When I personally stumbled across the research and lifestyle of Intermittent Fasting (IF for short) many years ago, it just all made sense to me. In my past years I had been sold on needing protein every 3 hours or you would waste away. I was told everywhere that the only way to lose fat was to eat 6x a day (sure it can work, but only because of insulin control and lowered calories….but was it really sustainable for a lifetime?). But then I started looking around in the mainstream, none of that was working….none of that was really getting people results! I also just started to think about how the body was meant to function, and it didn’t make sense that people would need a constant intake of food all day long. That’s just not how we were programmed to survive. There were plenty of fit and trim people who only ate a few times a day…and they didn’t seem to lack energy or health. Lastly when I started working as a personal trainer long time ago, I was dealing alot with people who had autoimmune diseases and other illnesses. That experience really opened my eyes into how the body really can malfunction, and made me look deeper into what I could do to help those people out….and there was a common theme, one of the best things to start the healing process naturally was fasting! (along with proper quality food intake and exercise). For me the concept of Intermittent Fasting became something that was so simple, got me results personally, brought more enjoyment to my life (and health) and seemed like something everyone needed to know about!
So today I wanted to bring in 2 of the top experts out there on Intermittent Fasting as they have been dealing with clients and getting them results for many years with different IF approaches. First is Martin Berkhan who works as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer. Martin’s personal blog can be seen at LeanGains.com. Second is Brad Pilon who is a nutrition professional with over seven years experience in the nutritional supplement industry. He is the author of the top selling Intermittent Fasting ebook Eat Stop Eat.
Ok…..so let’s get started.
Martin: I would say that the biggest things are the relief and total freedom it provides. As a fat loss approach, another great benefit is the fact that you can eat satisfying meals and still lose fat; which is more or less impossible with the typical high meal frequency approaches people use when they’re trying to lean down. Also there are the positive cognitive benefits, such as improved focus and mental clarity. As for overall health the improved insulin sensitivity is key, which also results in a more positive reaction to feeding (i.e not feeling drowsy after meals from blood sugar crashes). For those who’s goal is to maintain a low body fat at all times, instead of doing endless cycles of bulking up and cutting down, IF is a very easy and attractive approach. It’s an excellent ‘lifestyle’ diet.
Brad: I’d have to agree with most of Martin’s points. It is the ease and simplicity of IF that makes people fall in love with it. Plus, in my opinion its the only way of eating that is based on positive rewards, after you are done your fast you have an amazing sense of accomplishment and this builds with every fast. It’s a great feeling that you do not get with traditional dieting. Also who doesn’t want to look and feel younger in the process? For example, take Catherine who won the Fat Loss Turbulence Training contest while utilizing IF/Eat Stop Eat principles. Not only did she lose weight, but now she looks 20 years younger and much happier. Seriously you have to see it to believe it as I am still blown away by the difference! (Click here to see her amazing transformation at the TT blog and also make sure to click on the smaller picture to make it larger.)
Mike: Going last is tough because both of you guys cover all so many great points! I’ll probably just repeat what I wrote a while back about why I do Intermittent Fasting (IF). Freedom was #1, to be free from the tupperware containers and shake mixers I used to have in my car (and man did those stink in the heat!). To me life is not about “living to eat”, but rather “eating to live“. Also I no longer suffered from achy joints, fatigue during the day, mental brain fogs and other things that took away from my work and sports performance. I think I could possibly be healthier at 36 than I was at 26! Lastly it’s my motto that “the only cure is prevention“, so it only makes sense to live a long healthy life, that IF should be a part of it (as you can see from all the studies about increasing longevity, improving brain/heart/lung function, reducing inflammation, reducing risks of cancer and other degenerative diseases, increasing insulin sensitivity, and so much more).
Martin: The biggest I see is still making poor food choices in relation to their goals and what they wan’t to achieve. Using a haphazard approach despite having clearly defined goals (i.e. people want to get ripped yet don’t have any clue about the amount of carbs, protein and fat they’re eating). If you have ambitious goals, count on having to invest time in getting your nutrition in check. I also don’t think people should be training completely fasted when it comes to weight training. Proper pre- and post-workout nutrition is important in my opinion. Lastly is people housing an irrational fear of carbs. This is counterproductive for anyone involved in anaerobic, glycogen dependent activities such as weight training, interval running, CrossFit and such. Carbs are not the bad guy, it’s how you use them that matters.
Brad: For me the biggest mistake I see people making is continuing with Obsessive Compulsive Eating, you know believing in evil foods (like carbs) and angel foods (green tea come to mind) that sort of thing. People need to relax and realize there really is no magic to nutrition. In moderation you can enjoy any food choices you choose to make. The beautiful thing about fasting is that it sets you up so that when you are eating you can enjoy the foods you eat, and as long as you are eating responsibly, it allows you a much larger feeling of freedom and less anxiety when it comes to making food choices.
Mike: Intermittent Fasting has gotten a little black eye from some people because their experience was not what others have found with it. The thing about IF I try and tell people is that it is just a tool to use, but there are still so many other factors to consider. Like any tool you can use it the right way and the wrong way (would you use a hammer to clean your windows?). The biggest mistakes I see is people using IF as a pass to eat whatever they want and still think they can lose fat. Eating one meal a day of cookies, cake and ice cream is not going to do much to help people lose weight…and it’s also just going to lead to bigger issues of increasing insulin resistance and causing more weight gain down the road (along with other illhealth). Now like Brad and Martin have said, in moderation and with the right combination of activity carbs are not the evil guy…..but in excess they create more problems. Second biggest mistake I see is people doing too much IF, fasting too much while extremely active and not being able to eat enough calories. IF it NOT about starvation or starving yourself. Eating little calories daily is starvation! So people need to just start slow with IF, just try it a couple times a week and see what happens. Since everyone is different with their goals and workouts, what is ideal for an active person looking to increase muscle may not be ideal for a more sedentary overweight person.
Martin: First you need to figure out your energy needs and eat according to your goals. An ad libitum feeding approach will generally only work for fat loss if you have are very heavy or very active; in both these cases you’ll have a high energy expenditure and may get away with ‘slacking’ on your calorie intake. But if you’re like most people wanting to lean down you need to be aware of how much you’re eating. Also keep it simple and eat less on rest days, and more on workout days. Make protein the dominant macronutrient on rest days. On workout days, make sure you get some carbs post-workout and try to eat the great majority of calories post-workout. It’s ok to include treats post-workout (within moderation of course). Lastly don’t be too rigid or strict; you don’t have to fast every single day if it interferes with social events or if other circumstances makes it impractical. Oh yeah, like your mom always says “eat lots of fruits and vegetables”!
Brad: The best advice I have it to learn from your fasts. When you commit to taking time off from eating, you really learn what cues you to eat. From unconscious habits like coffee at work, to television commercials and even certain smells, fasting allows you to really examine your relationship with food. For most people their first couple fasts are an eye opening food to how often the actually eat and how often they think about food, so fasting can be a great learning experience.
Mike: Intermittent Fasting is a way for you to help reset some of your body’s natural built in systems for feedback which are completely messed up in todays world. Learn to listen to your body and what it is trying to tell you. Is that really hunger or are you getting withdrawl from sugar addiction (which I like to term as legal crack)? I like to also say that IFOC (IF on Crap) will not get you good results. Unless you are Michael Phelps, training in the pool for 5-6 hours a day….eating 10,000 calories of junk food is not going to work for you. While said about in moderation people can still enjoy foods, the focus still should be on quality foods first. Your body wants vitamins, minerals and other important cell building/cleansing/repairing nutrients found in whole natural foods. Go slow with IF, focus on the quality of your foods and you will see the improvements start to happen. That and if IF is not working for you, then you need to stop and reanalyze what is going on. Sometimes you have to maybe find a few ways that do not work, before you find what fits your lifestyle, activity level and goals. Don’t go too fast into it only to burn yourself out, overtrain, undereat and then be left worse off than when you started. There are many variables to play with such as carb cycling, marconutrient ratios, total calorie intake, IF scheduling (how many days you do it) and so forth. There is a way that will work for you!
Martin: I’m quite confident that many will abandon their old ways of thinking about ‘optimal’ nutrition in the next few years, as IF gains ground through emerging research and successful real life examples of it’s effectiveness for fat loss and muscle growth. Ignorance and indoctrination is still a problem, but many are starting to question the dogma and think for themselves.
Brad: The secret to success with intermittent fasting is fitting it into your lifestyle. You should enjoy your fasts, even look forward to them. They should not be burdensome or hard. I like to say, fit your diet around your lifestyle, don’t try to fit your lifestyle around your diet. The key to dieting success is its longevity. the longer you can stay with a way of eating that allows you to eat less in an easy and enjoyable manner, the greater your results will be.
Mike: IF is not a D-I-E-T, it’s a lifestyle. So make it work for you! Enjoy the daily journey of health and fitness, enjoy the natural flavors of real foods, enjoy the mental clarity and being more in tune with your body that IF can bring. Be free and make it a daily journey, as that is the true way to lasting results (as quick fix diets don’t work longterm without lasting positive lifestyle changes!).
I would like to thank Martin and Brad for taking time out of their busy schedules to contribute their great knowledge and experience. With intermittent fasting there is still much to be discovered in the research world, and with people like Martin and Brad leading the way in real world applications, IF will hopefully become something that people will learn and implement into their lives for improved health and happiness. If you would like more information on how to start with IF you can also read the Intermittent Fasting 101 article for more details.
Martin Berkhan is a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer. Through his work, he has shown that intermittent fasting can be used to lose fat and gain muscle effectively with numerous real world examples (on his site www.leangains.com). He resides in Sweden, has a bachelor’s degree in Medical Sciences and Education and major in Public Health Sciences.
Brad Pilon is a nutrition professional with over seven years experience in the nutritional supplement industry. He lives in the greater Toronto area and is the author of Eat Stop Eat (best selling ebook and now has over 2 hours of audio information above and beyond the ebook about IF. Highly recommended for those wanting more details about how IF works.)
Mike O’Donnell is a professional fitness and health coach. Mike has worked with a variety of people and is now moving to help spread the word about health and fitness online. Mike has his here at the Fitness Spotlight, has written IF ebook(s) at the IF Life and has started free online bodyweight workouts at BodyFit Workout inorder to help motivate people to make fitness a fun part of their lifestyle.
Top photo by ChrisB