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Overview Of Intermittent Fasting: Part One

In previous posts I’ve made mention of intermittent fasting strategies being the hot topic right now with fat loss and fitness gurus. While there’s really nothing new about intermittent fasting, research on its benefit for weight loss, lean muscle development, and general health improvement is certainly in the infancy stage.

None-the-less, there are several diets utilizing intermittent fasting strategies that are gaining wide spread attention due to the positive results from numerous individuals who have tried them.

I’ve done extensive research over the past several months on intermittent fasting and I’m intrigued to say the least. In this series I’ll explain the various types of intermittent fasting, list out the possible pros and cons of each, along with providing some comparisons and general recommendations.

In part one we’ll dig into the principals behind the strategy and do a general overview.

More after the jump…

So what exactly is intermittent fasting?

When someone hears the word “fasting,” it typically conjures about images of going long periods of time, 24 hours to several days, without eating. Fasting has been around for ages, commonly used for religious practices, medical reasons, or health improvement through detoxification. The reasons for fasting are as numerous as the variations.

While “intermittent fasting” may imply something new or different, it’s been practiced by humans since the dawn of time, in fact we all do some form of IF every day, except we don’t call it that…we call it sleeping.

The time from your last meal at night until your first meal the next day is in essence an intermittent fast. If you had dinner last night at 8:00PM and ate breakfast this morning at 8:00AM, you just went through a 12 hour intermittent fast.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors practiced intermittent fasting on a regular basis, albeit it wasn’t a planned dietary strategy. It’s called looking for food, spending hours sometimes days searching for it, then feasting on whatever they found or hunted.

In other words, life for a long period of time as humans evolved centered around “eat, stop, eat.” There was no such thing as “three squares per day” and always having a set breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Hunger wasn’t feared and people didn’t freak out when their blood sugar dropped. Hunger simply led them to search for food as a primal instinct. Today a lot of folks have lost touch between the difference of true physiological hunger and psychological hunger or appetite.

Certainly one of the benefits of IF is learning how to deal with hunger. Not just cope with it per say, but rather conditioning your body and mind to function well in the absence of “readily available food.”

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Wouldn’t you like to be able to pass by that greasy fast food joint when you’re in airports or traveling when healthy food choices are limited?

Not succumbing like a slave to sugar and constantly thinking about food? Of course, and everyone can do it as it’s wired in us.

The key word here when we’re talking about fasting is “intermittent.” The fasting strategies used in the vast majority of IF diets typically range from 16-24 hours. Basically extending upon the normal fasting state we all experience while sleeping.

We’re not talking about going several days on nothing but water. Prolonged fasts, those lasting longer than 24 hours, come with more than a fair share of downsides and health risks.

All of the fasting strategies we’ll look at will fall into the shorter variety (24 hours or less) without eating. Although even shorter fasts come with their own set of adaptations and initial discomforts, nothing “bad” is likely to happen from a physiological standpoint in an otherwise healthy individual.

Obviously there are individuals who wouldn’t want to fast due to a variety of reasons. These would include but not be limited to women who are pregnant, nursing, individuals with diabetic conditions, or those suffering with other health ailments.

A lot of the stigma associated with anything fasting related has to do with fear over issues which are largely misunderstood and based on faulty belief systems.

Short term intermittent fasting when done properly will NOT crush your metabolism, cause you to instantaneously lose lean muscle, or anything like that.

In fact, the exact opposite may occur.

The potential benefits of intermittent fasting, while not concretely confirmed in research, may include the following:

REDUCED

  • Blood lipids including triglycerides and LDL cholesterol
  • Blood pressure due to changes in sympathetic/parasympathetic activity
  • Markers of inflammation including CRP, IL-6, TNF, BDNF, etc.
  • Oxidative stress, using markers of protein, lipid, and DNA damage

INCREASED

  • Cellular turnover and repair
  • Fat burning
  • Growth hormone release
  • Metabolic rate, stimulated by epinephrine and norepinephrine release

IMPROVED

  • Appetite control, perhaps through changes in PPY and ghrelin
  • Blood sugar control by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity
  • Neurogenesis, perhaps by providing protection against neurotoxins

While this list certainly looks impressive, it’s not conclusive and a lot of the benefits may depend on the individual and the length of the fasting state.

That brings us to an important point. For intermittent fasting strategies to be effective from a standpoint of improving body composition (decreasing fat, increasing lean muscle), exercise MUST be an integral component. Specifically, you’ll want to be doing resistance training.

If you’re sedentary, intermittent fasting strategies for weight loss are bound to disappoint you. The amount of exercise will vary if you employ IF strategies, but none-the-less it must be factored in.

The pitfall with exercise from an IF perspective is doing too much. Excessive exercise and the resulting high energy expenditure can defeat the purpose and boomerang back on you through hormone attenuation and the down regulation of metabolism from a catabolic state.

In other words, it can make you more prone to storing fat while also sacrificing valuable lean muscle. Yeah, not good.

If you’re set on doing lots of cardio or other prolonged activities with high energy expenditure, IF won’t be for you. A more traditional fat loss diet with several small meals per day will be a better choice here.

That brings us to another important point. Who’s best suited for IF and who’s not?

Intermittent fasting strategies are best suited for individuals who…

  • Have a history of monitoring calorie and food intake. You’re not new to “dieting” or tracking what you eat.
  • Are already experienced with exercise and regularly complete resistance training 2-3 times per week.
  • Have experience with or are willing to commit to food preparation and packing healthy foods and snacks to take to work, while traveling, etc.
  • Are willing to consume whole natural foods and not rely on processed foods, fast food, and vending machine garbage.
  • Are not involved with labor intensive jobs that demand high energy expenditure during the day.

Obviously we want to take the flip side of this into consideration. IF diets are not ideal for those individuals (health considerations aside) who:

  • Are new to dieting and exercise.
  • Insist on eating Lean Cuisines and other processed foods instead of preparing and packing healthy whole foods.
  • Don’t have the time or are unwilling to commit to a regular exercise routine.
  • Are currently following a 1-2 meal per day diet, regularly skipping meals.

If someone just starting out with a structured nutrition and exercise routine, my recommendation is to start with a more traditional supportive nutrition diet.

This is where you’d eat several small meals and snacks from healthy whole foods, protein meal replacement shakes, etc, throughout the day.

A supportive nutrition diet is the starting point for the majority of my personal training clients because it helps to increase metabolism, stabilize blood sugar levels, instill healthy eating habits, and establishes a foundation for body composition change.

In essence, it’s the ideal way to get things rolling. More advanced diet strategies like IF can come later, but you want to take things one step at a time. There are physiological and psychological reasons for establishing a supportive nutrition diet first.

Don’t get me wrong, the traditional bodybuilder type diet of several small meals and snacks during the day from high quality whole foods and protein shakes works very well. With a few modifications like carbohydrate cycling and others you can use this strategy to achieve an extremely lean physique.

Intermittent fasting strategies don’t necessarily trump supportive nutrition or traditional bodybuilder type diets. It’s just another tool in the tool box to use when your existing diet takes you as far as it can go leaving you in a plateau.

IF strategies have the most appeal for already lean and in-shape individuals who are trying to lose that last bit of body fat without sacrificing a lot of lean muscle (or are looking to continue gaining lean muscle while dropping fat).

The effectiveness and practicality of IF type diets really depends on the individual. For some it works great from a lifestyle perspective, others not so much. The same thing can be said for bioindividuality factors that will be unique to each person.

Just know that you may to experiment with several versions of IF to find the best fit. And you may discover that IF isn’t for you at all and that’s ok.

Like I said, while there are a lot of intriguing benefits which we’ll fully discuss in this series, you may find that eating something every few hours works better for you.

In part two of this series tomorrow, I’ll explain in detail how intermittent fasting works and we’ll breakdown the different variations.

There’s a lot to cover here which is why I decided to make this a series. Stick with me though as in the end you’ll have a thorough understanding of IF and be able to make an educated decision on whether or not to experiment with it.

I’ll also be providing you with some valuable resources and information on how to simplify an IF diet and links to some of the leading experts on this subject.

In the meantime, feel free to leave your comments or questions.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Fat Loss.