I feel like I have to start every article like this by saying “I intermittent fast” or at least I am not a hater. That said, I am about to sound like a hater.
Here is the problem with intermittent fasting for most people (including me) and I will use yesterday’s example to highlight what I am talking about.
I am currently recovering from knee surgery and going in today for an MRI on the other knee. So I am not in a cutting cycle right now. So I am not tracking the way I would during a fat loss cycle.
Yesterday I had to fast until 11:15 for some routine bloodwork (which to be honest I don’t really consider fasting even though I wake up around 6 am most days). My ceiling weight right now is about 205 but I have been hovering around 200 for the last couple of months. Sometimes lower but mostly around 201-202.
I am a pretty muscular guy so I would say at the moment I am operating at around 13-15% body fat which I think is perfect to hold muscle and maybe build a little along the way.
I would say 95% of the way I eat is mostly whole foods most of the time. I only mention that because I don’t eat 1,500 calories in one sitting typically. That’s going to be important as I walk you through this next part.
So right now I am eating mostly intuitively in good amounts with two bigger meals a day and two smaller meals/snacks and usually some kind of small dessert after dinner.
My preferred method of fasting is a 24 hour fast or something in the range of 20-22 hours, basically you stop eating around 8pm and restart somewhere between 4 and 8 pm the next day.
Since I had already fasted I figured why not continue and so I ended my fast around 530pm just under 200 pounds (199.7). Which was cool to see even if at the moment I am not actively trying to lose weight. I certainly would rather be under 200 most of the time but it’s not something that is a priority at the moment.
BY FAR the biggest thing that fasting does is affect your sodium levels because of the drastic change in calories and foods that hold your sodium levels stable.
You can drink water with electrolytes to stabilize that a bit but you won’t see the kind of weight loss you would if you don’t.
Besides, the foods that you eat out of your fast probably are going to be higher in sodium anyway. So it ends up being okay.
Fasting also affects your blood sugar and can often affect your sleep (like it did for me which gave me the time to write this article). The long and short is that fasting truncates a calorie deficit into a window so that when you re-feed the amount is typically going to be higher than you might normally eat during say dinner when eating regularly where meals spaced out throughout the day. While your body can adjust to this as you fast more it can be a real issue for some people if you can’t take a nap or you have to live on caffeine to get through the day.
Which brings me to cortisol. I would say at the moment most people are OVER aware of Cortisol yet they aren’t aware of what they can do to control Cortisol levels (besides lower stress, PS fasting is stress). Cortisol and Insulin basically work on levers, when Cortisol is high, insulin is low and the reverse is also true. So if you want to control cortisol levels keeping insulin regulated throughout the day is a good strategy to do so.
This is probably the strongest argument for small consistent meals where you have moderate carbohydrates in the mix, not to mention calories that aren’t consistently low for too long.
Ok, those are a lot of the details of what you need to know when comparing fasting to not fasting but there is one more important thing I need to mention…..
I already know what is going to happen before I even post this. In the comments there will be multiple people talking about how fasting changed their life and specifically the “skipping breakfast” form of fasting.
Let me make this clear, if on the way to work you stopped at the McDonald’s drive through most days or grabbed a couple doughnuts from the break room each morning and you stop doing that you took away calories from your diet and for a lot of people when you “break your fast” you are hungry. So that first meal is often 500-1000 calories.
If you take away 500-1000 calories you have created a SIGNIFICANT deficit in the way you eat and that will work well for a while but then it will stop because your body adjusts to that. So now what? Well, if skipping breakfast works great what about skipping lunch too?
BOOM, another 500-1000 calories down. Now you are eating One Meal a Day and it’s a pretty big meal, that works until it doesn’t so then you start doing alternate day fasting.
That works until it doesn’t and you are now doing multiple day fasting. When you are done fasting you lose 5-7 pounds which is awesome except you gain it all back in the refeed.
Which brings me to my last point…..
It’s not the fasting doing the magic, it’s the amounts and when you eat intuitively while fasting don’t be surprised if you over do it a bit because your body wants to address the deficit you created and needs to find balance.
When I woke up I was 201.8.
Which was a little frustrating but I know why, my sodium was a bit higher and most of my calories were consumed late. So my weight was up as a result. Even if my calories would have been in a deficit.
So while it was nice to see that 199.7 after fasting the previous morning I was 200.5 and was eating 4 meals a day with a dessert. A small change to my normal routine would have netted me roughly the same result without the extremes and I would be sleeping right now rather than writing this (I mentioned why above).
Which is a long way to say that the clock isn’t the magic as it relates to Intermittent Fasting, it’s the amount so if you want to control your weight and want to use IF as a tool knock yourself out. I am just saying that the extremes aren’t necessary when you are aware of the amounts. IF is a great tool to manage amounts but you need more specifics to know what is working and why.
Lastly let me say this, if you really want to take your IF game to the next level this is the most important thing I will say.
Stop fasting for long periods of time or shorten your windows but most importantly strategically add food back. IF is simply a deficit in most cases (though you can over eat if you aren’t careful), if you want a time frame we like 2-3 months followed by a “reverse” that is at least that long.
If this sounds like a lot and you are scared you might do it wrong most people do or they have some details wrong.
Feel free to hit us up and we can coach you through some of the common pitfalls but what you need to know is that you will get specific calories to follow so that you know what works and why.