What if I told you it’s possible to easily lose weight and maintain your muscular frame without feeling like you are actually on a diet? What if you could lose weight without having to ninny pick your meals and (always) avoid lovely treats like ice cream, cheesecake, and those $.10c buffalo wings?
Not possible right? We’ve all heard those infomercial scams on late night TV (or on some website promoting quick and effortless results for the low cost of $19.99).
…But what if these claims are actually true.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Intermittent Fasting (also known as ‘IF’).
The Intermittent Fasting movement has picked up steam the past couple years and has now turned into one of those bona fide ‘fad’ diets spewed out of sensationalizing media outlets such as Men’s Health, and Dr. Oz.
Hell, BBC even made a popular Horizon documentary about it where the doctor/host actually goes on a half-assed variant of IF and still gets good results.
As of 2017, Intermittent Fasting is no longer a niche ‘against the establishment’ diet that it was, way back in 2009 when I first started pursuing it. Now, it’s practically preached on every fitness blog and magazine you can find. Heck, even the host of Ultimate Beastmaster’s talkes about his fasting diet.
So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard something about this ‘fasting diet thing.’
When I first started this diet back in 2009/2010, people thought I was crazy, as it went completely against the common ‘advice’ of eating 6 small meals per day, lest you lose your muscle mass (which if you think about this a bit, is ridiculous).
I suspect, coming in 2017 (I wrote this post in 2014, but updated it 2017), most of you have heard of this diet by now.
IF is, unlike quite a few of the diets out there, worthy of attention — if you cut through a lot of the hype bandied around by the media. It’s not the catch-all diet that people make it out to be – IF itself won’t cure cancer, do your taxes, or deliver you from chronic health problems, but for what it does, it does well: you can get ripped down without feeling like you are a starving African child.
Intermittent Fasting is not so much of a diet as it is a lifestyle.
So what is Intermittent Fasting? In short, it’s pretty damn simple: you intentionally skip breakfast.
Now that’s probably ‘too simple’ for most of you. So let’s expand with a longer version. With IF, you fast for part of the day — usually by having an early dinner and skipping breakfast the next day.
Now depending on your particular flavor of IF, that fast could be anywhere from 14 hours all the way to 20 hours (yea, I don’t get the daily 20-hour fasting thing either, but some people do it). However, the vanilla IF diet usually involves fasting between 14 to 16 hours a day – which is the sweet spot where the science behind IF shows you get most of the pros without most of the cons.
My Experience with Intermittent Fasting
I’m so keen on IF because I myself have been following an IF diet for years now, way back before when Intermittent Fasting was just a niche thing and the average person thought it was crazy. I started on it around 2010 and I’ve been living the IF lifestyle ever since.
It’s a bit gratifying seeing how ‘mainstream’ IF has become and with that popularity more and more research now supporting the original theories behind it. The bottom line is that I can personally verify that IF does in fact work.
So I can tell you I’ve had quite a bit of hands-on experience doing IF, testing it, and even helping other people transform their bodies following the Intermittent Fasting lifestyle.
For example, here is someone I helped coach who used Intermittent Fasting to lose weight over about a year:
Here is my own transformation, from about 70 kilos at 20 percent body fat to about 6-7 percent body fat using the IF diet (I was also doing Muay Thai combined with IF).
I’ve been pretty casual about it myself and haven’t been trying to specifically cut X weight in X amount of time and I haven’t been super strict with counting calories or cycling the carb and fat macros (as is the case with the LEANGAINS version of IF) on workout days, but the diet has worked great for me for years. IF really comes into its own when you want to get ripped and STAY ripped without too much pain. Many people can do crash diets to lose weight and get a six pack say, but how often to they end up binging their way back into fatness? Most! There are some who OCD their way into staying ultra-lean, but it’s a lot of work and requires having a personality disorder about food and life. Intermittent Fasting, if you follow it right, can make staying very lean pretty easy for the most part without a lot of the headache traditional diets impose.
me in 2010 at 20 percent BF
me in 2012 at about 10 percent BF (using the IF diet for about 8 months)
me in 2014 at 6 percent BF (cutting with the IF diet & Muay Thai) <— mirror picture so the tattoo is on OTHER arm in case you peeps think I’m faking these
All the fancy science and benefits aside, IF works because it’s so damn easy to do and it makes dieting easy.
If you are interested in IF, you absolutely should read Martin Berkham’s LeanGains.com. Martin was the guy who pretty much popularized IF way before anyone even knew about it (his style of IF called Leangains, came out of his own years of experience testing different fasting diets and hundreds of clients he’s worked with to successfully transform their bodies). Martin’s no BS, research and science-driven look at the facts bucked a lot of the fitness-fad bullshit that habitually spout (incorrect) bro-science as fitness and nutritional dogma.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
So with a million and one different diets out there, what does IF offer you that’s different?
Quite a bit, actually. And unlike a number of other diet approaches, the science behind IF is pretty sound. And yea, it’s working wonders for like a shitload of people (just do a search online and see how many people love it).
Before we get into HOW to go about intermittent fasting in the next article, let’s look at WHY you should take up intermittent fasting:
Less Hunger While Dieting
This is the by far the biggest advantage of IF – the hardest part about dieting (the hunger pangs) are mostly taken out of the equation.
Skipping a meal (like breakfast) means that you have more calorie allotments for your other two meals. That means you can eat bigger, more satisfying meals without worrying so much about feeling hungry afterward. Anyone who has gone on a ‘diet’ before knows exactly what I am talking about here. With IF, you can pretty much stuff yourself (within reason) when you eat your two or so meals a day.
One of the most common questions people have when it comes to the fasting diet is ‘won’t you feel hungry in the morning if you skip breakfast?’
The short answer is yes, for the first few days. But very quickly your body adapts to meal frequency change and your body’s production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, adapts to the new meal pattern. The end result is that after a couple days, you won’t feel hungry in the mornings anymore.
There are a few other ‘tricks’ that can help suppress your appetite as well that we’ll talk about later.
Flexibility. Once You Start You Won’t Go Back
IF is so great because it’s a flexible approach to eating food that ‘frees’ you up from being a slave to the kitchen. IF basically throws out that whole ‘eat 6+ times a day’ meal timing approach that the fitness world has been preaching the past couple decades (which is based on incorrect research). IF’ers can eat whenever they want, at whatever time they want AS LONG as it’s within the feeding period (and you are meeting whatever caloric requirement you’ve set for yourself).
You don’t have to eat every two hours; you don’t have to eat breakfast!
Way back years ago when I first started lifting weights, I bought into the whole eat 6-7 times a day thing. I became pretty slave-ish about worrying about getting my meals in every 3 hours. After a few months of this, I couldn’t even leave the house without panicking about not making my meal tally for the day. You know like if you don’t get that 2:30 pm protein shake in, your muscles are going to pretty much fall off.
IF tosses that multi-meal-a-day bullshit out the window and focus rather on meeting your weekly calorie counts rather than daily ones. You can eat one meal a day, two meals a day, or three meals a day, as long as you reach your calorie totals. And hey, if you mess up one day and pig the fuck out on three large pizza’s followed by a chocolate milkshake at Domino’s like I did last week, hey you can simply eat less calories the next day or extend your fast period to ‘make up’ for it and put your weekly calorie count back in the green.
IF empowers YOU to live a more relaxed lifestyle. It’s flexible, simple, and most importantly, you are not a slave to the kitchen. You can do other stuff with your life rather than worry about eating every couple hours!
It’s Easy to Keep Calories in Check
Yes, it’s true! You might think that fasting would make you overeat when you break your fast, but you’ll find this is actually not the case. Depending on how you put together your meal plan, you may find yourself eating twice a day (I do). Since your daily allowance of calories is split into two meal, you may find it easier to keep your calories at a maintenance or deficit.
It’s easy to keep your daily calories in check because you can eat once or twice a day with each meal being huge. Because you can get away with only 2 meals, you have more flexibility with your calories (1-2 meals instead of 3). The first meal of the day is often the biggest – you load up on the food and you often feel pretty stuffed. You eat MAN-sized portions, not child-sized.
This means you don’t feel like you are starving – one of the hardest parts when you are on a calorie deficit diet.
IF can Help You Stay Lean on Vacation / Occasional Food/Drink Binges
Because of the flexible approach that IF gives you when it comes to picking and choosing when you eat, you can use this to your advantage when you travel to stay pretty lean without gaining fat on vacation. It also allows you to plan for major cheat days — that all you can eat + drink bender on Saturday with your friends, that Turkey thanksgiving meal with your parents on Sunday, etc.
I’ll get more into HOW you do this in the next article.
Easier to Maintain Low Bodyfat State
I’ve heard other people say this same thing and I can personally verify it myself. Whatever it is with Intermittent Fasting — the flexible approach to calorie management, not feeling as hungry because you eat large meals during the day so you don’t overeat on calories, or the hormonal & metabolic tricks of fasting, staying very lean (under 10% bodyfat) is pretty easy to do. Mind you, it still requires effort and some control, but not crazy levels of it. With regular diets, you can get below 10% (the point at which a six pack appears) but it often takes everything but the kitchen sink to get lower and it’s even HARDER to maintain a very low bodyfat. With IF, staying ultra-lean is pretty easy for the most part and you don’t have to live your life around a super strict diet either.
You Get a Mental Boost
Cutting calories usually puts you all over the map in terms of focus and state of mind. IF, however, can actually help boost your focus and productivity. Yes, I kid you not.During the fasted state, your body increases production of catecholamines, a stimulant hormone released by your body that helps increase mental focus. Basically, you’ll feel more focused. The stimulant production often peaks near the end of your fast – which if you have a normal ‘schedule of skipping breakfast’ means you’ll be particularly focused in the later part of the morning during prime work hours. Cheers for more productivity at your job.
More Stable Blood Sugar Levels throughout the Day
When you are in a fasted state, you are more likely to have more stable (i.e. less high and low spikes in blood sugar) blood sugar levels. What does this mean for you? You’ll have more stable energy levels during the day and fewer mood swings. As someone who tends to crash during the early part of the afternoon, this is a very good thing. Having regular energy levels during the day means you can just get on with your day without falling asleep or crashing half way through.
Helps Preserve Muscle during Weight Loss
IF can help you keep more muscle mass as you lose weight during a cut diet. For anyone who’s ever done a cut, one of the biggest issues you have is your drop muscle along with your fat. How much muscle depends on your genetics, your diet, and your workout, but no matter what you do, you will eventually lose muscle (and strength) as you cut, especially as you get into the lower body fat levels.
IF can help stave off muscle loss as you get lower and lower. It’s not a magic pill and you will still lose some muscle, but you may find you can keep more muscle for longer. This certainly was the case for me when I cut down from 170lbs to about 140lbs and from 20% BF to 10% BF. I kept most of my strength during most of the cut.
Fasting Suppresses Insulin Levels
The Key benefit to fasting is that your insulin levels are reduced. Less insulin in your blood means your body will source its energy from your fat reserves rather than the non-fat sources. This means you burn more fat for the same amount of time.
Along the same lines, this leads to our other point.
‘IF’ Helps Reduce Stubborn Body Fat
Stubborn body fat is fat that you just can’t seem to get rid of, even when you get down to lower body fat levels (10 percent).
Basically, IF is a great way to get your body fat into the single digits. In layman terms, that means getting absolutely fucking shredded.
This problem really only affects those trying to get down into the single body fat levels, but if you’ve ever tried to go below 10% bodyfat, you’ll find there are fat deposits in certain areas of the body that just refuse to go away. These areas are often found in the lower abdomen and back.
Fasting often really helps you lose this stubborn body fat.
I won’t go into the heavy scientific research about this, but fasting can help reduce Stubborn Body Fat because:
- Fasting increases catecholamine levels (which is a good thing when it comes to burning body fat)
- Fasting increases blood flow to ‘stubborn body fat areas’
- Fasting keeps your insulin levels very low; your body has more time to burn fat from stubborn areas
Basically, when 1-3 happen, your body is in an optimal fat-burning state. And keeping this optimal state happening over and over every day (as is the case with IF), means it’s easier to get rid of that stubborn fat.
Martin Berkham does a fantastic job of explaining what stubborn body fat is and how IF helps get rid of it.
What Intermittent Fasting Won’t Do…
Intermittent Fasting is not some miracle diet. Just because you fast, you are not going to magically get ripped, build more muscle, lose your depression, find a girlfriend (or boyfriend), or become a better Muay Thai fighter.
IF is not carte blanche to pig the fuck out on whatever and however much you want.
IF is a flexible approach to dieting where you eat between a certain period of time (and avoid food the rest) to take advantage of some metabolic and hormonal tricks. Over TIME, these tricks can be advantageous when it comes to weight loss, muscle development, etc.
However, at the end of the day, it’s still a diet. It still takes work. It still takes effort. You still have to be at a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight (read my How to Lose Weight and Transform Your Body). You still have to be at a calorie surplus if you want to gain weight. You still have to lift weights to help transform your body. You still have to have some discipline. You still have to know what you eat, how many calories you are eating and make proper food choices (most of the time — that occasional cheesecake or ice cream or drinking binge is perfectly ok).
The Final Word on Intermittent Fasting
Ultimately, you’ll have to try IF for yourself and see if you like it. Like every diet/lifestyle, it’s not for everyone. But should you want to easily lose weight without feeling like you are starving yourself half to death while keeping as much muscle mass as possible, I can’t recommend a diet/lifestyle more effective (and easy!) than Intermittent Fasting.
You don’t have to ‘fast’ to lose weight. There are plenty of other diets out there like IIFYM, Paleo, Low Carb that work just fine. At the end of the day, if you want to lose weight you are going to have to cut your calories, no matter what diet you choose. The key difference here is that IF is a flexible approach to dieting; Intermittent Fasting just makes it seem like you are NOT on actual diet.
If you are interested in IF, stay tuned for the next part in this series in a couple days giving you the basics on how to start fasting for weight loss and body transformation: The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting.
One question I have been getting is if it’s possible to combine Intermittent Fasting with Muay Thai. The answer is yes and I have been doing it for a few years here in Thailand. Doing so successfully (especially if you want to train twice a day and fight, which most people who do Muay Thai won’t ever do) requires you to make some serious adjustments to the weight lifting part of IF and the diet aspects, but yes it is possible to combine the two. If there is interest, I may right a short intro guide on how to go about Intermittent Fasting for Muay Thai.
If you are part of the .01 percent of the population who likes reading the research behind the claims, I forward you to some further reading (this is just a small extract of the large body of research and info out there now about IF):
- start with this one by Martin Berkham: Top 10 Fasting Myths Debunked
- Meal Frequency Does Not Increase Metabolism
- New York Times Debunks 6 Meals a Day Myth
- Fasting Does Not Cause Muscle Loss
- (IF preserves muscle mass on calorie deficit)
- The BBC Horizon Documentary that helped bring IF to the mainstream attention
- BBC tries IF again !