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INTERMITTENT FASTING – A PERSONAL EXPERIMENT

There seems to be a lot of talk around these days about the pros and cons of intermittent fasting (IF). This is where someone would fast from eating for a certain amount of time for a host of reasons but the main one being to try to lose fat / weight. Some gurus suggest it is bad and are completely against it, while others say it is good and will improve health, increase fat loss and pay your mortgage, all very confusing! So I thought I’d give it a go to see what happened to me and make up my own mind if it can help or hinder.

My main reason for doing it, apart from investigation was to see if it worked as a method of cutting some body fat while maintaining lean body mass (muscle). I will tell you straight away that in my case it worked.

Some guru’s thoughts against IF:

“It will age you by increasing stress”. Reply:  I couldn’t tell if that was true however initially I was tired and looked a bit more haggered looking than normal on the first day. This was pointed out to me by a long term client. Cheers Julie!!!

“It will deplete hard gained muscle”. Reply: Possibly, however I used branched chained amino acids (BCAAs) to off set this and as far as I could tell I did not lose muscle.

“It will slow your metabolic rate and thus may lead to fat gain when you stop fasting”. Reply: Good theory but not true if done cleverly and not to excess.

“It can cause further physiological issues for people that are already struggling with eating disorders”. Reply:  I don’t know but it’s possible I reckon.

“When you stop the fast you will over compensate and stuff your face with crap”. Reply: Not in this case, in fact I felt better able to eat cleanly and did not over eat. Also a bit of discipline goes a long way!

“Only idiots do IF”. Reply:  I am clearly a thicko!

Some Gurus thought for IF:

“We are cavemen and a caveman would not have eaten 6 times a day every day”. Reply: I agree. The popular method of maintaining lean body mass and keeping our metabolism stoked is to eat 3-7 x per day and I generally agree with this tried and tested method. However to my mind a fast (IF) occasionally probably mimics our caveman life style.

“By fasting we give our digestive system a rest”. Reply: This made sense to me and I also found I felt ‘cleaner’ after the fast.

“It will energise you”. Reply: Kind of, certainly I didn’t feel lethargic as I had suspected. Also I trained towards the end of the fast period. Just a short but very sharp ‘interval style’ session and this seemed to work very well. My reasoning was that by being in a fasted state I would easily stimulate the release of fatty acids to fuel the work. I kept it short so as not to overly stress the adrenals. It seemed to work well!

“It will improve sleep quality”. Repy: I couldn’t really tell but I would say that it probably depends on when you stop the fast (morning, afternoon of evening). I think that if you stop it in the evening then this may help with serotonin production which is a powerful ‘happy and sleepy’ neurotransmitter. So it makes sense to me that it could improve zzzs.

“It is a method of reducing calorie intake”. Reply: I don’t care too much about calories to be honest. So long as I get some and they are from a reasonably paleo source! Some calorie rotation is a good thing i.e. some days eat more, some days eat less. But as far as I am concerned counting calories is a mugs game.

“It will recalibrate you mentally to focus on eating well”. Reply: I agree.

“In a fasted state we tend to utilise more fatty acids as fuel”. Reply:  I couldn’t test this but the theory is the same reason why some bodybuilder types like to do CV training on an empty stomach and the reason I trained towards the end of the fast.

“It will improve your spiritual out look”. Reply: Go away you freakshow!!

Some thoughts and considerations before considering IF:

I think it is a waste of time and ultimately unhealthy if you are not eating well in the first place. In my opinion the main focus ought to be to eat a clean paleo-ish diet as a default setting. This will probably negate any need to do IF anyway.

If you strive to be ‘FAT ADAPTED’ (phase stolen from Mark Sissons) then you should not have much in the way of blood sugar level peaks and troughs. We store thousands of calories as fat but precious few as stored glycogen. Therefore tapping into our fat stores is far more efficient in the long term than relying on carb stores. How do you achieve this? Basically eat ‘dead stuff, green stuff and vibrant coloured stuff’! I will write up about this at some stage.

There are many methods that are banded around regarding timing, duration, frequency and so forth. I did IF once per week from around 9 pm to 2 pm the next day, around 17 hours. My logic being that for some of the fast I would be asleep. This worked nicely for me and my lifestyle and I didn’t have to make breakfast which was kinda nice!

A very switched on cookie whose lectures I attended recently mentioned that instead of IF (which he disagrees with) simply don’t eat 4 hours prior to bed for 3 days out of the week. It will have the same effect. I respect this guy’s opinion and have no reason to doubt him on this.

I mentioned the use of BCAAs to offset catabolism (breakdown of lean body mass / muscle). I took 5 grams of BCAAs every waking hour of the fast. This is a trick I had heard from Dr Eric Serrano. Cheers doc…good idea. I also drank a couple of cups of strong black filtered organic coffee because I wanted to and also it can aid fat loss. Also drink water…loads of the stuff.

Is it required? I did this for 5 weeks for 2 specific reasons, namely to see if it worked for me from a fat loss point of view, which it did. Also I wanted to try it before writing this blog so that I had personal experience, albeit limited. I started out in a fairly lean state (guessing around 12 % body fat, but not measured) and 5 weeks later I was down to just under 10% according to Biosignature skinfold analysis, without any other changes apart from tilting my training emphasis slightly towards fat loss. My point being, that although this IF worked for me it was not really required. I would have achieved the same results by being even more diligent with my food and doing a complete ‘fat loss’ training style.

To sum up

I think if you are considering doing IF be sure that you are eating a healthy paleo type diet with limited carb intake. If you fast but eat crap before and after then I agree with the gurus that think it is bad practice. As the name suggests only do it intermittently 1 – 2 x per week. More is not better. The BCAAs and coffee trick worked a treat. The meal that you ‘break the fast’ with should be high in fats, protein and vibrant coloured veggies i.e. standard!

If you preach nutrition, health and fat loss as a lot of us do then please do not be on ‘enhancement juice’. A lot of health pros and trainers talk the talk and big it up, when in fact they are not ‘natural’! Most people do not have access to steroids / growth hormone / testosterone and so forth.  I don’t really have a problem with folks being on some form of ‘magic vitamins’, I just think that they should tell their audience so that people will know not to expect the same ‘enhanced’ results as preached by some ‘roid head expert’!  Sorry just a little off subject rant…why not, it’s my blog!

Anyway, I have experimented with IF and for me, it worked and I shall considering doing it off and on again in the future. Eat paleo and all will be well!