(Introduction: In this series of posts, I share my personal experiences of intermittent fasting and its effects on my own body weight, body composition, physical abilities, and physical and mental health. I also share what I've learned from doctors and sports scientists who study intermittent fasting – I am neither of these and these blogs are not for medical advice.)
How I discovered intermittent fasting
For years I struggled with body fat. I tried all kinds of ridiculous plans that I literally made for hours every day. And even though I could see results, sometimes great results, I never knew how to take that lifestyle, so those results were inevitable.
I've spoken many times before about how its frustrations led me to make crazy decisions – let's say I made too many ridiculous extremes and made a diet that didn't end well – and accelerated further in 2012.
I was already a qualified personal trainer at the time, but I mainly worked as a former fitness and lifestyle journalist. I spoke regularly with experts such as sports scientists and nutritionists, and a couple of them had mentioned intermittent fasting (IF).
I also noticed the fast growing popularity of bodybuilding, which really piqued my interest because my ultimate goal was to make my body strong and lean, not lean. I didn't want my body fat to be as low as competing bodybuilders and not as much muscle as they have, but I thought that if these guys can maintain as much muscle and be as lean as they use intermittent fasting, it would help me to become thinner without having to sacrifice my strength and condition.
And so my experiments with intermittent fasting (IF) began. I played around with different approaches before I respected what worked for me – and wow, it worked!
Nowadays, I don't count calories or track macronutrients, exercise less than half the time, exercise my favorite foods regularly – and I love the way my body is!
You've probably heard before that "I tried everything, but it really works!". But hopefully you know enough about me to realize I'm not selling dirty plans – actually, I'm not selling anything here. I don't even recommend any products or plans. All I want to do is ignore the misunderstandings around intermittent fasting and arm everyone who wants to try it with valuable information and tips.
Do not compare what I am saying here with a few celebrities who have recently lost weight – it is not the hardest thing to lose weight in the short term as everyone who has ever done it will know. It is difficult to maintain it.
Therefore, I would like to tell you that, eight years after the introduction of IF in my lifestyle, I have not only maintained my initial results, but also developed further.
Obviously, I'm not a 21-year-old who just needs a couple of weeks to reduce her dress size. After decades of struggle, I decided in the mid-thirties to switch to this way of eating – that was when things had changed for me. I turned 40 in the best shape of my life.
It's a real-world approach and a tool that people can use without paying a dime.
The filthy secret of the diet
As I mentioned above, the fat resin that the dieting industry is trying to hide is that most people who have lost weight will reapply it and then some.
We all know this for sure, but it's so tempting to believe that this year's hot new diet could be "what works for me," right?
Not sure if you're old enough to remember how we were all inspired by The Biggest Loser show in 2000. In case you didn't, it was a popular TV show where obese people competed to lose weight and the results were amazing …
But sorry, I have to tell you that most of them have now recovered it all, except for that.
One competitor recently stated that they could not make the reunion because "we are all fat again".
This is just one famous example of what usually happens to most people who lose weight. (link study)
A little scary, right?
Well, but I have good news! The prospects of maintaining a healthy weight with intermittent fasting are much better.
It will definitely work for me. Of course, I'm just one person, but when you read it, I'm sharing evidence that shows that it can help many other people.
Although fasting has been going on for centuries, there has not been much scientific research until recently, but it is changing. On a personal level, this is a very exciting time for me. I have known for a long time that it works, but only now do I understand WHY.
It is of immense help to me in guiding my clients and website members. So far, I have largely been away from dietary advice, ignoring the generic concepts of healthy eating. But now there is solid evidence to support my approach, and I can be sure that I will also help you enjoy the benefits of IF.
OKAY. Sufficient background on why I am so passionate about it, let's get stuck to what, why and how intermittent fasting takes place …
The crazy benefits of intermittent fasting
If you haven't read much about IF before, it can blow you up, so hold your hat!
If I had not read or researched so much on this topic, I would have suspected that the list was unfamiliar and very skeptical. If you find it cool, I definitely want you to do your own research, but keep it open. In this series of blog posts, I will explain why it actually makes a lot of sense for us to get these benefits.
IF can do the following for us:
- Easier and more sustainable weight loss
- Most of the lost weight comes from fat stores, where muscles and bones are preserved much better than dieting
- Anti-aging. It literally keeps us physically younger at the cellular level
- Protection against diseases, including serious conditions such as cancer
- Improved brain function
- Reduced inflammation and bloating
- Less hunger
- Improved intestinal health and digestion
- Boosted metabolism
- Stronger muscles and bones
- Better mental health
- Extended life
I know, I know, as I write this, I mean it sounds crazy!
Am I really saying that we can have lean athletic bodies, look and feel younger, be happier, stay healthier and live longer just by not eating periodically?
Yep … Well, yeah.
If you want to make the most of it, you need to support IF with some other lifestyle factor, but as I said, I'll explain in more detail what we're going to do and along the way you'll find out why the list above isn't really as "off" as its first sounds.
Wait, the IF isn't for everyone
Before addressing this, it is important to emphasize that IF is not for everyone. Even those of us who are fine with it have a time when it is best not to do it. For example, I broke my wrist last year and did not do IF for about four months until my bone healed. If IF wasn't really harmful at the time, but I didn't know for sure, I was safe. I suggest you do the same. If in doubt consult a doctor.
I do not recommend fasting on an empty stomach except under medical supervision or under the age of 21, over 70, ill, injured, taking any medication, eating disorders, low BMI, diabetic, pregnant, breastfeeding, health or recent physical or mental trauma.
If you are 21 to 70 years old and in good health, talk to your doctor first.
My fasting style
I'll talk more about the different fasting styles you might want to try and how to get started in a later post in this series. I want you to get to it with all the knowledge you need to make it work for you, and it requires a little reading first.
But to give you an idea of where we're going and what I'm talking about, here's a little background on the approach I found to work for me.
I fast fast "clean", also known as "fast water". This means that during fasting I do not eat or drink anything that contains calories.
My approach is not rigid, I design it for everything in my life at that time, and I am not always quick.
From time to time, when I need regular fasting, I usually do one 24 hour fast every 1-2 weeks and 16/8 fast 3-4 days a week.
16/8 fasting means that I fast for 16 hours and eat all my food throughout the day for the remaining eight hours. Much of the fasting window is overnight, so I don't find it very restrictive. These days I just have my breakfast later.
I have recently started experimenting with fasting for more than 24 hours. The longest I've done is about 60 hours. By doing this I reduce my usual fasting.
Note, this is not the same as starvation. I cannot stress that it is NOT about hunger. Eating a lot of nutritious foods while eating is as important as not eating, to get the benefits I'm talking about.
I am strong, fit and healthy – you can't do it if you are depriving your body of the nutrients it needs.
Just a dash of milk?
While I'm fasting, I drink a lot of water and drink green, black or white tea (without milk). Let's leave it at that. (Many people who have fasted in this way have black coffee, which is good, I just prefer the taste of the tea.)
When I talk about pure fasting, I always ask people if they can eat or drink this or that during pure fasting. "Can I have milk for tea / coffee?", Is the most common.
I usually respond by saying "you can have anything you want!"
I don't mean being moody, but I really want to get people away from the habit of thinking about the terms "may" and "can't" around food.
It is no secret to me why the only people I hear talking about such food usually fight under the belt diet.
"Can Eat" and "Can't Eat" are terms people use when they are on a diet. It doesn't help.
We are adults, we are free to eat and drink what we like. It is time that our choices and their choices were ours.
However, if you want to answer the question correctly, you do not want to take full advantage of fasting, you do not want to choose anything from calories. Milk contains calories.
I'm sure most people who ask for it already know it. I just think that despite their hopes, I may know of a gap that somehow makes milk ("just a dash in my tea / coffee") zero-calorie.
So unfortunately for the record no. I have no power to lose calories. Even tea or coffee. 😉
But you know, if you're used to it, it's just as good.
So it's just a different way to reduce calories, right?
It tripped me through the ages.
Eat less, move more, right?
Are you talking about calories vs calories?
I was a big believer in that. It made sense … Although I often noticed small signs, such as errors in the matrix, things weren't that straight.
But all the experts said it was important to lose calories when losing fat. Basic physics, energy vs energy out. Who was I to question this?
Until recently, I would agree that IF was "mostly" just a way to reduce total calorie intake and that's how it worked. In fact, I knew something else was going to have to be because I had so much experience with intermittent fasting more success than before when I was generally eating far less calories.
But I had no explanation for what it was and just wanted to give people evidence-based, science-backed advice so I played it safe.
Fortunately, the new wave of scientists has provided solid evidence of what many of us have been doing for decades, but can't explain it precisely – that Calories vs. Calories Off (CICO) doesn't work for most people in the long run.
Don't get me wrong, calories are important. They are not the only important things.
Let's not forget that calorie intake is just a unit of measure, not the actual tangible thing that is present in your diet. Just as centimeters don't really exist, it's a unit of distance, calorie is just a unit of energy.
And remember, our body fat is just a supply of energy.
I'm just saying that when it comes to how and when this energy is stored and released in our bodies (ie how we become fat or slimmer), things are not as simple as calories eaten vs. calories spent.
If you are skeptical, it is good that I was. Come back next week for your next post in this series and explain what changed my opinion beyond my own experience.
(Final note: I have a lot to share on this topic, so it's more of a series than a single post. So if there is something in this post that's not covered, it's probably not because I didn't consider it, but mostly as something I will explore later in the series . In future posts, I will outline practical tips for starting alternating fasting, reasons why we should count more than calories in and out, when fasting actually makes us less hungry, why I haven't lost any fasting or other muscle / strength)
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