The words “intermittent fasting” seem to be on everyone’s lips nowadays, especially within the scene of fitness, health, and particularly dieting. While IF is not so much about a diet in a conventional sense but more about an eating pattern, it does give some of the same benefits as a diet – such as weight loss and improved health, among other things. In this article, we´ve put together some guidelines and tips based on the collective years of experience with IF within our team here at Base Gym to help guide new-beginners on this topic.
DISCLAIMER: We are no doctors or experts on the topic, so please always make your own judgments and do proper research before doing more “extreme”, longer fasts. If pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or in the case of a history of eating disorders, always consult with a doctor before testing IF.
The What and the Why
Intermittent fasting (abbreviated IF) is an eating pattern where one changes between eating and not eating over a period of several hours. IF does not specify what to eat and what not to eat but rather when to eat.
Fasting practices have been around for centuries and are not anything new to the human body. Our ancestors during the time of hunting/gathering could easily go long periods without food at hand, simply because they didn´t find or catch any, and many religions still practice fasting for spiritual purposes. We are in a way also fasting while we’re sleeping, and not eating is also quite a normal physical response to sickness.
The perhaps most popular method is the 16:8 fast, where one typically skips breakfasts, starts eating around noon, and consumes the last meal of the day at 8 or 9 pm. 16:8 thus stands for a 16-hour fast and an 8-hour “eating window”. Another variation would be to do a 24-hour fast 1-2 days a week, but some also practice longer fasts.
The health effects of restricting eating are found to be many. Apart from the obvious effect of efficiently cutting calories, fasting promotes cellular repair by kicking the body into a “self-cleanse” process called autophagy; it regulates your insulin production in a way that makes it easier to burn fat, and some animal studies have interestingly found a correlation between time-restricted eating and enhanced longevity.
Our tips for new-beginners
1. Identify your motivation
A good starting point before you embark on an IF journey is to identify your motivation for doing it; why do you want to go extended periods without food. Is it to effectively cut your daily calories, is it to cleanse your body, is it to explore and learn about yourself? This might help you a long way in finding the right IF type for you – and in some cases, it might lead to the acknowledgment that IF is not for you. In the case of calorie restriction, there are many ways of doing this besides not eating, and for some people going hours without eating might not be ideal for their fitness goals. If one is looking to gain mass and has 4-6 heavy strength workouts a week, not supplying the body with food might be counterproductive and negatively affect protein synthesis (the making of protein in the body) – if not done right.
2. Explore and learn about your body and use new insight to adapt accordingly
So, you’ve now decided that you do want to try out the intermittent fasting eating pattern and where do you go from here? Our advice is to start this off with an “explorative mindset”. Whatever type of IF you choose, try to view the first days as an “experiment” where your sole purpose is to learn how your body reacts. We recommend being patient during this phase and not reject the method too early. As with anything, your body needs time to adapt, so make sure you have in fact given the body sufficient time to adjust to this new eating pattern. Yes, you will feel discomfort and yes, it might feel unbearable (especially during a long fast), but that does not mean you are doing anything wrong. The body is extremely good at adapting to new conditions so be curious and let the body do what it does best. Give it a few days or even weeks before you conclude whether or not IF is for you.
Finally, use this “new insight” about yourself to find an eating pattern that suits you, whether it be 16:8 fasts, 24-hour fasts, or even longer. You will soon realize that there are not only effects on your body that might have implications for you but you might also realize there are implications concerning your lifestyle and routines (for instance, not spending time on making and eating breakfast is a relief for some and a “must” for others).
3. Do not regard IF as a “free pass” to unhealthy eating
So you´ve now gotten the hang of things and are noticing some changes around your waistline and perhaps your mood, and the weight on the scale is slowly going down. At this point, it might be tempting to “let go” and allow yourself some cheat meals here and there. Hey, you’re losing weight and you´re doing the unthinkable, namely not eating, so you deserve a little reward, right? The cheat meal will be “nulled out” in your next fasting window anyway, you might think. Well, that´s not exactly how things work. While it is ok to have a cheat day during the weekends, it is important to note that intermittent fasting should not be considered a “free pass” to eat what you want and how much you want on a regular basis. On the contrary, you should also be careful with getting the right nutrients and enough of it, particularly if you´re a highly active person. We recommend being mindful of your kcal/nutrient intake to not jeopardize your health and well-being.
4. Think long-term, sustainable health
This brings us to our last point – which is an important one. Think long-term. Typical diets can indeed be effective but only for so long. A typical scenario for many is that one loses weight drastically during a short period of time only to gain it all again once the “diet is over”. We encourage you to challenge this whole notion of “being on a diet”. Done right, IF can provide tremendous health benefits, but this is the case mostly when people view it as a lifestyle or an eating pattern in a broad and pragmatic sense, and not a diet to lose kilos fast. Always keep your long-term health in mind and be honest with your body and what intermittent fasting does for you.