A Beginner's Guide to Intermittent Fasting

To Eat or Not to Eat?

Growing up, we were told that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but what if that weren’t true? What if that saying were nothing more than a sneaky marketing ploy used to get us to eat more Wheaties? (To be fair, it actually comes from observational nutritional studies, not General Mills).

Conventional wisdom exists to be challenged. So, let’s momentarily suspend our preconceived notions of three square meals and talk about a fresh new idea called intermittent fasting (IF). It’s a confusing and slightly scary term, but it could be the key to jumpstarting your fat loss.

Breakfast Misconceptions

One of the most common claims about breakfast is that eating early kickstarts your metabolism, but evidence has emerged indicating that this may be a myth. When touting the metabolism boosting effects of breakfast, people are typically referring to the thermic effect of food, which is when the number of calories burned increases after you eat.

What matters more for metabolism is the total amount of food consumed throughout the day. Not which times or how often you eat. Studies show that there is no difference in calories burned over 24 hours between people who eat breakfast versus those who skip. In fact, recent studies have found that eating breakfast before a workout resulted in lower fat burning rates and an increase in food consumed to the tune of around 900 calories.

What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. You, yourself, fast every single day but you just don’t realize it — it’s called sleeping. Intermittent fasting merely extends that fast a little longer.

The intermittent fasting diet places no restrictions on the types of food we eat or the quantity, but rather on when we eat them. That might seem like an invitation to binge on your next meal, but don’t forget why you are fasting in the first place. People fast primarily to lose fat and reap metabolic health benefits. Some research also suggests that it can help protect against diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.

How Fasting Works

Now, let’s geek out a bit. When you eat a meal, your body spends a few hours processing that food and burning the energy it can from what you just consumed. Now that you have all of that fuel readily available in the blood stream, your body will choose that over the fat you have stored. This is especially true if you consume carbohydrates/sugar, as your body prefers to burn sugar as energy before any other source.

During the “fasted state”, your body doesn’t have a recently consumed meal to use for energy, so it is more likely to pull from the fat stored in your body, rather than the glucose in your blood stream. This is one of the reasons that athletes and bodybuilders like IF; you can burn fat while working out to build muscle, ideally resulting in no weight change or a healthy gain from adding muscle.

One of the mechanisms that makes fasting so effective for weight loss is the fact that it promotes the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH), which is a fat-burning hormone. HGH also plays a key role in muscle building.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

Keep in mind that your body is an intricately woven and calibrated machine, inside and out, so these fasting plans may need to be tweaked to fit your body and lifestyle. While there are numerous health benefits to IF, fasting may not be for everyone, so above all else, listen to your body and do what feels right.

Disclaimer: If you are pregnant, have issues with blood sugar regulation, suffer from hypoglycemia, or have diabetes, intermittent fasting should not be attempted. Additionally, people on medication should consult a physician before beginning fasting.

The 16/8 Method: Fast for 16 hours each day

This method is also known as the Lean-Gains protocol, and was popularized by fitness expert Martin Berkhan. Doing this method of fasting can actually be as simple as not eating anything after dinner, and skipping breakfast. For example, if you finish your meal at 8pm and then don’t eat until noon the next day, then you are technically fasting for 16 hours between meals.

The 16/8 method is a popular method amongst celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Ben Affleck, and Beyonce. Hugh Jackman is constantly bulking and cutting for roles and has found that fasting for 16 hours a day allows him to keep off the fat but pack on lean muscle.

Eat-Stop-Eat

Once or twice a week, don’t eat anything from dinner one day, until dinner the next day (a 24 hour fast) You can also fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch. Water, coffee and tea are allowed during the fast, but no solid food. 24 hours doesn’t need to be the magical time period either. 14 to 16 hours when you start out is fine too, and it is recommended that you start small to train your body in the beginning.

If your body is used to eating three or more meals a day, I wouldn't advise shocking your system with this method right out the gate.

The 5:2 Diet

During two days of the week, eat only about 500-600 calories. According to British journalist and doctor Michael Mosley, 500 calories should be consumed by women, and 600 for men. An example of a 5:2 eating schedule may be Monday and Thursdays you eat 500-600 calories, and the rest of the week, eat normally. Now, to be clear, “normally” doesn’t mean like a bear preparing for hibernation and scarfing everything in sight during the other five days. Healthy choices and overall moderation will bring you the most success.

Coffee and IF: A match made in heaven

I am a coffee person, and maybe you should be, too. I struggle even tying my shoes in the morning before having a cup of coffee to kickstart my brain.

If you are fasting, one of the best drinks you can have to jump start your day is Bulletproof Coffee. Bulletproof coffee combines the highest quality beans and unsalted, grass-fed butter. Wait, did he just say butter? Yes! Butter has all of the benefits of healthy milk fat without the damaging denatured casein proteins found in cream. Many people also add Brain Octane Oil, which is an extract of coconut oil believed to improve brain function and support ketosis.

A 12-oz bag of whole bean Bulletproof coffee will run you about $19, which may sound expensive, but the beans are of high quality. If you are partial to your own brew, any other high quality coffee will do just fine. Having a cup of Bulletproof coffee in the morning will help you feel full and alert, and the healthy fats will fuel your body until you break your fast.

If coffee isn’t your thing, Tibetan Yak Butter Tea would be equivalent — and the instant packets linked above are definitely easier on the wallet.

To Sum it All Up

Intermittent fasting isn’t a miracle worker. YOU are the worker, the disciplinarian, and the one who is responsible for making healthy decisions. Fasting is a tool to contribute to weight loss and gain lean body mass.

Our ancestors had to chase furry beasts and gather what they could during harsh conditions, including famine, and they managed to survive in the face of a skipped a meal or two. It’s often hard to see past the readily available food in our pantry and fight the temptation, but it can be done. Ultimately, find what works for you, take it slow, and most importantly, stick with with it!

This post was written by Andy Prevenas.