It isn’t every day you find a way to lose weight that is actually easy to do. But that is exactly what I found in Intermittent Fasting. Starting about two years ago I started a real Intermittent Fasting (IF) lifestyle. I had tinkered with this concept in the past but after a career shift to a desk job, reduced physical activity and higher stress caused some bad eating habits and I gained weight I had once lost again. It was depressing to say the least.
The Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting
My first experience with IF was about nine years ago now, I believe. I was boxing and doing night shift work. I was always the type who did not like to eat before physical activity as it made me feel bloated and slowed me down. IF was something I did naturally when doing any physically demanding work. Since I was boxing I just would not eat before or during any gym session.
Enter – Intermittent Fasting
My first run consisted of me working nights and not packing a lunch. I was not super strict so if hunger was too intense, I would have a snack. This worked for me. But for everyone who knows about IF, they know what I was doing was not real IF. Fast forward to two years ago (2014 / 2015). I was at a desk all day and did not like to eat during the day as when I went back to my desk I felt bloated all day because I was just sitting. I was eating a couple granola bars or protein bars but it never made me feel full or satisfied. If anything, it made me want more food.
I decided to give IF another try – which has evolved into one of many intermittent fasting diet success stories. It helped me feel better in the past, and I did lose weight. But, at first, that was not the goal. Eating made me feel bad during the day and was a distraction.
What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is NOT a diet. It will not automatically help you lose weight (Okay, maybe a little – but I will address that). IF is a lifestyle. When I (And everyone worth their salt when it comes to fitness and long term weight loss) suggest a lifestyle change to keep weight off forever, this is the perfect example. The lifestyle is eating during specific windows of time.
This leads to a lot of variations in the diet. The concept is simple, you have a period of time you eat or a window as it is called in IF circle. It is important to know that during the non eating window you can not consume any calories. You can drink black coffee or water, but no sugary drinks or food. If you have calories while fasting, you are really not fasting. Now that you know what IF is, your next question is what is the best intermittent fasting eating window. When I started, I had the same question, as like always, everyone had a different answer when trying to pick the best intermittent fasting eating window.
Some of the more popular IF structures are:
- Martin Berkhan’s Leangains Method (Known as the 16/8 Method)
- 24 Hour Fasting Period
- Michael Mosley’s 5:2 Method
- The Warrior Diet
- The ‘I forgot to eat’ Method
Each structure has it’s benefits and we will go over some of them. IF is about having a structured period of time in which you eat, and the majority of the time you are not eating. This is the direct opposite of what I call ‘Bro Science’ touted by the majority of the fitness community. I address this in the article on How Often Should I Eat to Lose Weight? The misconception is you should eat six small meals a day to lose weight. This is a viable structure for some people, but the article addresses that the science says every type of eating schedule has its benefits and negatives. The fact is, no eating patter is proven superior over another.
Fasting May be Natural
Some cultures fast for religion or cultural tradition. These cultures do not have mythic ‘metabolic shutdown’ or go into ‘starvation mode’ (Which we blow apart in our article on Body Recomposition). No, these cultures are in large parts in better shape than western cultures that eat the standard three meals a day, or more common three meals and a lot of snacking (Which is effectively six meals a day). Plus, aside from my own, there are countless intermittent fasting diet success stories.
We have now addressed the elephant in the room, that IF can’t work because we need to eat more often to lose weight. That is false. It may work for you, but does not work for everyone. If you are eating more often and gaining weight, it should be time to consider IF.
Let’s get down to the meat and bones of IF, the different protocols. I want to first talk about the least ‘Intermittent Fasting’ IF protocols on the popular list. That is right, some highly touted IF protocols are not exactly IF. The first is the Warrior Diet. The Warrior diet is a hybrid approach to a diet. It combines the Paleo Diet with some principles of IF – albeit loosely.
The Diet of the Warrior
Basically, the Warrior Diet is light snacking on only some fruits and vegetables and having a four hour full eating period where you eat Paleo food. You know, all natural and fresh grains, meats and vegetables. Why is this not IF? It is designed to allow you to eat some food during the day – which is the opposite of fasting. But still, good marketing has made The Warrior Diet a staple in IF circles.
Next up we have the 5:2 method. The principle is very simple. You have five normal eating days a week, and two very low calorie days a week – in the range of 500 calories on those days. The premise and design is for weight loss and management. The diet requires the two days to be split. This is not exactly IF because the fasting periods you are still eating.
The third intermittent fasting diet meal plan is what I call the ‘I forgot to eat’ plan. This intermittent fasting diet meal plan is what busy people do. Or, forgetful people. In my opinion, a combination of both. See, you can go hours without eating unintentionally. You can just say you are fasting when you realize you forgot to eat. My problem with this approach is the lack of structure, and it promotes a bad lifestyle. I tend to notice people who do this end up eating a poor diet and binge when they do eat.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Absolutely. If you stick to the two plans I am suggesting. The fourth intermittent fasting diet meal plan is the 24 hour IF protocol. This is going 24 hours without eating. It is that simple. You really are fasting in the clinical sense. No eating means you have time to not eat. You can exercise and enjoy all the IF health benefits. You will also notice you have a lot of free time. The 20 minutes waiting for you to make pasta. The hour and a half at the restaurant. You will have time to accomplish a lot.
But my absolute favorite plan is the 16/8 or less diet plan. I learned about this from articles by Martin Berkhan. This is one of the few times I can fully endorse you to learn from someone else, so you can go here to learn from the guru himself. The concept is simple, and it makes this the best intermittent fasting fat loss meal plan. It is the best intermittent fasting fat loss meal plan because it allows your body to go into a fasted state for at least four hours.
What is intermittent fasting for fat loss?
Your body is normally in a fed state. This is the state in which your body uses consumed energy. After about 12 hours of not eating, you are in an unfed state. This is the optimal period for fat loss. When you hear the advice for fasted cardio to lose weight, that is because if you should be going into an unfed state which allows you to burn calories from fat.
In addition, when you lift weights for muscle growth the intention is to damage or destroy muscle cells which are later repaired when you are in a fed state. This means, in theory, IF is the perfect way to build muscle and lose weight. I tend to completely agree with this. Not only does the science support this (Which is linked at the end of the article), Martin Berkhan has been well respected as the IF expert for decades now.
The best intermittent fasting eating window is only eating a maximum of eight hours a day. This means you need to at the very least skip either breakfast or dinner. I personally skip two meals a day and have a four to six hour eating window. This allows me to not eat at all during the day while at work and train in a fasted state. This is a large part of my personal rapid fat loss. Just about 100 pounds currently. This is the secret I tend to not share because most people do not understand the science and think it is unhealthy. Not only does intermittent fasting work, it is also healthy.
When you are fasted your Growth Hormone spikes, which leads to cellular repair, growth and fat loss. Insulin levels drop dramatically and improves insulin sensitivity. This leads to easier fat loss and improved health. Genetic expression also increases which helps fight off disease and promote longevity.
An Intermittent Fasting Fat Loss Plan
Weight Loss is the primary reason people start an IF lifestyle. It sounds great, you eat less meals. At first, it isn’t that easy. You will be hungry a lot. Your appetite will also be going crazy. Remember the increased Growth Hormone? Yup, that makes you more hungry. The good news is over time it is easier. You will not be hungry. The first two weeks your body will be getting used to the new protocol so you will need to suck it up.
My personal recommendation on how to start an intermittent fasting diet is to start small and work your way up. First you cut out snacks and maintain for a week. Then the second week cut out one meal. The eating period you have is up to your. To get the most out of the fat loss is to make sure you are exercising while fasted, which is known as fasted training. This is the optimal way to build muscle and also lose fat, an essential part of losing weight and fat while doing IF.
My IF protocol looks something like this:
Monday to Friday:
Midnight until 7 pm: Fasting
7 pm until 11 pm: Feeding Window
Saturday and Sunday:
Midnight until 4 pm: Fasting
4 pm until 8 pm: Social Eating (Family or Friends)
It is that simple. I allow myself four to six hours of eating. The bulk of it is one meal right after the fast ends and a snack later on in the evening. I find this optimal for fat loss too. It allows me to train without eating and distraction from food. You will have a lot more freedom to accomplish exercise when you stop worrying about optimal meal time or frequency and just put in the work.
The Intermittent Fasting Cheat Sheet
A Guide to Intermittent Fasting
For anyone still confused, this is where we are at. IF is proven to help you lose weight and also help you improve over all health. The best way to actually IF in a long term, sustainable way is to follow a few simple steps.
- Cut out Snacks
- Cut out one Meal
- Have at least a 16 hour window of non – eating.
- Exercise during the last four hours of a fast.
- During non – fasting time eat sensibly.
That is all there is to it. It really is that simple to IF. It does not need to be complex to work. This is the easiest lifestyle change I have ever made and has made an incredible impact on my overall health and made weight loss almost easy.
Find all the resources used in this article and the scientific basis of all our article at The Science Behind Fitness.