Intermittent fasting is becoming one of the most popular methods to lose weight and for good reason. It has been used for centuries for both physical and spiritual reasons and has stood the test of time to become more than just a 'fad'. Some people swear by fasted cardio for fat loss while others utilise the principles of the 5:2 diet to help them shed the pounds. But when you fast, a lot more happens to your body than just weight loss. I gave fasting a go and here's what I discovered.
It was the easiest weight loss I've ever experienced
I really struggle with my weight due to, honestly, being so greedy and essentially addicted to food. I exercise a lot which helps, but I'm just not one of these people who can eat 'everything in moderation'. If I have a tub of ice cream, the whole thing is getting eaten. That's 1,000 calories in one sitting without a second thought. I've tried 'dieting' before but I know as well as the next person that fad diets don't work and that restricting your favourite foods day-in-day-out is just miserable and you end up gaining back all the weight when you snap.
The difference with fasting was that by fasting 2 days a week (following in the vein of the 5:2 diet), my overall weekly calories dropped without me having to really do much else. What amazed me was that by fasting for those 2 days, my control over food increased and I was able to stop eating so mindlessly on the days when I did eat.
I took it day by day and gradually reduced my intake of unhealthy foods (especially at the weekend). I'm fully aware that there's no point in fasting/restricting during the week only to eat back all the calories at the weekend. However, it's important to point out that I would have been eating those calories at the weekend anyway due to my lack of self control, so if I had also eaten more calories during the week, my weekly total would be much higher and I would keep gaining weight.
Fasting gave me an easy opportunity to reduce my weekly calories and gave me time to think about my unhealthy relationship with food rather than feeling like I had to restrict myself every single day and feel like I was 'on a diet'.
I had so much more free time
I spend a lot of time preparing my lunch for work and doing the washing up when I get home which can really feel like a chore. I chose to have my fasting days on days when I'm in the office (I sometimes work from home), which meant I saved a lot of time not having to think about what to have for lunch in advance, prepare it, and then hand-wash the Tupperware afterwards (putting plastic in a dishwasher is such a disaster!)
Not only did I save time on lunches, I was able to have around 20 more minutes in bed in the morning because I wasn't preparing and eating breakfast before work. It worked out well for me because I usually just eat lunch at my desk, so I didn't miss it when I was at work and it actually freed up my time to focus on something else.
I saved money
I am very conscious of my weekly expenditure and pay careful attention to my budgeting. However, I'm hugely guilty of spending way more money on food than I should. This includes the weekly grocery shopping as well as takeaways, going out to eat, and top-up shops (usually for unhealthy snacks when the craving hits in the evening). By fasting 2 days a week I saved a huge £30 ($40) a week! That's £120 ($170) extra at the end of the month to go towards more important things.
I learnt to control my impulses
I'm definitely guilty of eating when I'm not actually hungry. By fasting, I was able to re-learn how to listen to my body and understand the difference between real hunger and 'toxic hunger'. It also taught me to be patient and not give in to cravings as soon as they hit. Instead, I learnt to wait until I was actually hungry to eat and not just eat 'because it's dinner time' or because other people were eating.
I didn't get hangry
The hunger I experienced when I was fasting was totally different to the hunger I feel normally. It was something I was totally in control of and it was easier to handle emotionally because I knew why I was experiencing it as I was the one causing it. Rather than being hungry because there was no food available to me, or because I wasn't letting myself give in to a craving, or because I was just bored, I was able to block out the hunger and ignore it. My brain was able to tell my stomach, "Yes, you're empty. Get used to it." As such, I didn't experience any of the usual symptoms that come with being hungry, such as anger and frustration.
A new lifestyle
My overall experience with intermittent fasting was hugely positive in so many aspects that I will continue it indefinitely. As it is such a tried and tested lifestyle choice, it is something that can be sustained for a long time. It's important to point out that I never fasted for more than 24 hours at a time and I did not exercise on days when I was fasting. If you are going to try fasting, it's vital you do your research first and only do it if it suits you.
As a method for weight loss, it worked for me because I'm an 'all or nothing' sort of person and so I'd rather eat nothing at all than be able to eat but not eat what I want (hence the entire tub of ice cream example earlier). This was only my experience and it won't be the same for everyone.
Chances are you have a rough idea what the Atkins diet is, and now you're hearing people talk about being on a 'keto' diet. But what does it mean? Is it an effective way of losing weight or just another fad diet?
What can you eat on a ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is an extreme low carb diet plan which aims to aid weight loss through achieving a state called 'ketosis'. When your body is in a state of ketosis, it burns fat as fuel instead of carbohydrate and the theory is that this is a good way to drop body fat. However, it is an extremely complicated and scientific process and must be followed very strictly for it to work.
With regards to what you can eat, the keto diet is strictly high fat, low carb. To be more specific, nearly no carbs at all. As soon as you slip and eat a small amount of carbohydrates, your body will snap out of ketosis and you will pile on weight due to your body storing the carbs. Ketosis is a state our body adapts to naturally when food supplies are low; it is a form of starvation mode. Whenever the body is in starvation mode, it naturally wants to hold on to as much energy as possible because it thinks there's a low food supply. So if you slip up or eat a snack, you'll hold on to it more so than if you were not following a keto diet.
A typical keto meal plan will consist of eggs, bacon and other fatty meats, double cream and other high fat dairy, and vegetables. You strictly cannot eat any sugar so that means no fruit or junk food, no starch so no potatoes, beans, or legumes, and no grains so no bread or cereals. It is a ridiculously tough 'diet' to stick to and it is advised that you should employ the help of a trained physician or medical professional as it is so complicated. This is not a diet to be taken lightly and it is strongly recommended not to follow it if you have not done proper research first.
Is the ketogenic diet safe?
The ketogenic diet was actually originally created as a way of controlling and treating epilepsy, and diet regimens like this have been used for hundreds of years. When modern treatments and anti-epileptic drugs became more widely available in the early 20th century, the use of extreme fasting diets declined. However, people began adopting this regimen for weight loss and interest has spiked in recent years, especially following the fame of the notorious Atkins diet.
There are a lot of negative side effects to being in a state of ketosis. Most infamously is the bad breath you will suffer. You will also suffer from increased urination as ketosis is a natural diuretic and this will also lead to suffering from an extremely dry mouth. It is also highly likely that you'll suffer from the 'keto flu' which has symptoms including headaches, nausea, fatigue, and cramping. As the ketogenic diet employs a lot of fasting, be prepared to be very hungry a lot of the time too!
In answer to the question, "is it safe?" the answer is only if it is followed properly. Any type of fasting or extreme change in diet should be monitored by a healthcare professional otherwise it could be potentially dangerous. If you still want to try this diet after reading the above, make sure you do your research first and are fully prepared.
How many carbs can you eat and still be in ketosis?
If you limit your carbohydrate intake severely by eating less than 15g per day, you will enter ketosis more quickly. You can eat up to 25g of carbs per day and still be in ketosis. Any more than this and you risk snapping back and storing fat. Your total carbohydrate intake should be no more than 5% of your total daily calories. You should have 75% fat and 25% protein. This is really not a recommendable ratio of macros and you should proceed with extreme caution.
Could you make hunger part of your daily routine? Could being hungry actually be good for you? Intermittent fasting is becoming increasingly popular in the fitness world, promising results of increased muscle, reduced body fat, and enhanced energy. Is this just another fad diet or is this the ultimate way to build muscle, keep fit, and stay lean in the process?
Fasting Diets Through History
Fasting isn’t a new concept. In fact, throughout history, our ancestors have been fasting for thousands of years and it is a key part of many religions. From Cavemen forced to feast and famine, to hunger strikes in political protests, and symbolic religious fasts said to cleanse the soul, fasting has always been a part of our existence. Throughout the ages, fasting has been proven to affect our physical, mental and emotional needs. But what are the health implications and how could it affect our training?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, it’s a pattern of eating. Intermittent fasting is not about starving yourself. Yes you will get hungry, but you do eat, eventually. Those embarking on an intermittent fast will typically split their day between two metabolic states, the fed state and the fasted state. Whilst the lengths of fasting differ between individuals, the most popular format is the 16/8 method. 16/8 requires 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8-hour eating window, for example between 12 pm and 8 pm users would eat and then fast from 8 pm until 12 pm the next day, providing a 16 hour fast.
Fed State Metabolism
Once you begin eating, your body enters into a fed state where your metabolism begins to convert carbohydrates, proteins and fats into energy. After you eat, there are high levels of nutrients in the bloodstream and blood sugar levels are high. In order to control this, the body releases insulin. At this point, your body’s ability to burn fat is limited. Your body remains in this fed state until it is finished digesting and absorbing your food.Typically, this can last anywhere between 3 to 5 hours after eating, depending on what it was you ate. After your food is digested we begin a transitional stage before fasting called the postabsorptive state. Finally, approximately 12 hours after our last meal, insulin has significantly dropped and our bodies move from the postabsorptive into a fasted state.
Fasted State Metabolism
When you go into a fasted state, insulin levels drop and your body now has to burn fat stores for energy. When it was fed, your body wouldn’t burn these fat stores as there was glucose to use as its primary source of fuel, but since that’s run out, your body is forced to burn fat. This is why those who follow an intermittent fast often lose weight without changing what it is they eat or how much training they do, simply by adjusting the timing of their eating they design an eating pattern for burning more fat. What’s more, in a fasted state, your body's human growth hormone levels are significantly higher, due to the fact you are using fat for energy rather than food so your body increases the production of human growth hormone in order to preserve muscle. The increased levels of human growth hormone can result in an increase in muscle gains, quicker recovery, and an overall leaner physique.
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can help weight loss.
Due to an overall reduction in your weekly calorie consumption, those using an intermittent fasting eating schedule are more likely to benefit from losing weight.
Intermittent fasting can lower your risk of diabetes.
Intermittent fasting is thought to lower the risk of type II diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and adjusting insulin resistance. Whilst it's difficult to find any conclusive research, some doctors have even argued type II diabetes can be cured with intermittent fasting. Weight-loss is at the forefront of treating type II diabetes.
Intermittent fasting can help your body repair.
Fasting initiates ‘autophagy’ in the body, this is a process of waste removal whereby the body starts to break down dysfunctional proteins which build up in the body. The removal of these waste products helps your body to function better and repair itself more effectively.
Will Intermittent Fasting Get Me Results?
There’s a vast array of suggested benefits of intermittent fasting which could inspire you to give it a go, however, studies with definitive research conclusions in humans are limited and so it seems the best way to find out if intermittent fasting is for you, is to try it for yourself. Keep a food and mood diary and take your weight, measurements, and photographs before and after a three-week trial to give yourself a full and fair picture of your progress. When you first start a fasting programme you may experience symptoms such as:
- Extreme hunger
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Feeling weaker
These symptoms should all fade once your body becomes accustomed to your new pattern of eating, however if you experience any more serious or unusual side effects it is best to return to your regular eating pattern and then contact your GP if symptoms persist.
Research has shown it takes 21 days to adapt to a new habit, so it's best to stick it out for 3 weeks to discover if it really works for you.