Nutrition, Top Story

Intermittent Fasting

Grant Dryden

Leadership and Nutrition Editor

Throughout the years, many different fitness and diet routines have grown in popularity: ketogenic (keto), intermittent fasting, South Beach, Atkins, “Raw” (raw food), the Zone, Mediterranean, Whole 30.  There are as many diets as there are people, so how’s a person to choose?

Rather than be paralyzed by the sheer number of choices available, try this trick: pick one and do it.  If it doesn’t work after a few months, then stop and try something else.

Winston Churchill once said: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”  Try a diet and fail, then try a new one.  Eventually, you will find something that works for you.

It’s worth noting that some diets are controversial and potentially unhealthy.  If you find yourself getting dizzy or light headed, learn why you are feeling that way before continuing with the diet.

Trendy diets

Like it or not, most of the diets I listed are fads.  They boom into sudden popularity and fall out of favor with the majority of casual participants looking for fast results.  Oddly enough, some of the diets listed above were not even developed to be ‘weight loss’ diets in the first place!

For example, the keto diet was originally developed in the 1920’s in order to help children with epilesy control their seizures.  Today, we are using it as a popular method for adults to lose weight because it emulates the effects of fasting (without requiring fasting).  Weight loss was not its original intent, although it may be effective for both uses.

The point here is that if you start to feel a little “off” when you begin a new diet or exercise routine, stop and do some research as to why you are feeling that way.  Some side effects are expected with fad diets, but everybody’s body is different.  “Popular” does not equate to either “good for you” or “will give you results”.

Which diet works?

I’m not going to exhaustively list out the finer points of each diet.  Instead, I want to share my experience with one diet in particular that I’ve seen great results from: intermittent fasting.  You may also know it as Brad Pilon’s “Eat Stop Eat“.

In 2012, I was 5’11” and weighed 210 lbs.  I was overweight according to the BMI (if you care about that measurement), and I was bordering on moderately obese.

BMI-Chart

If you had asked any of my friends if I was overweight, they would have laughed.  I carried my weight well, mostly in my shoulders, chest, and legs at the time.  Fitness has always been a hobby of mine, though I am no Atlas, and had heard about Eat Stop Eat as a method of losing weight and looking better.

I thought to myself, “I want to look better, why not give it a shot?”  The gym was a casual part of my week, so all I needed to do was change my eating habits a little and up my gym time.  A piece of cake if I remained disciplined.

How does it work?

I like Eat Stop Eat because it is based on scientific measurements rather than popularity.  It is difficult but well worth the effort, and most importantly it is safe for most people who are not diabetic.

Download the e-book if you are interested in the details.  The book makes a case that over a 24 hour period of time your body is in a state where it can burn fat easily.

You may already know this, but your body metabolizes carbohydrates and sugars very quickly.  Carbs are the preferred energy source for your body because they are easy to break down into energy.  An excess of energy will be stored in your body as fat, which is how an excess of carbs can cause weight gain so easily.  After a day of not eating, there is little in your body to be used as energy aside from fat.

Your body uses stored fat as its energy source in times of need.  This is the reason why we have fat, so we can continue to produce energy when other sources are unavailable.  The breakdown of fat into energy is called lipolysis or fat oxidation.

During a 24 hour fast, your body produces hormones and chemicals which enable fat to be unlocked and burned easier.  Your body also gives off signals that lipolysis is occurring which is how we know this is happening.  These effects have been measured numerous times in multiple studies (here’s one link).

Some of the signs of lipolysis (fat oxidation) are:

  • Fatty lipids in your blood stream increase
  • Uncoupling Protein-3 (UCP-3) increases in your muscles
  • Glucagon levels increase to regulate blood sugar levels
  • Adrenaline and noradrenalin levels increase

Unrelated to fat loss, growth hormone levels in your body also increase after fasting for 24 hours.  This means that someone who is fasting can build muscle easier than someone who isn’t fasting.

Setting a Goal

After reading the book I was bought into the diet, but first, I needed to decide where to set my target weight.  I decided to go in aggressively and aimed for 170 lbs – that meant I had to lose 40 lbs of fat.  Since this was new, I didn’t set a time frame on my progress.  I just wanted to see incremental progress over time.

Next, I used a handy calorie calculator to find out how many calories a day a 170 lb, moderately active person would burn.  Then, I compared it to how much a 210 lb person like myself burned.  Now I had an estimate on the percentage of calories I needed to remove from my 210 lb diet in order to hit my target.

Goal

We all know that eating too many calories makes us gain weight.  As we get heavier, our calorie demands increase to sustain the added weight.  So, if I wanted to weigh a certain amount then I needed to eat as much as people at that weight normally eat.  It seemed like a logical conclusion to me.

What my research showed was that I needed to be fasting once every 4 days in order to bring my calorie count down.  This meant my calories would decrease and I did not need to change what I was eating on the non-fasting days.

Based on the Eat Stop Eat model, I also needed to be hitting the gym hard on that fasting day in order to reap the most benefits of the growth hormone that my body was producing.

Fasting

With my plan in place, I began executing it.  The execution of Eat Stop Eat is easy:

  • Eat whatever you have normally been eating on your non-fasting days
  • On your fasting day, eat dinner.  Then, do not eat again until dinner the following day.  You need to eat zero calories during this time period or you lose the benefits of fasting.
  • Lastly, work out very hard just before you end the fast, then fill up on something high in protein and do not binge eat.

At first, I had headaches from fasting which I later discovered were due to sugar withdrawal.  A few cups of black coffee, unsweetened tea, and water throughout the day helped to take the edge off the hunger and ward off headaches.  The headaches went away after the third fast as my body adjusted.

It was not as easy to stick to my plan as I thought, but I wanted to see if it would work for me.  And work. it. did.  I had lost 25 lbs by the end of the 3rd month and was in the best shape of my life!  I’m absolutely not kidding when I say I felt better than ever and needed a new (smaller) wardrobe.  I went from a size 34 waist to a 30.

The best part of this experience was that not only was my weight going down, but I was lifting heavier and heavier weights.  My strength and muscle mass were increasing, and my fat stores were decreasing.  That’s how I judge the success of a diet!

An added benefit was that I got to eat everything I normally did except on the fasting day.  This was a sustainable eating pattern for me (obviously) which helped me not run out of motivation.

Takeaways

Intermittent fasting worked for me but is difficult at the beginning (like most things).  I would highly recommend that everybody who is looking to lose some weight give it a shot.  If you are healthy and have discipline then you will see results.

The diet alone will not be sufficient for you.  You must pair it with exercise to get the most benefits from your work.

If you’ve tried intermittent fasting or Eat Stop Eat, share your experience with me!  I know it won’t be a home run for everybody, but it is still the best way of losing weight I’ve ever experienced.

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