If you're worried you’ll be starving while fasting, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Intermittent fasting decreases your hunger hormone ghrelin, which in turn can increase dopamine levels in the brain. (Just another example of the gut-brain axis at work.) Fasting can also help free people from emotional eating and kill cravings by transitioning your metabolism from unstable sugar-burning to steady fat-burning.
IF makes intuitive sense. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.
The four-hour eating window — which Hofmekler refers to as the “overeating” phase — is at night in order to maximize the Parasympathetic Nervous System’s ability to help the body recuperate, promoting calm, relaxation and digestion, while also allowing the body to use the nutrients consumed for repair and growth. Eating at night may also help the body produce hormones and burn fat during the day, according to Hofmekler. During these four hours, the order in which you eat specific food groups matters, too. Hofmelker says to start with veggies, protein and fat. After finishing those groups, only if you are still hungry should you tack on some carbohydrates.
Intermittent fasting may work amazingly well for some people, and terribly for others. Most importantly, if you do decide to give intermittent fasting a try, be sure to listen to your body’s feedback. Easing into intermittent fasting by starting with shorter fasting windows can help with initial symptoms of hunger and discomfort. But if it becomes too uncomfortable, be honest with yourself, accept it, and move on.
So, what exactly is a relaxed approach to intermittent fasting? Again, since there’s little research done on intermittent fasting, we’re dealing with a bit of a gray area. The opinions also tend to vary depending on which site you visit, or which health expert you ask. From what we’ve found, the general guidelines to brief intermittent fasting for women are:
I am a 65-year-old male who started IF seven weeks ago. I only eat between noon and 8pm. I am obese, but losing about a pound a week so far. Notably, except for time, I have not changed what I eat at all. My diet was never terrible or great, and now it is the same, a mix of raw fruit sometimes and a donut another time. But I only eat it during the appointed hours. Remarkably, I do not feel hungry. I used to eat comfort breakfasts like pancakes or waffles, and I thought I would miss them. But no, I truly am not hungry in the mornings. I often delay lunch, but I still stop eating at 8. That alone probably has cut many calories of desserts. Bottom line: works for me so far.
How It Works: Warriors-in-training can expect to fast for about 20 hours every day and eat one large meal every night. What you eat and when you eat it within that large meal is also key to this method. The philosophy here is based on feeding the body the nutrients it needs in sync with circadian rhythms and that our species are “nocturnal eaters, inherently programmed for night eating.”
Cons: Even though there is flexibility in when you eat, Leangains has pretty specific guidelines for what to eat, especially in relation to when you’re working out. The strict nutrition plan and scheduling meals perfectly around workouts can make the program a bit tougher to adhere to. (You can learn more about the specifics — as well as when to time these meals — directly from Leangains here and here.)
Not only that, but growth hormone is increased during fasted states (both during sleep and after a period of fasting). Combine this increased growth hormone secretion:, the decrease in insulin production (and thus increase in insulin sensitivity ), and you’re essentially priming your body for muscle growth and fat loss with intermittent fasting.