Monday, April 12, 2010

Intermittent Fasting Part one - the overview

I'd like to let you in on a little secret that I use to keep slim and perform well all day. It's called intermittent fasting.

The whole concept is very simple. Thinking back to our paleolithic ancestors, they had to eat what they could when they could. Food wasn't always available. For this reason our bodies have developed a host of defense mechanisms designed to deal with times of food scarcity and we function extremely well during those times.

Now before I go on, I have to point out that I am in no way advocating starving yourself. You still need to get enough total calories, but you can adjust when you take those calories in in order to give yourself a helping hand with weight control and performance.

Our Central Nervous systems tend to exist in one of two main states. Most have heard of fight or flight. The other state, which is the opposite of fight or flight, is commonly known as rest and digest. Approximately eight hours after you eat your last meal, your body is in full on fight or flight mode. Your muscles and brain are receiving ample blood and oxygen to operate at peak capacity, your senses are tuned and, on a primal level, you are ready to go hunting.

As soon as you eat, you enter rest and digest mode. All of a sudden, most of that blood which was carrying oxygen and nutrients to your brain and muscles, gets diverted to your digestive tract. Your digestive tract is a large system of organs requiring lots of blood  in order to function properly. That's why you tend to want a nap immediately after a large meal. Your body literally wants to rest and digest.  That's why I try to wait a minimum of four hours after a meal to work out and I prefer to work out in a fasted state. I find that if I work out 12 - 14 hours after my last meal I can work out harder and tend to get an overall better workout.

Aside from workout performance there are a great many benefits to intermittent fasting. The first one I'll outline here is  weight control. Approximately four hours after you eat your body enters a "Pre fasted" state. Around this point, your body has broken down all the food from the last time you ate into amino acids, glucose and  glycogen. These are stored in your body, amino acids for building and repair, glucose for immediate energy. Glycogen  gets stored in your muscles and liver for energy to be used a little bit further down the road.

Around eight to twelve hours after eating, your body has pretty much used up all it's glucose and glycogen and now must look to other sources for fuel. Now it taps into a pretty much unlimited source of energy stored in all of us.... Bum Ba Da BUUUMMM!  Body Fat Stores! Our bodies are amazing machines which are designed to survive and thrive in a vast array of conditions and we are incredibly efficient at utilizing out adipose tissue as fuel. After all what is our fat stored for in the first place? To protect us during times of food scarcity.

Unfortunately for us, this has almost become a redundant survival mechanism because civilization has developed to the point that food scarcity doesn't really exist for most people in the developed world. This means that we can store and store and store in preparation for a famine that doesn't ever arrive. This is bad news for our waistlines. The good news though is that, with a little practice and discipline, we can utilize that survival mechanism to free us from food addiction and once again begin to eat to live as opposed to live to eat.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love to eat. Eating is one of my favorite activities. That's a big part of why I love intermittent fasting so much. By eating less during the day I can now enjoy a feast every evening with no guilt. I still am very careful to make good caveman food choices, but I can now eat until my heart's content every night and not feel guilty about it.

Let's talk about how to go about intermittent fasting.

There are two main ways that people go about it.
1) Brad Pilon, author of Eat, Stop, Eat recommends alternate day fasting. Once or twice a week, you just go the whole day without eating. You eat supper the night before, wake up the next morning and don't eat until you wake up the day after. This generally equates to a 36 hour fast. This method can be quite convenient for many people, as you just wake up and forget about food for the day. The next day you get up and go about your business as usual eat as you wish. People generally consume about twice as many calories the day after a fast but I have heard of people finding much success with this method.

2) The other method is the method I use. Instead of alternate day fasting, I do a daily fast of 16 - 18 hours. I stop eating every night at 6 - 8 pm and I don't eat until around noon the next day. I have found great success with this method because I don't really feel like eating breakfast most days. This is generally because we wake up in a pre fasted state and our bodies are primed to fast for the day and not eat until the work needed for survival is done.

I recommend giving each method a try and see which you prefer. If you do alternate day fasting, start with one fast a week of 24 hours to see how you cope.

If doing the  daily fasting method start with a 12 hour fast. it's not too complicated, just move breakfast back a few hours. As you find success, start pushing breakfast back more and more until you are fasting from 16 - 18 hours daily.

With both these methods the trick is to stars slow. Listen to your body and as you learn to tune in to your hunger reflex, you will be able to recognize when you truly are hungry. When this happens eat.
Use Intermittent fasting as a tool not the rule. Play around with it and and out how it works for you. When I first started, I did daily fasts of about 15 hours and this was a challenge for me every day. Now I do 18 hour fasts daily and it's second nature.

If you fast, one thing I have to stress to you is to EAT! It can be very easy to get carried away and take it too far. As I stated before use IF as a tool and make it work for you. Make sure your food intake is still enough to maintain a healthy weight and stick to good healthy food. Many People try to IF on crap and it just retards their progress.

To sum everything up.... Fast for improved health and weight loss. Don't fast every day and if you are truly hungry than break your fast. Stick to healthy foods except for your weekly cheat meal. If you find you are losing performance in the gym you have gotten carried away and increase your intake.

Good luck. Give IF a try. If you have any difficulty please feel free to ask questions in the comments section. I am going to further cover the other health benefits in the following  series of articles.

Yours in Optimal health


  1. Joey!it's richard's my first time hearing about IF, very interesting. it's definitely different from what other people have been trying to convinced us taking several small meals through the day, very new concept to me anyway. i'd like to try it out as i found my weight control was a little difficult lately...So if i wanted to try the daily IF method, would i only eat lunch and supper a day? are there any other meals between those two? how big are those meals supposed to be? btw, thank you very much for sharing all the wonderful stuff here. YOU DA MAN!

  2. Hi Richard,

    If your comment doesn't get posted right away, don't worry it's because all comments go to me to be moderated before getting published.

    To do daily IF you would generally break your fast with lunch yes. This means that I do eat 2 slightly larger meals a day. You are free to snack in between if you get hungry. You are pretty much free to eat anytime during the eight hour "feeding window". I always have nuts on hand if I get hungry between lunch and supper.

    If you are doing this to loose weight be careful not to go too far. Don't fast every day and eat a little bit less on your fasting days ie...slightly larger lunch and supper. You'll know it if you start to loose too much weight because your performance will start to drop. That should be taken as an immediate sign to eat more.

    Good luck Richard and let me know how it is working for you and feel free to ask any questions you may have