In a world where health trends come and go at a rapid rate, Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the most recent craze. The difference with the Intermittent Fasting trend, though, is that it shows no real signs of fading away. There’s a TED Talk about it from 2014. There’s a 60 Minutes feature on Hugh Jackman doing Intermittent Fasting to get ready for his role as Wolverine. There’s a Wall Street Journal article about it from last week. And there’s information everywhere in between. Basically, if you ingest even a miniscule amount of health or fitness news, chances are you’ve seen something about the topic of Intermittent Fasting.
So what’s all the fuss about? Does IF work? Why would a person do this? Being a naturally curious person who is also interested in diet and exercise, these are the questions that I found myself wanting answers to. After reading article after article proclaiming the physical and psychological benefits of IF, I decided that I would give it a try for one week and document the whole thing right here on the Tailgate Society.
Before I lay out my plan (because these sorts of things require planning), let’s dig into some of the basics behind Intermittent Fasting.
What Exactly is Intermittent Fasting?
First things first, there’s no one particular diet called Intermittent Fasting. At its most basic level, IF is simply cycling between periods of fasting and eating (or “feasting,” in popular parlance). There is less of a restriciton on “what” you eat and more of a guideline towards “when” you eat. In other words, it’s not so much a diet as it is an eating pattern.
There are a number of different ways that people fast. Here’s some of the most popular:
- The 5:2 diet: Using this method, you eat normally for five days out of the week. On the other two days, you would consume a very restricted amount of food. Think along the lines of 500-600 calories. The two fasting days should be non-consecutive. So like a Monday and Thursday, for instance.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This brand of IF encourages a full 24-hour fast, one or two times per week. Basically, you pick a meal (say dinner, for example). If that meal gets over at 7 p.m. on Monday, you’d fast until 7 p.m. the next day. At that point (7 p.m.), you’d eat your Tuesday dinner.
- Alternate-Day Fasting: This is exactly what it sounds like. You eat one day, fast the next. Then repeat. Generally, the fasting days allow for minimal calorie intake (less than 500 calories).
- The Warrior Diet: Eat very small amounts of fruits and nuts throughout the day and then one big meal at night (generally within a four hour window).
- 16/8 diet: This method involves fasting every day over a 16 hour period and “feasting” during an 8 hour window. For instance, if you finish dinner at 7 p.m., you’d fast until 11 a.m. the next morning.
While there are pros and cons to each of these methods, I am going to embrace the 16/8 lifestyle. To me, that seems like the simplest, thereby (theoretically) increasing my chances of success with this little experiment.
I’m starting this today, Monday, January 15th. My goal is to try this for one full week.
What Does the Science Say?
I’m all about the evidence, so, in order for me to do something like this, there needs to be some statistically compelling reasons to do so. Luckily, there’s no shortage of studies that support the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Before we get to the benefits, let’s examine what actually happens to your body during the process of intermittent fasting.
When you eat, your body uses that food for energy purposes. According to Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, when you fast, the body has to find that energy elsewhere. Thus, it begins a cellular repair process and changes hormones levels to make fat stores more accessible to the body. Your body then releases fatty acids called ketones into the blood stream. These ketones protect learning and memory functionality, as well as fight disease processes in the brain. With typical eating patterns, your body isn’t given enough time to produce these ketones because, with food at hand all the time, we’re rarely in a fasted state.
In short, you’re cleaning out dead cells and human growth hormone (HGH) levels skyrocket. The impact of this seems extensive.
- The American Society of Clinical Nutrition has found IF to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease.
- Dr. Stephen Freedland of Duke University Medical Center found that “caloric restriction, undernutrition without malnutrition, is the only experimental approach consistently shown to prolong survival in animal models.” Freedland found that rats were living 36-83% longer using IF patterns.
- A number of studies (here, here, and here) show a decrease in inflammation, which drives many chronic diseases.
- There’s also ample support for IF as a method of weight loss.
Now, if all that information and science made your head hurt, you can alternatively watch this Ted Talk from the above mentioned Mark Mattson:
My Starting Point
To get an idea of where I’m starting from on this little journey, here’s some basic information about me:
- Height: 6 ft.
- Weight: 188.8 lbs
- Fitness level: For the last 3+ years, I’ve done 3-4 high-intensity workouts per week (Shoutout to the good folks at Crossfit Flyover in Des Moines!).
- Diet: Generally speaking, my family tries to avoid processed foods and excess sugar. We attempt to eat healthy fats and plenty of vegetables. Paleo-ish?
- Other: Based on my most recent physical, my blood pressure is good (120/80), and I’m in good health with no known risk factors. Personally, I feel great. All told, I’m probably as healthy, all things considered, as I’ve ever been.
I started this last night at 6 p.m. With three young kids, I’m used to eating relatively early. We typically sit down for dinner at 5:30 p.m. and are done eating by 6 p.m. Therefore, that’s when my 16 hour fast starts. That means that my first meal today will be at 10 a.m. Then, I’ll have 8 hours to eat. I plan on eating my “breakfast” at 10 a.m.
During the fasting period, I’ll stick to water, coffee, and/or other non-caloric beverages.
Why I’m Doing This
My main reason for doing this intermittent fast is because I’m curious. I’ve read enough about it to confidently say that there are no research-based health drawbacks to fasting. In fact, as I’ve noted above, the reverse seems to be true.
I’m not doing this to lose weight. I feel comfortable with what I weigh, how I look, and how I feel.
If I could chalk this up to something besides pure curiosity, I guess it would be this: I believe that sometimes it’s important to do hard things. There’s a great book called Grit by Angela Duckworth that talks about this very thing through the psychology of achievement. In short, following through on a hard task with persistence and passion can help a person to do other hard things, ultimately developing a “grittiness” that is the antidote to complacency.
More or less, I’m not expecting some spectacular personal growth out of all this, but it’ll be a challenge. And challenging yourself is rarely a bad thing.
I’m not actually worried about starting IF, as far as the food goes. I expect it will be difficult for the first few days but that it will get easier throughout the week.
I’m worried about two things. First, I’m worried about working out and not being able to eat directly afterwards. On my typical workout days, I go to the gym at 6 a.m. on an empty stomach (which doesn’t bother me) and get back home at 7:15, just in time for breakfast with the family. This IF plan means that I won’t be able to eat for about three hours after I’m done working out. I could see that being an issue.
Second problem: I love beer. I have a beer or two pretty much every damn night while I watch TV with the wife after the kids go to bed. That is going to be tough to give up. The options here seem to be to have a beer earlier in the night (or day) or not to have one at all. I’ll report back on this.
My wife, when I asked her if she thought I could do an intermittent fast for one week, seemed to think that this beer thing was going to be a problem. We’ll see, but she’s usually right.
I’ll be back next week to document how this little experiment went. In the meantime, stay hungry my friends.