In Prime Women’s recently launched PLATE weight management program, Dr. Kathryn Waldrep recommends eating within a nine hour window and choosing that time frame based on your body’s circadian rhythms. Early risers might eat between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. Night owls would eat their first meal at noon and finish their last meal at 9:00 in the evening. As more and more research has been done around IF and circadian rhythms, there seems to be more and more evidence on the soundness of this approach to eating for weight management.
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This is probably a good time to mention that while I have practiced intermittent fasting consistently for the last year, I'm not fanatical about my diet. I work on building healthy habits that guide my behavior 90% of the time, so that I can do whatever I feel like during the other 10%. If I come over to your house to watch the football game and we order pizza at 11pm, guess what? I don't care that it's outside my feeding period, I'm eating it.
That window can be shrunk or expanded depending on your needs and preferences but typically, it’s somewhere between 4-7 hours of feeding during the day. Intermittent fasting is a great practice for weight loss, appetite control, digestion, and health on its own. When it’s combined with the keto diet and its benefits, the results can be even better.
The 5:2 diet, also known as the “Fast Diet,” involves restricting calories two days a week to 500 calories per day (with two 250 calorie meals), while eating normally for the other five days. For example, you might eat all of your regular meals Saturday through Wednesday, and eat 500 calories per day on Thursdays and Fridays.There isn’t a ton of research to back up this diet, although it was publicized by Michael Mosley, a British journalist and doctor. Since it doesn’t completely restrict food on the fasting days, it may also be an effective way to ease into fasting without shocking your system. The Fast Diet is considered safe for men and women.
While it’s not technically fasting, some doctors have reported intermittent fasting benefits by allowing such easy-to-digest food as whole fruit during the fasting window. Modifications like these can still give your digestive and metabolic system a needed rest. For example, “Fit for Life” was a popular weight loss book that suggested eating only fruit after supper and before lunch.
Intermittent fasting is probably what you’d think. It’s fasting… intermittently. Or, to be a bit clearer, it’s skipping meals. But while missing a meal will certainly mean fewer calories throughout your day, the magic of intermittent fasting isn’t just in how it reduces food intake, but in how it helps your body make better use of the calories you keep.
Alternate-day fasting. Go back and forth between feasting days and fasting days. Eat like a king or queen one day, then eat nothing the next. This will probably be the most challenging fasting option for most people. If you try it, make sure you’re eating a ton on your feast days, otherwise you’ll fall into a major calorie deficit and you’ll likely feel miserable.
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Both the keto diet and intermittent fasting trigger something referred to as autophagy. The latter is simply the technical term for a natural bodily function called “self-eating.” Although at first this may sound a bit frightening, autophagy is merely your body’s normal detoxification process, during which it eliminates contaminants and replaces them with newly formed, healthy cells.
Fasting ramps up your stem cell production. Stem cells are like biological playdough — your body turns them into any kind of cell it needs and uses them to replace old or damaged cells, keeping you younger on a cellular level. Stem cells are great for your skin, joints, old injuries, chronic pain, and more. You can try stem cell therapy…or you can just fast.
Nuts and seeds make great snacks that are high-fat and can be eaten around 2:30 p.m. Soaking these beforehand can help neutralize naturally occurring enzymes like phytates that can contribute to digestive problems. Eat dinner around 5:30 p.m., and just like the 8-to-6 window plan, a dinner with some sort of wild-caught fish or other clean protein source with vegetables is a great option.
Two ground-breaking studies have recently been published on the effects of intermittent fasting on males. One group of researchers studied the effects that 16 hours of intermittent fasting had on males that lift weights. They found that muscle mass stayed the same, fat mass decreased significantly, and the males who fasted for 16 hours a day burned more fat for fuel compared to the control group that only fasted for 12 hours.
So, the idea that intermittent fasting is bad for women is only partially true. Your body will do strange things if it thinks it’s starving. That’s normal, expected, and part of your evolutionary biology. The key to making it work is to give your brain the energy it needs and assuring your metabolism that everything is a-o-k and you’re not in the middle of a famine or disaster.
While these five methods are the most well-known in terms of integrating periods of fasting into your eating schedule, there are many other similar philosophies based on meal timing. For those who prefer a more fluid, less rigid method, there’s also the concept of eating intuitively. Primal Diet proponent Mark Sisson is a supporter of the Eat WHEN (When Hunger Ensues Naturally) method, where dieters simply eat whenever their bodies ask them to. However, some believe this can also lead to overeating or overconsumption of calories, since our bodies’ hunger-induced choices may be more caloric than otherwise.
Fasting helps you build a better brain, too. Intermittent fasting increases a protein in your brain called BDNF that researchers have nicknamed “Miracle-Gro for your brain.” BDNF improves learning and memory and can help you forge stronger neural pathways, making your brain run faster and more efficiently, which is especially important as you age.
Once you start your IF journey, you’ll most likely find that you feel fuller longer and can keep the meals you do eat very simple. There are a few different ways you can fast, so I broke up each of the different plans below into beginner, intermediate, and advanced along with a typical meal plan for each day. The combination of nutrients will give you the energy you need to enhance the benefits of your fasting journey. Just make sure to take into account any individual food intolerances, and use this as a guide for your particular health case, and adjust from there.
The thing is that if you want to slim down and get rid of excess pounds, then the fasted state is really the best way to do it. If you keep taking food into your body, insulin levels will remain high, and you will keep burning glucose for fuel instead of burning fat. Of course, to remain in the fasted state, you need to not be in the fed state, and that can be a problem. Starving yourself all of the time isn’t enjoyable, and it’s not healthy. To be blunt about it, your body needs nutrients, it just doesn’t need them all day, every day.
Listen to your body during workouts. If you get light headed, make sure you are consuming enough water. If you notice a significant drop in performance, make sure you are eating enough calories (especially fats and protein) during your feasting window. And if you feel severely “off,” pause your workout. Give yourself permission to EASE into intermittent fasting and fasted workouts. This is especially true if you are an endurance athlete.