An Introduction to Intermittent Fasting

Image Courtesy of Rich Anderson


So like I mentioned I have recommitted myself to losing weight and this has included doing some new research into diet techniques.  One that I found really interesting was Intermittent Fasting.  The concept behind intermittent fasting is really quite simple.  At it’s core it is simply alternating periods of fast (no eating) with periods of eating.  However it has been shown to have some truly interesting health effects.

Intermittent fasting does make intuitive sense when you consider our evolutionary history.  Up until the development of agriculture there was never a guarantee of food, and because of this it would make sense that our body would have physiological adaptations that may favor periods of fasting.

However, none of this matters if it isn’t a reasonable thing for people to do.  There are many people who have never gone any extended period of time without food, and because of that the idea of going without food for an extended period of time like this can be a little shocking.  However, after trying it a couple of times I found it to be much easier than I expected.  Even going for 24 hours, was much easier than I expected, and made the meal coming out of the fast taste fantastic.  Also depending on what kind of fasting you want to try, you will likely never have to go an entire day without food.  For example if you want to do a 24-hr fast like I am experimenting with right now, you can easily go from lunch on one day to lunch on the next day, and only miss two meals.

The first time you attempt something like this, it actually has an interesting effect on your psychology.  At least it did for me.  It made me realize that going without food was not as big of a deal as I had built it up as in my head.  This shift actually makes planning your day and stuff like that much easier.  It means even when you are not fasting you are no longer bound to the traditional eating times.

I’m realizing now that this post is going to need to be broken into several parts, so I am just going to introduce you to a couple of popular protocols and my initial thoughts on each of them and then will go further into all of them later.

16/8: I call this the Leangains protocol because I was introduced to it here the site authored by Martin Berkhan.  He describes as a protocol that is functionally fasting for 16 hours and then eating three meals during the eight hour period.  He has had a lot of success with his clients using his protocol, but you do lose some of the psychological benefits I have detailed.  However, something I found interesting when reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss (highly recommend this book) is that many of the most successful men in the book skip breakfast, either intentionally or unintentionally practicing a form of intermittent fasting.

Eat, Stop, Eat: This is the protocol I am currently self-experimenting with.  It involves 24 hr. fasts interspersed with at least 48 hours of eating.  I was introduced to it by reading the book of the same name by Brad Pilon.  So far I have found it to be pretty effective, however, I do still need to continue working through his tremendous bibliography before I can give a final opinion.

5:2: This is a method popularized by a book called The Fast Diet, on this diet you eat normally for the first five days of the week.  On the remaining two you are restricted to 1/4 of the normal caloric load.  I have not personally experimented with this diet, however I have some reservations with allowing any calories during the fast period, because I worry you may still get the weight loss but lose some of the other health benefits.

Those are the three protocols I am most knowledgeable about, but I am sure there are other methods out there.  And there are people who are attempting much longer fasts and I will in the future discuss that too.  However this is already 700 words so that will have to wait for the future.


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