Beginners guide to Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a very popular eating pattern, and it’s also a very controversial topic. As with every popular thing, intermittent fasting also enjoys both positive and negative publicity.
On the one hand, you’ve got countless raving fans of the eating pattern, claiming that it is the best way to approach eating. Period.
On the other hand, there are the skeptics and haters of the approach.
Neither camp is completely right or wrong because intermittent fasting is a complex topic and there are no absolutes.
In this post, we will break down everything there is to know about IF, why it is legit, how to easily implement it into your lifestyle, and what are some of the associated benefits.
What is Intermittent Fasting and Why Should You Care About it?
As I mentioned in the introduction, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern, not a diet. Put in simple terms, it is the way you organize your meals each day. It doesn’t require you to eat any specific foods or avoid others; it only dictates when you eat.
But, why is it worth to change your eating pattern?
The biggest reason why many people try intermittent fasting is that it helps them get lean without having to resort to difficult diets and unsustainable meal frequencies. We’ll go over why that is in a moment, but first:
Intermittent fasting is loved by many because it offers sustainable results while making things easier - something we can’t say about most diets and weight loss tactics out there. For the average person with a typical eating pattern, going on intermittent fasting requires very little behavioral change. And the easier something is to follow through with, the more likely we are to stick with it, and the more likely it is to deliver great results for us.
So, How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
To understand why intermittent fasting leads to simple (and easy, even) weight loss, we first need to understand calories and how they dictate change.
It’s a very straight-forward process - eat more calories than your body burns, and you’ll gain weight. Eat fewer than that, and you’ll lose weight. Eat just as many calories as your body burns, and you’ll maintain your current weight.
No matter what meal pattern you follow, it’s the number of calories you consume that dictates change over time. You could be eating two meals per day and still gain weight, and someone else could be eating six meals while getting lean.
With that said, though intermittent fasting is not something magical that leads to weight loss on its own, it can make getting leaner much easier for most people. Here’s how:
If you’re currently eating between 6 am and 9 pm, that’s a 15-hour eating window. Even people with naturally small appetites can consume a lot of calories from meals, snacks, and drinks in such a long eating window. If your appetite is larger, you can see how eating thousands of calories becomes incredibly easy and losing weight becomes incredibly hard.
Now, if you condense that 15-hour eating window into six or eight hours (say, from 2 pm to 8 pm), then you’ll have the opportunity to eat fewer, but bigger and more satisfying meals. In fact, you would be able to do that, and probably eat fewer total calories without thinking about it.
You’ll automatically go from having three meals and two or three snacks to two meals and a snack. With fewer meals, calories also tend to go down, and weight loss begins.
In any case, experimenting a bit and finding what works best for you, as an individual, is a worthwhile investment.
Calories In vs. Calories Out
Many dietitians and fitness gurus out there hate the term calories in vs. calories out (CICO). They reason that calorie quality is what matters, not quantity. To be sure, the quality of your diet matters for general health and body composition, but it’s the number of total calories you consume that dictates weight loss, weight gain or weight maintenance.
Say that you’re an average person with an average activity level. Your TDEE is 2500 calories. If you eat 2000 calories per day, you’ll lose weight at a steady rate. If you eat 3000 calories, you’ll gain weight. And if you eat roughly 2500 calories, you’ll maintain your current weight over time.
It doesn’t matter if you exclusively get your calories from junk food or adhere to a nutritional plan made by a professional and filled only with whole, nutritious meals.
To be clear, I’m not saying that diet quality doesn’t matter. It does. But don’t expect to lose weight just because you’re eating ‘clean,’ unless you’re also eating in a caloric deficit. If you track your calorie intake and adhere to one of the three numbers from above, you’ll most reliably see the progress you are looking for.
Some people are naturally skinny and want to pack some mass, so eating in a caloric surplus is a good idea for them. Then, there are those who want to lose weight. For them, eating fewer calories than they are burning helps them shed some fat. And finally, there are those who like themselves for what they are, and they want to maintain. So, taking the middle road is what they need.
But, in any case, whether you like it or not, it’s calorie quantity that dictates change. You need to find what works for you, as an individual.
Three Great Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Many people do intermittent fasting for weight loss, but that’s not the only benefit to it.
1. Intermittent fasting can deliver sustainable results.
Many people scoff at the idea of intermittent fasting because they feel it is unsustainable. But, the truth is, intermittent fasting is much easier than any diet out there. It requires very little change in habits, it doesn’t restrict any foods, and it makes eating fewer calories easier and more enjoyable.
Think about it:
When you go on a diet, you are miserable. You’ve got yourself a mile-long list of foods and drinks you can’t consume. But you stick with it because you see some rapid weight loss. Plus, you’re motivated at first, and that helps.
But once the diet is over, you’re back to your old way of eating. Sure enough, like 95+% of people who go on a diet, you gain back everything you’ve lost. And then some.
But intermittent fasting is not like that. You don’t have to restrict your favorite foods. All you need to do is set up your eating window and adhere to it. For the majority of people, the 16:8 (which we’ll cover below) schedule works great. You don’t need to change much, and it’s much more sustainable than any diet out there.
2. Intermittent fasting simplifies our lives.
Actions that simplify our days and reduce stress are much more likely to stick around and become habits. Intermittent fasting is one of these actions.
With intermittent fasting, you get to enjoy the simplicity of worrying about fewer meals. If, for example, you skip breakfast in the morning, you can wake up, prepare yourself and head out the door without worrying about your first meal.
You don’t have to plan the meal, cook it, and stress about it.
3. Intermittent fasting teaches us self-control around food.
This might sound odd, but it’s true. Intermittent fasting requires some degree of self-control. During your fasts, you need to say no to food - the breakfast at home, a donut in the office, and the fancy coffee filled with tons of calories.
Though it might sound trivial, all of these small choices, repeated daily, teach us self-control around food.
Thanks to intermittent fasting, you learn the difference between hunger and boredom, you become more in-tune with your hunger signals and cravings, and you ultimately develop the skill of controlling yourself around food.
Examples of Ways to Implement Intermittent Fasting
If you’re interested in intermittent fasting, here are the most popular choices.
The 16:8/18:6/20:4 daily fast
These are three distinct ways of practicing intermittent fasting, but they are not that different from one another.
The 16:8 involves 16 hours of fasting each day with an 8-hour eating window. It’s also known as the leangains model. This is one of the best options for beginners and works for most people. Skip breakfast, have your first meal around 12-1 pm and eat your dinner around 8 or 9 pm.
The 18:6 goes a bit further than that, and your eating window is only 6 hours. For example, eating your first meal at 2 pm and your last at 8 pm.
And finally, the 20:4 fast has you eat for only 4 hours of the day. This is the most difficult of the three, but the eating window is pure bliss.
Every beginner should start with 16:8. As you get used to intermittent fasting, you can then try to work your way up to 18:6 and eventually 20:4.
The weekly fast
Also known as the Eat-Stop-Eat model, this style has you fast for 24 hours once a week. The idea is, you get to eat as you normally do for six days and then go from 8-9 pm to 8-9 pm on the next day without food. After that, you eat your normal dinner, and that’s that.
This is beautifully simple and works for weight loss. Over the six days, you don’t restrict yourself or diet in any way. Then, once a week you fast for 24 hours and eat only one meal, thus creating a weekly caloric deficit that, over time, leads to fat loss without you even thinking about it.
Alternate day fasting
A bit more complicated than the traditional 16:8, alternate day fasting has you go without any food for long periods on alternating days of the week.
Day 1: eat from 8 am to 8 pm
Day 2: eat at 8 pm only (just dinner)
Day 3: eat from 8 am to 8 pm
Day 4: eat at 8 pm only (just dinner)
Day 5: eat from 8 am to 8 pm
Day 6: eat at 8 pm only (just dinner)
Day 7: eat from 8 am to 8 pm
This is far more complicated for my taste, and it’s much more difficult to integrate into your lifestyle, especially if you train regularly and need to keep workout fuel in mind.
Still, it’s an option that also delivers the benefits of IF, and can also work great for fat loss.
The Bottom Line
Intermittent fasting is a tool you can use to get a job done. It has been tested by hundreds of thousands of people and many praise it for its simplicity and effectiveness.
But, at the end of the day, you need to find what works for you. We are all different, and while one thing might work great for lots of people, it could be ineffective for you and vice-versa.
At Fitlov, we completely understand that - we know that no one universal approach works amazingly well for everyone. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to provide our customers with the best home personal trainer and private fitness trainer in Dubai.