Revamping your diet is never easy, especially now with so much data out there on the prospective benefits of different approaches. And especially when you are quarantined for who knows how long. So should you do keto or paleo? What about The Carnivore Diet? Maybe you’d be better off going in the opposite direction and trying to be vegan. Maybe you’d be better off eating everything in sight because, why not? Making a drastic lifestyle change is challenging enough without a global pandemic. But hear us out. When the world seems upside down, it can be helpful to start a routine that, unlike everything else right now, is completely in your control. We think that one simple option can be the answer you need right now— intermittent fasting.
Background and History
The concept isn’t exactly novel. Fasting has existed as long as people have been eating. However, intermittent fasting isn’t aimed at achieving an ascetic life for religious purposes. It’s not meant to support an option suited for the spiritually devout or as a crash diet that deprives your body of food to lose as much weight as possible in a short span of time either. Intermittent is the operative word, after all. That means that successfully incorporating this diet doesn’t mean you have to restrict yourself from calories for days at a time, instead, the approach is more about consistency.
Even though the practice of fasting has been around forever, the science between the benefits of intermittent fasting is much newer. In recent years, research has allowed us to distinguish between the benefits of prolonged fasts exceeding 48 hours and intermittent fasting which is done on a daily basis for 14 or more hours each day. Intermittent fasting is proven to balance insulin levels (which aids in fat loss), increase blood levels of human growth hormone by up to 5 times (which again aids in fat loss as well as muscle gain), enhance the body’s ability to repair its cells, and even go as far as changing genetic composition to help prevent against disease-causing mutations. The main factor behind the increased fat burning is the fact that short-term fasting increases metabolism by up to 14%, ultimately burning calories more effectively. The increased HGH levels are a huge consideration for people like myself who try to build muscle. Intermittent, unlike long term fasting, causes much less muscle loss, making it something that won’t take away from your gains at the gym.
Benefits and Remedies
The benefits aren’t just limited to the body though, they have a profound effect on the mind. Even when I’m eating well, there’s something about crashing after lunch when I get back to work that I just can’t wrap my head around. Even with a light lunch full of nutritious foods, I feel as close to a food coma as I would if I had eaten an entire pizza. On the other hand, intermittent fasting improves brain health and cognitive function by reducing the oxidative stress our brains take on. The advancement of cellular repair also increases the growth of new neurons. In the short-term, the reduction in fluctuating blood sugar levels helps you stay on point by avoiding the post-lunch crash that comes every afternoon. Feeling the benefits before you may see them also a huge benefit of intermittent fasting. I know how frustrating it is to commit to something without being sure that it’s going to work. However, you’re not going to see the end result of any diet until, well, the end. That’s why the cognitive benefits of intermittent fasting are two-folded: they serve to improve your brain’s performance while also serving as a sign that change is taking effect.
In the end, getting through that challenge is a benefit in and off itself. Once you break through that wall, resisting temptation provides its own sense of enjoyment.
Like any benefits, those derived from incorporating intermittent fasting into your lifestyle have to be earned. Patience, diligence, and self-control are important to exercise whether you have a craving or feel like you can’t resist a late night snack. Of course, you should never deprive yourself to the point where you don’t enjoy a special occasion or treat. It’s just important to form healthy habits. Doing that is much easier said than done though, I can’t tell you how many times I found myself at the brink. In the end, getting through that challenge is a benefit in and off itself. Once you break through that wall, resisting temptation provides its own sense of enjoyment.
Different Approaches for Different Lifestyles
One clear benefit is the feasibility of intermittent fasting to begin with. There’s no way I’m going to be able to go 48 hours without food and still function as a contributing member of society. On the other hand, calorie restriction for about 60% of the day or longer is much more doable. But how exactly do you incorporate this regimen and how long does the intermittent period of fasting need to be on a given day?
But how exactly do you incorporate this regimen and how long does the intermittent period of fasting need to be on a given day?
There are two predominant schools of thought that serve as models on how to incorporate intermittent fasting into your life. One is called the 16:8 rule and the other is called the 5:2 diet. These options provide different approaches to intermittent fasting depending on your lifestyle so you can choose which works best for you.
The 16:8 rule is intended for intermittent fasting on a daily basis. The ratio represents a daily 16 hour period of fasting and an 8-hour window where you can eat the 2-3 meals you regularly would. This way, you can still eat the same amount of calories and same food that you typically would. The only difference is the schedule in which you eat. So instead of eating breakfast at 8 am, lunch 1 pm, and then dinner at 6 pm you can shorten that 10-hour window by 2 hours, just a slight adjustment, to bask in the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Alternatively, the 5:2 diet allows you to incorporate intermittent fasting but not on a daily basis. Instead of adhering to a daily window in which you can eat your meals, the 5:2 diet allows you to eat without adjusting your schedule five days per week. The other two days are drastically different though. For those couple of days, caloric intake is limited to 500-600 calories on each day.
The hardest part of incorporating intermittent fasting to me and many others is adapting to the regimen. I found that the 16:8 rule is much easier to incorporate because of its daily adherence. That aspect reinforces the practice of intermittent fasting to the point where it becomes second nature. However, it’s tricky to do anything everyday without any hiccups. To mitigate the strictness of the 16:8 rule, offsetting a cheat day (whether that’s eating outside of the prescribed time frame or just taking a day off) and offsetting it with a low-calorie day like the 2 incorporating by the 5:2 rule can blend the best of both worlds.
Another practice that helped me in adopting the 16:8 protocol was being more diligent about meal planning.
Another practice that helped me in adopting the 16:8 protocol was being more diligent about meal planning. By having meals prepared in advance instead, making sure that I ate within that 8-hour window was much simpler. An added effect of that was also that meal planning provided me with more control of my nutrition from better portion control to a better grasp on my diet as a whole. On that note, finding what works for you to incorporate either of those schools of thought is a prime example of the benefits intermittent fasting has on encouraging discipline, preparedness, and other qualities that help you take more agency in your health and well-being.
Finding What Works For You Is Key To Reaping the Benefits
Personally, I’ve found it easier to incorporate intermittent fasting on a daily basis. The added discipline of doing something each day is much more immersive and it permeates into other aspects of life. Refining willpower in this manner pays dividends at work, in the gym, and just in shaping better overall judgment. Furthermore, it’s a better model for consistency. As opposed to the 5:2 diet, the 16:8 rule doesn’t have as much of an impact on your daily caloric intake. This makes it easier to maintain how you feel, act, and live each day. This is especially important for maintaining an active lifestyle where your daily calorie intake is more than just a measure of nutrition. Calories are necessary for energy to get the most out of a workout or to get through a long day. Having consistent, regular calorie intake is imperative for that.
In my experiences with intermittent fasting, the results have been counter-intuitive. Increased energy, a clearer frame of mind, and the ability to maintain my workouts were surprising takeaways.
In my experiences with intermittent fasting, the results have been counter-intuitive. Increased energy, a clearer frame of mind, and the ability to maintain my workouts were surprising takeaways. The most important thing is to be sure to find something that suits your lifestyle, whether that’s incorporating it on a daily basis or throughout the course of week. Getting used to the feeling of being hungry is probably the biggest hurdle but it’s overcome in mind. Separating yourself from the instinct to eat immediately when you feel the slightest bit hungry is the trick. I was able to do that by reconditioning my thinking to treat those instances as evidence that the fasting is taking effect. In all, the ability to incorporate this diet into your life without reshaping much more than how when you eat makes it much more sustainable as a long term prospect while providing an added level of discipline that is a benefit that goes well beyond your nutrition.