Fasting. Is that like "fasting and prayer" or is it like Ramadan? Actually . . . neither. Intermittent fasting is a health diet that has risen in popularity and controversy. There have been a few reports that it is a legitimate diet, but it is widely rejected. Even the diet's name has repulsed many people due to the images of anorexia and binge eating that the word "fasting" seems to be associated with. But what really is intermittent fasting?
Simply, intermittent fasting is fasting intermittently :) Fasting as in not eating any food. Intermittent as in occurring at irregular intervals. Intermittent fasting is basically not eating any food at irregular intervals. It's an irregular cycle of eating and fasting. That's intermittent fasting in a nutshell.
There are more than a couple methods of intermittent fasting.
Now before you write this diet off as just for something for insane gym rats, let me remind you that most people fast for at least six hours every day. They fast when they sleep. Thus, the Leangains diet is simply skipping breakfast. And the Warrior Diet is only taking it one step further. Intermittent fasting is more feasible than you think.
But let's get down to the real issue: is this diet even good for you?
The Science Behind Intermittent Fasting
The most hyped benefit of intermittent fasting is that it increases fat loss and the science supports this. Glycogen, the primary source of fuel for the body, is replenished whenever you eat. This is all good and well, but it isn't so good if you want to lose more fat. A low glycogen store causes your body to tap into its other source of energy, fat. Generally, it takes about six to eight hours to use up your glycogen stores. Fasting allows for that shift into a complete fat-burning state.
Intermittent fasting also increases insulin sensitivity. Insulin regulates your blood sugar levels by storing excess glycogen into muscle, liver or fat cells. When you have low insulin levels, it makes stored body fat more accessible. Besides that, high insulin levels may lead to heart failure, obesity and diabetes.
Fasted exercising accelerates fat burning even more due to increased fat oxidation and lipolysis rates. Fasting also naturally increases HGH, a hormone that helps build muscle and lose fat. The fasting-induced increase of HGH mimics the increase of HGH induced by high-intensity interval training.
However, the benefits of fasting extends beyond fat loss. Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, has been studying the effects of fasting for well over a decade. Testing the effects of intermittent fasting on mice, they have concluded that the diet protects neurons against molecular damage leading to a healthier neurological system. More specifically, it increases the protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and helps speed up autophagy. Fasting also releases ketones which, according to Mattson, protects memory and learning functionality.
At a certain point, I don't even know what I'm talking about so let me quote Mark Mattson, himself:
"The one that we've studied a lot, and designed experiments to test, is the hypothesis that during the fasting period, cells are under a mild stress, and they respond to the stress adaptively by enhancing their ability to cope with stress and, maybe, to resist disease... There is considerable similarity between how cells respond to the stress of exercise and how cells respond to intermittent fasting.
As the research shows, intermittent fasting is the real deal. It works. And it works well. It isn't a revolutionary new diet, however. It's just one of the ways someone can get healthier. Of course, the diet expects you to watch the foods you eat. You don't need to be IIFYM careful, but don't expect to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting if your diet consists of Twinkies and Pepsi. But why am I talking about this diet anyway?
For the last two weeks I haven't been posting any EEW articles. This is partly because I actually haven't been Escalating Every Week and partly because I've been dabbling with intermittent fasting myself. Personally, I enjoy intermittent fasting (the Leangains version) and can see it becoming part of my routine. Besides, that I'd rather not pepper my blog with EEW articles every week.
If you noticed the picture above, it said "Not a Diet, But A Lifestyle." This is true not only of intermittent fasting, but any diet. Or any step toward health. Because health is more about adapting than you think.
Our bodies adapt to our surroundings. When we get cold, we shiver. When we get cut, we heal (just not Wolverine-fast). When we break down our muscles, they build back up. This is the key to fitness. One or two workouts won't change a thing. It is only through consist change in one's surroundings that the body will follow suit and change.
If you do one workout while unhealthy, your body will think, "Wow! He's really working out. But it's okay because he'll stop this insanity after a couple days." However, if you consistently workout, then eventually your body will think, "Oh, great. Here he goes again. Another hour of self-torture. I guess I should make some adjustments so I can better receive this torture." And that is when your body changes.
Intermittent fasting is a good and effective diet. The science supports its claims and it's easy to stick to. I like it, and you may want to try it yourself. Below, I compiled a list of all the resources I used for this article as well the first articles I read when I discovered intermittent fasting. I can't vouch for everything in these articles (such as the language), but they are informative at the very least. To learn more just click on any of the links below.
How I discovered intermittent fasting:
Hugh Jackman (aka Wolverine)
Muscle For Life
New York Times
The IF Life
Update: Supposedly lots of fit celebrities swear by intermittent fasting. Not only Hugh Jackman (see above) but also Terry Crews, Miranda Kerr, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, and Ben Affleck. Don't know if the others are actually doing intermittent fasting, but I know Terry Crews is because . . . come on. He's Terry Crews.