Stay Lean and Stay Focused with Intermittent Fasting
Growing up, my parents always referred to me as a curious “health nut”. At a very young age, I became infatuated by using exercise as a means to enhance my athletic ability. As I grew older, I began to develop a passion for nutrition and applying it to my performance in the weight room. These passions have led me to investigate the most popular diets and eating styles that accelerate athletic and mental performance.
The way I see it, a perfect diet doesn’t exist. Diet trends will come and go, and as long as we are human, there will always be a new eating fad. Logically, with our differing physiologies, everyone has different nutritional needs and preferences. However, with these differences in mind, I do believe that some diets and eating styles are better than others. For example, the popular ketogenic diet can be great for losing weight fast! But as time goes by, the body begins to feel the effects of being depleted of its preferred energy source; carbohydrates. Ketogenic diets require a person to drastically increase their fat intake, which can affect cholesterol levels and increase the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. Although there are some instances in which a person can overcome the negative effects of high fat intake, restricting carbs from your diet will disrupt the body’s natural fueling processes.
I’m Italian, and I love eating pasta, so cutting carbs for myself would be unrealistic. I believe that we should be able to eat the things we enjoy without having to worry about gaining weight. Although we may all have different nutritional needs, I do believe there is one style of eating that can give the flexibility and enjoyment most of us don’t find while dieting.
I stumbled upon intermittent fasting last May when I began following one of my favorite fitness influencers and mentor’s Greg O’Gallager. Greg is a huge advocate of intermittent fasting and because I am one of his biggest fans, I decided to give intermittent fasting a shot.
For those who are unaware, intermittent fasting is an eating style in which eating occurs during a certain time of the day. The most commonly used method is a 16/8 split. The 16/8 split would look something like this:
Eating window: 12pm-8pm
Fasting Window: 8pm-12pm
Although, I find the 16/8 split to be the most effective method for my lifestyle, there are other variations of intermittent fasting. Another common variation is the Warrior Diet. The Warrior Diet consists of a 20/4 split, in which a person would fast for 20 hours and eat within a 4 hour window. This is a more advanced style of intermittent fasting that requires more discipline, but provides the freedom to indulge in a high-caloric, satiating meal during the eating window.
A full 24 hour fast has also grown in popularity. Also known as the Eat-Stop-Eat Diet, this style of fasting involves incorporating a 24 hour fasting period usually once per week.
My experience with intermittent fasting has been nothing short of phenomenal. To this day I have been following the 16/8 split, while at home in Westfield and at college. Typically, I follow the same eating/fasting schedule as posted above. During my fasting window, I make sure to drink plenty of water and drink some black coffee, which helps suppress my appetite. Regardless of the type of intermittent fasting, the same rules generally apply. During the fasting period, water, black coffee and tea are permissible due to their negotiable caloric content. However, once the fasting has ended and the eating window has arrived, there are no restrictions on the source and amount of calories one may consume.
Intermittent fasting has made cutting body fat easy, while still giving me the freedom to enjoy the foods I love. Noticing body fat loss is extremely satisfying, but surprisingly, intermittent fasting has brought other benefits. I’ve also noticed an improvement in my sleep and in increase in focus during my fasting period.
Like I said, a diet or eating style needs to be manageable, beneficial and enjoyable for it to be maintained for a long period of time. Intermittent requires a certain level of discipline by not restricting what a person can eat, but when they can eat. As a consequence of designating a small window of time for eating, a person is more likely to take in less calories. From a classic weight loss perspective, this is ideal. If we are consuming less calories than we are burning for fuel, then we are going to lose weight and ideally that weight will be in the form of body fat. From a more scientific perspective, in the fasting window, once the body has depleted its glycogen (sugar storage in the muscle) it will then begin to burn body fat, as its primary source, into fuel. This process tends to occur between 12-14 hours into the fasting window.
Enhanced cognitive function is another consequence of the body switching to fat for fuel. During the fat burning process, the body begins to increase the production of a protein called BDNF. BDNF enhances brain function by helping produce new and stronger brain cells and strengthening the connectivity of brain cells. In turn, a rise in BDNF enhances memory, learning, mental energy and focus.
If you’re someone who may not be excited by the fat loss and cognitive benefits of intermittent fasting, there is still one strong argument that may have you still consider this eating style. Intermittent fasting can help increase longevity and reduce the likelihood of developing disease. As we enter the fasted state and switch to burning body fat, our digestive system gets a break from breaking down food into glucose. During this time, the body has time to repair itself and enter a process called Autophagy. Autophagy is a naturally occurring metabolic process that recycles old and damaged cells with new and stronger ones. This serves as a self cleaning process that reduces inflammation in our cells and reduces the risk of developing serious diseases such as cancer.
Clearly, intermittent fasting has a plethora of benefits. Not only does this style of eating allow for someone to experience the benefits of weight loss that many other diets intend to achieve, but it also allows for a certain level of flexibility with a person’s food choices. Eating should be an enjoyable and guiltless process. We should be able to eat what we want and not have to constantly worry about gaining weight. With this is mind, maybe it's time for you to try out this new style of eating and experience the benefits for yourself. If you’re willing to give this eating style a try, I suggest starting out small. For the first two weeks, I’d suggest working with a 12 hour fasting window and 12 hour eating window. As you become more comfortable eating within a certain time frame, I would then try extending your fast and varying the duration of the fasted window to find an intermittent fasting style that works best for you. In addition, if you would like more information about intermittent fasting or have any questions about this eating style, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be more than happy to help you!
James Clear. (2018, August 7). Intermittent Fasting: 12 Lessons Learned from 1 Year of Fasting. Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://jamesclear.com/intermittent-fasting-lessons-learned
Mattson, M. P. (2005). Energy intake, meal frequency, and health: a neurobiological perspective. Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16011467