Intermittent fasting is a great tool for getting strong and lean without changing your diet. But it can also seem confusing or extreme if you’re not familiar with it. Because you may be wondering many of the same things, I figured I should write about them here as well as share some of the important lessons I’ve learned from reading on intermittent fasting for over one year.
The biggest barrier is your own mind. Implementing this diet is pretty simple, you just don’t eat when you wake up. Then you eat and lunch and go about your day. But there is a mental barrier to get over. “If I don’t eat will I not be able to think? Will I faint? Will I feel sick? What will it be like?” These are all thoughts that went through my mind before I started. What ended up happening? Nothing. Life went on just fine. Thinking you need to eat every 3 hours or six meals a day or always have breakfast or whatever it is that you’re convinced you have to do to survive … is all mental. You believe it because you were told it, not because you actually tried it. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed that separates successful people from unsuccessful ones in life it’s not just the ability to think differently, but the ability to act differently as well.
Losing weight is easy. When you eat less frequently you tend to eat less overall. As a result, most people who try intermittent fasting end up cutting weight. You might plan big meals, but consistently eating them is difficult in practice. For this reason, I think intermittent fasting is a great option for people who are looking to lose weight because it offers a simple way to cut down on the total number of calories you eat without changing your diet. Even if you tell people that they can eat two large meals at lunch and dinner, they typically end up eating fewer calories than they would at 3 or 4 normal meals. Most people lose weight while intermittent fasting because when they cut out meals, they don’t make up for it with bigger meal sizes.
For best results, cycle what you eat. Intermittent fasting works, but it didn’t start cutting fat at a significant rate until it has been added in calorie cycling and carb cycling to my diet. Here’s how it works… Cycle the calories by eating a lot on the days that you work out and less on the days that you rest. The idea behind this is that you can build muscle on the days you train and burn fat on the days you rest. And by the end of the week, you should have done both.
Like most things, you should take a long–term view of eating. Too often we think about our diet in super short timeframes. It’s better to think about what we eat over the course of a week than over the course of a day (or worse, a few hours). For example, whether or not you have a protein shake within 30 minutes of working out, is largely a non–issue if you’re getting a meal of quality protein within 24 hours of working out. One reason intermittent fasting works is because the super short timeframes that we are pitched by food companies and supplement companies are largely a myth. Let’s say you eat 3 quality meals per day. That’s 21 meals per week. Over the course of a week, do you think your body cares if the meals are eaten from 8am to 8pm (the normal eating schedule) or 1pm to 8pm (an intermittent fasting schedule)? How about if we stretch it out over the course of a month? Wouldn’t it make sense that if you ate 80 quality meals every month (about 3 per day) that your body would make the most of those meals whether you ate them in an 8–hour block or a 12–hour block on each individual day? When you take a slightly longer view, you start to realize that the time difference between eating from 8am to 8pm versus eating from 1pm to 8pm isn’t that large over the course of a week or a month.
It’s strange, but when I’m fasting, I want food less. “Now that I’ve started fasting, I want food less. I’m not addicted to it. I’m not a victim to my diet. I eat when I want because I want to, not because my body tells me I have to.” This is a marked change from your previous eating schedule and I think the additional power and flexibility you will have over your diet now is a benefit.
Losing fat and gaining muscle can both be done, just not together. If you’re looking to lose fat and build muscle mass, then the combination of intermittent fasting, calorie cycling, and carb cycling that I have mentioned here is one of the best solutions you’ll find. You see, it’s basically impossible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. You need to have a net calorie deficit. To build muscle, you need to eat more calories than you burn. You need to have a net calorie surplus. It should be fairly obvious that you can’t have a net surplus and a net deficit at the same time. For example, you can either eat more than 2,000 calories or you can eat less than 2,000 calories … but you can’t do both at the same time. This is why it’s basically impossible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. However, if we get away from the small timeframes and start thinking about our diet over the course of a week or a month, then we start to have more options. For example, let’s say that you work out 3 days per week. You could organize your eating routine to have a calorie surplus on the days you train (i.e. gain muscle) and then a calorie deficit on the days you rest (i.e. lose fat). That way, by the end of the week, it’s possible for you to have spent 3 days gaining muscle and 4 days losing fat.
As long as you stay under 50 calories, you’ll remain in the fasted state. A lot of people like to start their day with a cup of coffee or a glass of orange juice. Maybe you’re one of them. Well you don’t have to dump your morning routine if you want to give fasting a try. The general rule of thumb is that if you stay under 50 calories, then you’ll remain in the fasted state. I’m not sure where this number came from, but I’ve seen it dished around by enough reputable people that I’m going to go with it for now. Following the opinion of the majority is typically a lazy move, but in this case, I think you’ll be alright if you want to have a cup of coffee in the morning.
Prepare to drink a lot of water. Your mileage may vary, but even if you don’t drink as much water, I recommend having it at the ready.
The best diet for you is the one that works for you. Everyone wants to be handed the ultimate diet plan. We all want the answers on one sheet of paper. “Here. Just do this and you’ll be set.” This is why diet books sell so well. A lot of people are willing to pay for a quick fix, a diet in a box, or the nutritional solution to long life. Here’s my problem with marketers telling everyone that their diet is the best: it’s like telling the whole world to wear medium sized shirts and then wondering why they don’t fit a lot of people. In most ways, your body is the same as everyone else’s. But in some very important ways, it’s also different than everyone else’s. To find the diet that works best for you, you need to experiment and see what your body responds to. As always, your mileage will vary, but the most important thing is that you’re covering ground and moving forward.