When it comes to fat loss there are plenty of strategies on what to eat, but what about simply not eating? You may scoff at this especially if you're like many fitness enthusiasts who have their Tupperware ready to roll every 3 hours. But what I will propose isn't starvation, but rather a strategy known as intermittent fasting or IF for short. IF is a dietary protocol that utilizes periodic fasts and can be implemented in various ways. Not only does IF improve health and body composition, it improves cognition, saves on the grocery bill, and helps you live a lifestyle free of worrying about when your next serving of chicken breast and brown rice is.
IF helps your fat loss endeavors on both a physiological and psychological level. When it comes to what is actually going on in the body, fasting can increase insulin sensitivity as insulin levels will be lower chronically and of course acutely during the fast. In regards to your health, this means a whole slew of things, but most importantly it decreases the risk of diabetes and all of its subsequent comorbidities (associate diseases). If we are talking about body composition, decreased insulin levels will make way for lipolysis, or fat burning, during the fasting window. A host of other hormones such as the catecholamine epinephrine as well as growth hormone help in this process. So as you can see the fasting period is very advantageous for burning off those love handles, but also for your longevity.
Free of the analogous handcuffs of frequent meal timing, fasting gives multiple psychological and cognitive benefits. Fasting allows one to experience psychological and actual physical hunger cues. The realization and differentiation of these two cues and the experience of feeling them allows dieters to understand when they are actually "hungry," or if some other cue such as social eating, or anxiety is making them "hungry". Mental clarity is also a perk of fasting, which may be a result of less frequent peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels. This leads to many reporting that they are more productive during the fast. Although much of the aforementioned benefits are anecdotal, it is because they are subjective, but the science and theory definitely supports their claim.
While there are a lot of benefits to IF, there are still many doubters. The root of much criticism may be due to lack of knowledge on how IF works, or simply because humans are creatures of habit and the long-standing frequent meal timing scheme has been successful for many dieters. Most prevalent is the concern of muscle loss or the inability to gain muscle while fasting. To address this several fasting protocols allow for the use of Branch Chained Amino Acid (BCAA) supplementation during the fasting window which stops muscle catabolism (muscle breakdown), and because of the Leucine content of BCAA's stimulates something known as the Mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR). mTOR is a regulator of protein synthesis in the body, thus actually augmenting the building and repair process in regards to muscle. In addition, the digestion rate of many proteins, such as casein, can take up to 8 hours, feeding the body with amino acids throughout a large portion of the fast if consumed at the last meal. Also of concern is binging during the feeding time which seems to be the biggest mistake for IF beginners, and is why this eating style may not be for everyone. IF doesn't allow for a free pass to eat anything, as food choices should still be centered around whole, nutrient-dense foods that mirror the same caloric content and macronutrient ratios as would be in a frequent meal style of eating.
The implementation of the various IF protocols are dependent on many factors. Essentially the protocol that best fits your schedule and your psyche is ideal. One of the most successful protocols is the "Eat Stop Eat" fasting method by Brad Pilon. This IF strategy employs 1-2 full 24-hour fasts during the week. It is suggested that the fasting days are on non-workout days. Another practical and successful IF strategy is the "Lean Gains" approach coined by Martin Berkhan, where there is an 8-hour window of eating and 16 hour fast each day (a 10:14 ratio of eating: fasting can also be used). It is suggested that your workout is near the eating window and ideally allows for your largest meal to be after your workout. Finally another popular, though the more rigid, protocol is the warrior diet, which is a 4-hour eating window typically towards the evening each day. All of these approaches have been implemented with success as witnessed by their many testimonials and their popularity, but it's the one that fits into your particular lifestyle that will render the best results in fat loss and health.
It is important to realize that IF is just another way of eating. IF is a lifestyle, not a diet, and is meant to free people from the rigidity of constant feeding and worrying about food while still giving great fat loss and health benefits. With that being said I by no means tout IF as being the best eating strategy for muscle gain, fat loss, or even health, but it is certainly one of the most successful. It all comes back to what works for you and what is practical. If you are able to fit a "diet" into your everyday routine, you are able to adhere to it, and most importantly you can see yourself eating that way the rest of your life, then it's the "diet" or should I say lifestyle that's going to work for you. So I leave you with a challenge, try one of the above eating strategies for one week, see how you do. You might be amazed at how easy it really is to fast for fat loss!
Written by Adam Bisek