There are several popular ways to do intermittent fasting. My favourite (and the only one I’ve tried) is the 16/8 method that involves fasting every day for 14-16 hours and restricting your daily “eating window” to 8-10 hours.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a term for an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Your body is in the fed state when it is digesting and absorbing food. Typically, the fed state starts when you begin eating and lasts as long as your body digests and absorbs the food you eat. 8 to 12 hours after your last meal, you enter the fasted state, where your body isn’t processing food. It is much easier for your body to burn fat in the fasted state because your insulin levels are low. When you’re in the fasted state your body can burn fat that has been inaccessible during the fed state. Because we don’t enter the fasted state until 12 hours after our last meal, it’s rare that our bodies are in this fat burning state. This is one of the reasons why many people, including athletes who start intermittent fasting will lose fat without changing what they eat, how much they eat, or how often they exercise.
Intermittent fasting means eating sensibly most of the time, eating nothing for an extended period every now and then, and indulging only on occasion. It is not a way to sneak in excess calories in your “eating window,” with the expectation that your fast will burn it off.
Why the 16/8 method?
I like this method as it is done every day and it becomes very easy to get into the habit of eating on this schedule. I suggest following a 16–hour fast followed by an 8–hour eating period. It doesn’t matter when you start your 8–hour eating period. You can start at 8 AM and stop at 4 PM. Or you start at 2 PM and stop at 10 PM. Find what works best for you and your schedule.
Benefits of fasting
The most popular benefits are weight loss and boosting metabolism, but numerous studies show that intermittent fasting can also have powerful benefits for your body and brain. Healthline has a great summary with evidence-based research on the benefits of fasting. These include:
- Better blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced oxidative damage and inflammation in the body.
- Improved risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides and inflammatory markers.
- May increase growth of new neurons and protect the brain from damage. This in turn may be protective against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
My experience with fasting
Why did I try it to begin with? Because a lot of my clients were interested, and I don’t believe in recommending something I’ve never even tried.
The first few days were eye-opening on how much mindless eating I did, especially my evening snacking. I paid attention to my hunger cues and found that intermittent fasting using the 16/8 method was easy to do, once I got into the groove of it. I chose to switch my gym time to the evening so that I could break my fast later in the morning. If you’re exercising regularly – it’s important to fuel your body appropriately.
I would have a coffee in the morning and my first bite of food was around 11 AM. Black coffee or tea does not impact your fasted state. I ate my usual meals for the rest of the day. One benefit I noticed was better digestion and higher energy levels, which made going to the gym easier. My last meal was around 6:30 PM, and my food choices were higher in fat content to keep me feeling full throughout the evening and prevent snack cravings.
I decided to keep track of my calories during the experiment. I ate overall fewer calories, likely because there was just a shorter eating window and my food choices were higher in fat and protein, which make me feel fuller. I did not feel restricted during my fast, however if you have social events at night, fasting can be very difficult.
Weekend morning: coffee and cuddles with Henry
Should you try intermittent fasting?
If you have any medical condition, you should talk to your doctor or Registered Dietitian before trying fasting. You should not attempt intermittent fasting if you are underweight (BMI less than 18.5), if you have an eating disorder, a history of eating disorders, or body dysmorphia. People with type 1 diabetes, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those taking prescription medication that has to be taken at a specific time with food are also not candidates for intermittent fasting.
If you’re interesting in weight loss, counting calories and limiting food options can be a chore, cause stress, make you feel deprived, or even heighten cravings. Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet, it’s a schedule of eating that relies strictly on time. It allows more flexibility when it comes to losing weight: rather than thinking ‘just eat less,’ the focus shifts to when you’re eating. Intermittent fasting can also be great if you are overweight but have plateaued on your weight-loss efforts.
Intermittent fasting may work for you if you are an overall healthy person and it fits your schedule. Do your research and find the pattern and foods that works best. With a shorter eating window, make sure to cook and eat whole foods, exercise regularly, and stay consistent.