I have been doing intermittent fasting for the last 2 years. Yes, do believe the hype! And I want to share a couple of thoughts on the experience. As always with these blogs, my point is to share an experience to a fellow human and to question everything. I hope you do the same. Also, are we doing the right things, the best way possible? Or are we half assing it?
As one of my teachers like to frame it: are we doing things better or are we doing better things.
First of all, for those who have not been bombarded with crazy internet diets and killing yourself nutritionally, (I joke, obviously) I will give a small recap of what intermittent fasting or IF for short is.
Basically with IF you cycle your eating and fasting window. It means that you eat (some people feast) for a certain period and you don’t eat for a certain period. Pretty basic right? In essence, IF is not about WHAT to eat but WHEN to eat. Every person already does fasting when they are asleep. Provided they don’t eat while they sleepwalk.
There are different IF regiments to try. One of the most popular methods and the one I tried is the 16/8 method. The 16/8 method is being made popular on the internet by leangains.com by Martain Berkhan and of course your favourite twins: The Hodge (do whateffa da fak ya wanna do) twins. The 16/8 method means that you start eating at 12 in the morning and stop eating at 8 at night. And consequently, you will fast for the remaining 16 hours. The exact time to start eating is not the main point. The main point is that you eat for 8 hours and fast for 16 hours. You can do this practically 7 days a week.
There is also the eat-stop-eat regiment by Brad Pilon. This means that you fast for 24 hours once or twice a week and eat at ‘regular’ times like you would always do. I have to say that I forgot what normal eating hours are.
For the brave one’s under us, there is the Warrior diet by Ori Hofmekler. Basically you fast for 20 hours per day and eat 4 hours per day. You can get your calories in one big meal or a couple of meals within this 4 hour eating window. I put an emphasis on a couple of meals since you might literally choke on a 4000 kcal meal in one go.
Fasting truly has a lot of good research to back up all it’s claims so I will not go over it. Pubmed is your friend, and free. What I do want to share are 2 things.
It’s your life. You can test almost every diet (please, put it in context) What are the odds that the current diet that you adopted is the best one for you? Most of the time, we follow patterns in our life without consciously thinking about it. Putting food in are mouth might be one of them. To a certain degree, there is nothing wrong with following patters. If we have to think consciously about everything, we would go mad or don’t have time to get anything done. But you are looking for optimal health and performance, right? Than it is time to start testing your assumptions. In all honesty, it really is fun to test new things and it feels like a sense of ownership. And please don’t stop testing any assumption before you see some positive results.
#2: Social stigma and habits
This point is directly related to the first point. Once you say fuck it and start experimenting with things like IF, which isn’t even that crazy. You will notice how your environment is reacting to change. I remember asking my teacher at 12 o’clock if I could start eating in class because I wanted to ‘break my fast’. I first had to explain what IF is, and why I would possible want to do something like that. Ignore them. Most of it is just noise anyway.
The funny thing is when you test an assumption and it works. Let’s say you adopt a new diet, start working out or become a ferocious reader and you have some success. Meaning you do less stupid things and talk less shit than you used to. Now, success leaves clues. All of the sudden, the people who ridiculed you start listening to the things you say. Of course, this is a normal and natural phenomenon. We are hard wired to react a certain way to change. And obviously we are all hugely biased in every perceivable way. Knowing this gives a piece of mind and a sense of forgiveness.
The main point that I am trying to give is to become aware of the patterns that you follow in almost every part of your life. Some are good and some can be improved. To come full circle, maybe the current diet that you are following can be more efficient and better. Have you ever tried really hard to change your eating habits?
My intermittent fasting regiment and experience.
I am an (relatively) early riser. My alarm goes off at 6, I start working at 8 and I break my fast at 12. In my experience, when I fasted I was super productive and cognitively sharp. I boosted my cognition between 8 and 12 with:
- Omega 3 fish oil caps
- acetyl l carnitine
- MCT oil (be careful with the doses!)
I used the first 4 hours to finish all the work that I had to create and the rest of the day was for reacting to questions and problems. The combination between fasting and creating was a beautiful symbiosis. It worked. While I don’t do IF anymore, the principles and dividing the work stay the same. In hindsight, I think the reason why a lot of people who do IF and are cognitively sharp in the morning is because the body is releasing Norepinephrine when you fast. This puts you in a [light] state of fight or flight. The body gives you a sense of sharpness to find food so it does not starve. Luckily, we know we are not going to starve.
I divided my calories in 4 meals and ate the last one at 8 o’clock. From there, it was a 16 hour I’m-starving-myself-ordeal. I’m kidding. Your body get’s used to it really quickly. To be frank, sometimes I would forget to eat because I was not hungry. I also tried several 24 hour fasts. There is a lot of good research on autophagy that can set in after 24 hours of not eating. Basically, the body gets rid of old cells and ‘cleans’ itself. The actual mechanism is way more complicate but is has far reaching positive consequences. Do you research when fasting for long periods. It CAN become dangerous if you did not do your homework.
Like with everything. There is a trade off. But with this one it’s vicious. The reason I stopped doing IF was because it was very hard for me to gain strength and size in the gym while doing IF. Also, for physical demanding work like 12 Km running or 80 Km marching, it just was not optimal. I think I was putting too much stress on the body by strictly following IF in combination with training and every day stress. Which is a factor that cannot by neglected.
It was very easy to stay lean with IF, but it is easier to gain strength in the gym while following a conventional 5 meals a day approach.
Because if it’s health benefits, I have decided to do IF 2 months a year but still do 24 hour fasts every 2 months. Like I said, it’s all between balance and trade offs.
As always, enjoy the ride
Talk to you next time