What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is exactly what it sounds like you stop eating for a period of time. Now, this sounds like crazy talk – everything your mother told you never to do – skip meals you say – that’s not for me. But, on the level of eating fewer calories – it does make sense. You basically reduce your calorie intake by not eating at some points when you normally would.
Fasting has been a part of religions for centuries – so this is not new – even though it has only emerged as a lifestyle change in the last 10 years or so. Each year, for the one month of Ramadan, Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset – and then feast once dark. The 40 days of lent in the Christian calendar was originally intended to be 40 days of fasting. If nothing else, this seems to suggest that fasting is good for your spiritual health.
But, the truth of the matter is – we fast every day anyway. Think carefully about what we call our morning meal, that we eat after waking: break-fast. Therefore, every night we go to sleep we fast until morning. Surely, at some point, you have pulled an all-nighter and been surprised that you get hungry at 3am…?
You are still unsure that fasting on any level is a good idea? Many people have been programmed into believing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Added to this they are warned that starving can cause your metabolism to slow, which could lead to weight gain rather than weight loss. There is also the voice inside us that warns us that any fad approach to eating comes with hidden dangers of obsession and unhealthy habits.
Those who advocate intermittent fasting explain it as follows: our body takes three - four hours to process food, at which point it is not burning fat. It then goes into a 10 – 12-hour post absorption state – again, where no fat is burned but the body lives off the calories within the food. After this 16-hours total, the body then turns to fat stores to deal with the lack of food. Therefore, you begin to lose weight.
But, the important line between dangerous eating patterns and helpful, healthy lifestyle change is difficult to discern in the literature surrounding intermittent fasting. The marketplace for plans is certainly populated by testosterone-heavy diatribes and there is a lot of claim and counter claim. Before setting out on a plan of your own, you need to be certain of your ground.
What are the suggested benefits?
The benefits of intermittent fasting mainly revolve around loss of weight – whether this is a loss of fat or whether you face a loss of muscle mass is open for debate. Any plan that involves you taking in fewer calories is likely to end up with you weighing less. Some plans also claim that you become lean whilst dieting, in other words, you gain muscle whilst losing fat. So, some claim to put on weight, but only because they are putting on muscle. I am reliably informed this only happens if you go to the gym too.
Fasting is felt to be superior to dieting because it doesn’t involve you banning any food from your diet if you don’t want to. By not eating at some points means you are reducing your daily intake of food. However, it is also felt to be superior to dieting because it is suggesting a change in lifestyle rather than a short-term restriction on food. Dieting tends to be difficult because mentally we are being told we are not allowed something – come on now, how many of you have immediately wanted a burger the minute your wife declares you are on a diet? How many of you have sneaked out to your local fast food restaurant and eaten in your car before driving home for a salad? When you select an intermittent fasting plan you are committing to a lifestyle that will not change back in the future – this is now the way you eat.
Let’s not under-estimate the importance of forming daily habits as being a major positive of intermittent fasting. Most boom and bust body shapes are drawn into extreme diets and then once weight is lost return to the unhealthy eating patterns from before. Committing to changing completely to only eating healthy food can feel soul destroying – as you realize there is no end target you are aiming for. So, saying that you will fast at certain points and then eat what you want, within reason, in feeding periods, does offer a lifestyle that most of us can commit to. The easier we make changes to our life the more likely they are to work. The more restrictive the plan – the more likely we are to swing towards the opposite and binge our way to a size bigger waist than before.
There are also claims that intermittent fasting can extend your life. The reasoning behind this is, when the body is faced with a short period of starvation, will produce less insulin, which in turn stops you from being hungry. Instead, the body turns to stores of fat in the body, which can cluster around vital organs in the belly. Advocates also claim that you produce less harmful cholesterol. With these outcomes, your life could be extended by as much as a third. The suggestion is that we have become chronic over-eaters. Our paleo forefathers would have likely only eaten once a day on a mammoth leg or some such. In the modern age, we are slowly killing ourselves through over consumption.
Intermittent fasting is also meant to cause an increase in human growth hormone, by up to five times more than before. This is meant to help with muscle gain and weight loss. The body, in this starvation mode, instigates cell repair. This includes autophagy where cells are digested and remove old cells where dysfunctional proteins build up. Some even claim that intermittent fast causes a change in gene expression that dictates your longevity and susceptibility to disease. It reduces the risk of cancer and helps fight off the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Testosterone and Fasting
Besides the ability to control weight and help retain a lean body mass, intermittent fasting is thought to be one of the easiest ways to boost testosterone. As fasting has been found to reduce leptin levels hence promoting higher testosterone, in addition to this studies have found testosterone levels to be the lowest after a meal.
For further affirmation, we asked the biohacking experts from bulletproof about their take and this what they had to say:
"It depends on the duration and frequency of the fast. There are a series of studies done on intermittent fasting and testosterone increasing total testosterone in men. Long-term fasts will lower testosterone (and free testosterone plummets). The Bulletproof version of intermittent fasting is probably the best option because it is a fat only fast. The liver has access to plenty of sterols (raw ingredients used to make hormone) while expressing mTOR.”
Other proponents of the approach claim that the body’s natural reaction for maintaining health is fasting. A calorific diet is more likely to cause hormonal imbalance. By fasting you reduce calories and therefore reduce the chances of an imbalance. The fasting influences the expression of GnRH, LH, insulin and leptin – which means testosterone is boosted.
So in short, intermittent fasting can:
- Help you lose weight
- Help you diet whilst still being able to eat food
- Give you more energy
- Extend your life
- Help reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease
What are the downsides?
There had to be some alternative voices that warn against intermittent fasting. Firstly, there is the point that our body does need food to help us exercise and think better. Therefore, by removing a meal – let’s say breakfast – or even removing food for whole days – our performance will falter in these times. Those who are fans of intermittent fasting suggest this only happens when you first start and when your body becomes used to the new pattern you will feel more energy than you did before.
There are also those who advocate eating little but very often. This suggestion comes from the fact that our body actually burns calories whilst processing food. Therefore, if we eat lots of really small meals the body will, in fact, burn more than it takes in. The problem with this approach is portion control. Some start eating often and lots, which means you gain weight. Also, you are feeding your body when it isn’t actually hungry so all it does is deposit the calories in the fat store called belly. A guy called Mark Sisson claims that it could be as simple as eating when your body actually tells you that you are hungry – he calls this eat WHEN (when hunger ensues naturally).
Further downsides come when you consider what happens in feeding periods. If, over a long period, you reduce your calorie intake to below suggested guidance through fasting – you will essentially be starving yourself. You have to be clear that you still need to take in as many calories in the feeding portion of the eating regime as you would be expected to as part of a healthy diet. Then there is the flip side of this: once you have finished fasting you panic eat and over indulge in foods that are really not good for you – then all the health benefits become void. Even with intermittent fasting, there needs to be common sense applied to the food we actually eat.
How to incorporate Intermittent Fasting into your lifestyle?
There are a number of different plans that suggest a different schedule for fasting and feeding. These includes:
- Leangains by Martin Berkhan
- Bulletproof Diet by Dave Asprey
- Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilan
- The Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler
- Fat Loss Forever by John Romaniello and Dan Go
- UpDayDownDay or Alternate Day Fasting by James Johnson
It is worth looking at the background of these people. Some are doctors, some are scientists, some are personal trainers and body builders. Knowing the person behind the plan can help you decide on the validity of the approach – though – this, in turn, can be open to your individual beliefs about who should know best. So, I will leave that one with you the reader.
Here are some details of the plans.
This plan suggests that you should eat every day, within an eight-hour window. The other 16 hours should be a period of fasting. Those who use this approach suggest the easiest meal to skip is breakfast – or at least moving breakfast to 1pm. This means you can eat between 1pm and 9pm and then fast overnight and into the next morning when you are least likely to feel hungry. Most argue that you hardly notice that you are fasting and most of us would have done this many times when we have slept in, spending the morning in bed. Therefore, the argument is that this is the simplest way to include fasting into your day and so you are more likely to succeed.
The debate over how you take meals in the eight hours “feeding” window is open to the individual. Some suggest two hearty meals that include all the calories you would normally spread throughout the day. Some argue that you can match this approach with the idea of eating small amounts often. Therefore, snacking through the eight-hour window is much preferred.
The claims made by proponents of this plan are that it can help those who want to build muscle – especially if protein intake is high in the feeding window. They also claim to improve explosive power with less time in the gym. But, this is only true if the meals in the feeding plan are sensible and you do not binge to make up for the missed meal. The argument is you are less likely to do this with this plan because it is close to the way you eat now.
From the guys who introduced us all to the revolutionary biohacking, they have their version of intermittent fasting which incorporates their Bulletproof coffee. You begin your fast after your last meal of the day at 8pm, in the morning you start your day with a cup or 2 of bulletproof coffee and continue your fast until 2pm. The idea behind the Bulletproof coffee is to utilize the healthy fats present in the grass-fat butter as a source of energy and not have the urge to eat. Coconut Oil is another ingredient present in the Bulletproof coffee, which increases ketone production and may boost metabolism by up to 12%!!! The scientific evidence based concoction of the Bulletproof coffee has been selected for not only physical performance but for increased mental performance as well.
This plan suggests that you eat for one or two 24 hour periods. The timing of this could be from one evening meal to the next – so you always have a meal each day. Some suggest building up slowly to 24 hours of no food, taking on shorter periods of time at first. You are advised to drink throughout, though you should not have sugar in your drinks and only a little milk. There are forbidden foods in this plan, as the days when you do eat should be full of healthy food.
This plan takes effort and discipline. Going without food for 24 hours does have health benefits for our metabolism, it is only after three days of starving that it slows. However, it is difficult to fit fasting for 24 hours into daily plans and you will face difficulty at mealtimes – whether it is with your family or if it is a business meeting. In reality, the times you will need to break the fast will likely outweigh the possible benefits this strategy can bring you.
Remember the caveman with the mammoth leg – he is the warrior of the title of this plan. The suggestion is that our circadian rhythm would be more synchronized if we ate at night and fasted during the day – and this is likely what our paleo forefathers did. The plan does not suggest you fast completely during the day, instead, you are recommended to eat fruit, vegetables, and portions of protein. The 4-hour window when you can eat freely should be characterized as overeating, as you make up for the calories that you have missed in the day. As you are eating at night, the daytime will be a period of fat burning. It claims to promote alertness, boost energy and stimulate fat burning.
The obvious benefit of this plan is that you are never expected to live completely without food. The problem is the complexity of the food plan you are expected to follow. There are strict rules about what you can and cannot eat. If you are a dedicated gym-goer with a desire for rules – then you will be fine with this approach.
This plan allows you to have a cheat day. Already I have your attention – right? After your cheat day, you are expected to fast for 36 hours and then work on a 16:8-hour schedule of fast and feed. The plan offers a 7-day schedule that you follow and the rules are pretty strict. If you don’t want to have to think about what to eat when and that you enjoy the benefits of a cheat day – then this could be for you. But, it is far from the easy approach that will easily slot into your lifestyle.
UpDayDownDay or Alternate Day Fasting
This is a good plan who people who are used to being disciplined with food. The idea is to eat only 400 or 500 calories on a down day and then eat normally on an up day. This is a straightforward reduction is calories and will if followed well, result in weight loss. At first, the down days can be supplemented with meal shakes but the idea is to work towards eating food on these days that only count up to 400 or 500 calories. The advice is that you exercise on the up days when you are eating properly – otherwise, the lower calorie intake could reduce your performance and your energy.
Other Natural means of Boosting Testosterone
Tongkat Ali came to fame as potent aphrodisiac through Dr.Oz to the western world, prior to this Tongkat Ali has been a secret natural remedy in many South East Asian household. Not because there is a need for an aphrodisiac in every house, but due to the numerous benefits Tongkat Ali has to offer. The Testosterone boosting function of Tongkat Ali is on par with its aphrodisiac properties, one way the increase in testosterone is achieved by reducing the effects of the Cortisol, the stress-inducing hormone hence promoting higher levels of testosterone. Tongkat Ali is readily available in supplement forms, purchase from a reputable brand such as Real Herbs for the best quality ingredients.
Some hints and tips
- Choose a program you know you can stick with – this is the only one that will work for you
- Continue to drink water throughout the fasting period
- Make the largest proportion of your fasting overnight, as you sleep
- Be prepared to change the way you think about food – don’t commit to a short change in your diet, you need to commit to a long-term change in your lifestyle
- On days when you are fasting, over commit and make sure you are busy – getting food would then be an inconvenience and you are likely to forget you want any
- Remember a healthy balance must include exercise too but exercising whilst fasting is often counter-productive. Exercise during feeding periods.
- Include complimentary supplements such as Tongkat Ali to reap the benefits of Fasting