Is Intermittent Fasting the Latest Diet Secret?
A growing number of experts claim that short fasts can accelerate fat loss and make you healthier. So I spent 6 months testing the most popular Intermittent Fasting (IF) protocols myself. Find out what IF is, whether you should do it, and if so -- how.
For years, I’ve advocated frequent meals consisting of nutrient-dense, healthy food, spaced three to four hours apart. That strategy -- when combined with a smart exercise program and world-class coaching -- has helped thousands of my clients drop over 250,000 pounds of fat in the last few years.
Proponents of IF, on the other hand, eschew the idea of eating so frequently. Many claim to have achieved quicker fat loss and better health by deliberately skipping meals and sometimes going entire days without eating.
The IF research is still in its infancy -- indeed, it may be five to ten years before it reaches critical mass and becomes a mainstream nutritional idea -- but in certain circles, the benefits of intermittent fasting have reached almost mythical proportions.
WHY EXPERIMENT WITH INTERMITTENT FASTING?
The truth is, I'm a professional dieter. In other words, I've done nearly every diet or nutritional protocol that exists to test its efficacy.
Intermittent fasting has a very small, yet strong following and enough research to pique my curiosity. I wanted to test it myself to see what kinds of physiological and psychological changes would come from it.
Also, as a competitive, masters-level track athlete and life-long fitness enthusiast, I wanted to test a new way to drop fat and get extremely lean, while staying strong and powerful.
WHAT DID I TEST?
Since there isn't one definitive intermittent fasting protocol, I decided to test six different methods over the course of six months – from once weekly 24-hour fasts (Eat-Stop-Eat style) to daily 16-hour fasts (Lean Gains style).
In the "Eat - Stop - Eat" style, you fast for a full 24 hours once or twice per week, eating sensibly (higher protein, minimizing processed foods, etc.) the rest of the week. It's flexible: You can choose whichever 24 hours you want.
In the Lean Gains style, there is an eight-hour feeding period followed by a 16-hour fast. However, this protocol also layers a few other food rules on top. The diet should be high in protein, should cycle carbohydrates, should include fasted training, and should use nutrient timing (eating the bulk of your calories during the post-exercise period).
During my fasting experiments I kept meticulous notes on everything from scale weight, body-fat percentage, and blood/hormonal markers, to lifestyle markers such as energy levels, cognitive thought and more.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
Over the course of six months, I dropped twenty pounds of weight, from 190 pounds to 170 pounds. I also reduced my body fat from 10 percent to 4 percent (measured by a very reliable ultrasound body fat testing device) while maintaining most of my lean muscle mass. Finally, I found two intermittent fasting strategies that I could follow indefinitely with no problem.
I accomplished the goals I set for myself in a way that was easier and less time-consuming than "traditional" dieting.
WHAT ARE THE BIG TAKEAWAYS?
There are four main takeaways:
1. Trial fasting is a great way to practice managing your hunger. Learning to manage hunger is an essential skill for anyone who wants to get in shape and stay healthy and fit.
2. More regular fasting isn’t objectively better for losing body fat. While my IF experiments worked quite well, the intermittent fasting approach (bigger meals, less frequently) didn’t produce better fat loss than a more conventional diet approach (smaller meals, more frequently) might have.
3. More regular fasting did make it easier to maintain a lower body fat percentage. Intermittent fasting isn’t easy. However, I did find that using this approach made it easier for me to maintain a low body weight and a very low body fat percentage as compared against more conventional diets.
4. Intermittent fasting can work but it’s not for everyone, nor does it need to be. In the end, IF is just one approach, among many effective ones, for improving health, performance and body composition. If used appropriately, it makes sense. If used inappropriately, it’s a health disaster waiting to happen.
SO INTERMITTENT FASTING WORKS, BUT IS NOT NECESSARY TO LOSE WEIGHT?
Exactly. Intermittent fasting can be helpful for in-shape people who want to really get lean without following conventional bodybuilding diets,or for anyone who needs to learn the difference between body hunger and mental hunger.
(And for those people whose only goal is the latter, I only recommend the Trial Fast.)
IF is a helpful tool and one I'll continue to use periodically. But it's not the end-all, be-all of nutrition or fitness. People have been getting in awesome shape -- and staying in awesome shape -- for decades without the use of intermittent fasting.
HOW ARE INTERMITTENT FASTING AND OTHER DIETS SIMILAR?
Successful nutrition plans, whether they use smaller, more frequent meals or larger, less frequent meals all share a few commonalities. These include:
1. Controlling calories. When calories are controlled, progress is made. Whether you control them by eating frequent small meals or infrequent larger meals is up to you.
2. Focusing on food quality. Fresh, unprocessed, nutrient-dense food is a must, regardless of which eating style you adopt.
3. Regular exercise. Exercise is a critical part of the equation.
Once those three have been taken care of, it's a matter of personal preference and lifestyle considerations.
Until next time,
- John Berardi
Dr John Berardi is the director of the world’s largest body transformation project. In the last 5 years, his team has helped over 15,000 clients lose more than 250,000 pounds of body fat. (That’s more total weight loss than all seasons of the Biggest Loser combined). For more on his one-of-a-kind program – Lean Eating Coaching – click here.