When you think about changing your eating habits, the first thing that usually comes to mind is eating the right food and avoiding the wrong food. Either it’s eating fewer carbs, less fat, more protein, or eating less in general. However, the focus of most diet programs is often on what you eat.
But what if we’re missing the point? What if it’s less about what you eat… and more about WHEN you eat? Is it possible to get rid of unwanted body fat, build muscle, and boost our overall health by changing your meal timing?
Well, one of the most popular systems that has sprouted in recent years that is all about WHEN you eat is “intermittent fasting”.
The concept of intermittent fasting comes down to adjusting your eating schedule in a way where you basically eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner… all within a certain window of time. This window is typically 4-8 hours long.
The other 16-20 hours of your day are spent “fasting”. During this fasting period you’re eating no food at all. The only thing you can consume is water or, in some cases, black coffee.
The concept of fasting is actually really old. In fact, most religions have some form of a fasting period. So why is fasting a good idea?
The theory behind fasting
The most important aspect of fasting, form a physiological standpoint, is that it helps reduce insulin levels in your body.
Insulin is the primary hormone responsible for the conversion of your glucose molecules, or sugar, into fat. When you fast, you consume less sugar, and insulin levels drop.
However, your body wants to maintain a certain level of blood glucose to make sure it has readily available energy in case it need its.
This is where glucagon comes in. Now glucagon does the exact opposite of insulin. Instead of taking glucose and converting it to fat, it takes fat and converts into glucose.
At this same moment, your body also pumps out catabolic hormones such as epinephrine. These further accelerate the breakdown of fat through activation of the enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase.
Another thing that’s cool about epinephrine is that it also acts as protection for lean muscle mass. When epinephrine is present, the breakdown of muscle protein is prevented during a fasted state, but only up to about 72 hours. Luckily, intermittent fasting doesn’t last nearly as long.
Studies show even more benefits for intermittent fasting. Since fasting involves the reduction of insulin concentration, your body will adapt and become more responsive to insulin. This helps reduce the risk of diabetes. There are even studies that have linked intermittent fasting with reducing the chance of breast cancer by as much as 50%.
Is fasting a good way to lose weight?
As we saw, the following things happen during a period of fasting:
- Insulin goes down
- glucagon goes up
- you burn more fat as energy
- lean mass is protected by epinephrine
Sounds good so far, right. However, there’s also a downside…
You’re probably going to feel really hungry. Hunger is, by far, the biggest problem for intermittent fasting. Can you really go 16 hours without eating each day? What often happens is that, after making it through those 16 hours, massively overeat during the rest of the day. And in the end it still comes down to calories in versus calories out.
Now there are some people that state it will get better over time. Your body adapts to the increased duration of the fasted state and becomes better at utilizing fat for energy. However, fasting is probably not for everyone.
If you’re battling constantly with hunger, you might be better off splitting meals evenly throughout the day and eating more satiating foods. Just like any other food plan, you can’t escape calories when it comes to weight change. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve still gotta drop those calories.
A typical fasting schedule looks like this:
- 10pm, you start your fast, preferably 2-3 hours before you go to bed
- When you wake up in the morning you have some water or black coffee
- at 2pm, you now have fasted for 16 hours and your feeding schedule begins
- You’re allowed to eat anytime between the hours of 2PM and 10PM
Personally I found intermittent fasting wasn’t for me. I am more comfortable (and have had better results) eating regular meals while sticking mainly to whole, natural foods… as taught in The Fat Burning Kitchen.
However, if fasting for 16 hours a day sounds like something you can do, why not give it a shot? Many people claim they have had great results and lost a lot of weight using intermittent fasting. There is also plenty of research that shows it is a convenient way to restrict the amount of calories you eat, while also increasing fat loss and maintaining lean muscle mass.