break it at any time of the day.
Eating breakfast foods—such as bagels, toast, orange juice, jam, and muffins—stops fat-burning dead in its tracks as these foods raise your insulin and blood-sugar levels, which means no fat will be burned.
A very low- or no-carbohydrate breakfast will also increase your insulin levels (but not your blood sugar) as protein foods such as bacon, eggs, sausage, and cheese increase your insulin (although not as much as carbohydrate foods). With intermittent fasting, you delay eating until about twelve p.m. or lunch time. At twelve p.m., the six-to-eight-hour eating window begins and you can choose to have as many meals or snacks as you’d like during this time.
That said, to lose fat quickly you must still limit your calorie intake while doing intermittent fasting, especially if you have a lot of body fat to lose. Once you’ve reached your weight-loss goal, you can increase your calorie intake while continuing to do intermittent fasting and you will have no problems maintaining a healthy weight as long as you choose the right foods.
Ideally, you want to work out in a fasted state before you put any food into your system (around ten or eleven a.m.). However, if you cannot work out before your first meal or not until the evening, you can still reap all the benefits of IF. If you cannot work out until the evening, eat one light meal consisting of either fish or chicken breast with mixed steamed veggies and, if desired, a small piece of fruit. Small meals like this are digested quickly and will not interfere with fat burning during your workouts.
A word of caution, intermittent fasting is not to be done if you are diabetic, pregnant, or breastfeeding. You should also avoid intermittent fasting if you are very stress-reactive and live an overly-stressful lifestyle. In addition, if you are suffering or have suffered from eating disorders, you should not do intermittent fasting.
Always be sure to pay attention to your energy levels and how you feel both physically and mentally while doing intermittent fasting. It’s normal for your energy levels to dip when you are just starting out intermittent fasting as your brain is searching for fuel. As you continue to fast, your energy levels will stabilize as your body adjusts to the fast and you will have more energy in the mornings once your body has adjusted to fasting.
Here are some more important points to consider before you try intermittent fasting:
• When you are just starting IF (first week or two), you can ease your body into fasting by starting off with a ten-to-twelve-hour fast and working your way up to sixteen hours of fasting. This is especially helpful if you are currently eating several meals and snacks every few hours throughout the day.
• Intermittent fasting is not a form of severe calorie restriction or starvation. You should consume ample calories from the right foods to provide your body with enough nutrients and energy to function optimally.
• Zero calorie beverages are OK to consume during your fasting period—although you should avoid diet sodas and drinks with artificial sweeteners. Coffee without sugar or creamer is fine if you’re a coffee drinker.
• You do not have to do intermittent fasting every day. As long as the fat is coming off consistently, you can eat breakfast foods and other foods off the menu once or twice a week.
Intermittent fasting improves your health by affecting your cells and hormones in several important ways. It’s your cells and hormones that are responsible for lowering your body fat percentage and helping you burn more fat throughout the day. Here are some changes that will happen in your body at the cellular and hormonal level when you fast:
Decrease in the fat storing hormone insulin: Fasting improves your insulin sensitivity. Your insulin levels will drop dramatically which will lead to rapid fat loss.
Increase in Human Growth Hormone (HGH): Your growth hormone levels will increase significantly, to as much as five-fold. HGH plays a large role in increasing your lean muscle and burning fat.
Better gene expression: The genes in your body that are responsibly for longevity and protection against disease will express themselves and function better.
Better cellular repair: When you are in a fasted state, your cells repair and rebuild themselves through a process known as autophagy. Your cells will be more efficient at removing and cleaning out old and non-usable proteins in your body.
The bottom line on intermittent fasting is that it is a proven way of restoring your health quickly and safely at the cellular level. To lose body fat successfully, you must be healthy. Period. Look at losing weight as a side effect of having a healthy body that functions properly at the cellular level. If your health is not ideal, you will not achieve your goals no matter how often you exercise or how strict you are with your diet by avoiding certain foods. Your body is the equivalent to that of a highly-tuned, exotic, and expensive automobile. Only high-quality fuel will keep it functioning and prevent it from breaking down.
The one exception to intermittent fasting is that if your daily schedule does not permit you to fast for whatever reason, or if fasting is interfering significantly with your work or your family obligations, you can still burn fat rapidly and restore your cellular health by eating a small meal every few hours, including breakfast. Once you’re getting most of your calories from the right foods, your health and wellbeing will improve significantly, no matter if you’re fasting or if you’re eating every few hours.