Intermittent fasting – it is definitely one of the fastest (no pun intended) growing nutrition topics right now. While it is something I am familiar with, I haven’t talked about it before, except in my interview with Brad Pilon which you can find here.
I don’t think intermittent fasting is a quick-fix for all your diet woes, but I do think it’s a great method that can be sustained long term. You can definitely use intermittent fasting as a lifestyle approach for nutrition, health, performance, and body composition goals.
I’ll go ahead and say this first – I think everyone can use a form of intermittent fasting for body composition changes. However, if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I suggest doing what works best for you.
No two people are the same, and therefore there is not one universal approach to nutrition or strength training that will work for everyone. However, if you want to give intermittent fasting a try, I believe there is an approach that can work for you, and I’ll share them below.
One more thing – keep in mind that I will be sharing my personal experiences with each method discussed; you may experience something completely different when it comes to intermittent fasting.
What Led Me to Intermittent Fasting?
When I got serious about strength training and improving my body composition many years ago, I succumbed to the typical “you must eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day” methodology. I mean, it was (and still is, to an extent) touted as the one and only way to build a lean and healthy body. Naturally I thought that’s what had to be done, and so I did it fervently.
After following that obsessive compulsive strategy for a year or so, I finally got fed up with the whole thing. I was annoyed with having to prepare so many meals, clean up afterward, and carry around Tupperware.
But for me, that wasn’t the worst of it – I never felt full, I was constantly thinking about food and my next meal, and going out to eat with family and friends was a struggle.
So one day out of total annoyance and frustration, I just gave it up. I stopped preparing meals in advance. I stopped worrying about the next time I had to eat. I didn’t follow an eating schedule.
Instead I just ate whenever I was hungry and stopped eating when I was full. I generally went about 14-18 hours between my last meal of the day and my first meal the following day (I usually ate dinner around 6pm and then would eat my first meal around 11am or so the next day). This all came naturally to me and I felt great with my new eating habits. There was no more stress because I didn’t have to eat on a schedule or carry around food wherever I went.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later, however, that I realized this style of eating had a name – intermittent fasting.
Please note – while I don’t personally do the whole “5-6 small meals” throughout the day thing, I acknowledge that it does work for some people. Just as I greatly prefer to follow some form of intermittent fasting to achieve my goals, numerous others prefer to eat small meals throughout the day because they enjoy it and it allows them to achieve their goals.
Again, I encourage you to do what works for you and do what you enjoy – whether that means employing a method of intermittent fasting or eating several small meals throughout the day. I don’t care what you do as long as it makes your life easier, simpler, and leads you to your goals.
I encourage you to read the following information with an open mind. You just may stumble upon something that makes your life easier.
There are several forms of intermittent fasting, but I will only be discussing the three methods I have tried personally.
- 24 hour fasts one to two times per week
- Daily 14-16 hour fasts
- Daily partial fasts for 20 hours with one big meal
We’ll tackle these methods one at a time.
Fasting for 24 Hours Once or Twice a Week
This is the method promoted by my friend, Brad Pilon. I did an interview with him a couple of years ago which you can find here => Fasting for Weight Loss.
To keep things simple, I’ll outline the main points and my experience with this method:
- To give an oversimplified explanation – you go 24 hours without food. That means if your last meal was at 6pm today, then you wouldn’t eat until 6pm tomorrow.
- Incredibly simple to use – you just don’t eat anything for about 24 hours once or twice a week. You can freely drink water and other non-caloric beverages during the fast, but no food. After the 24 hour fast, you eat a regular meal. As Brad explains, “The best way to eat after fasting is to act as if you didn’t fast”. Don’t overeat because you haven’t eaten in 24 hours; just eat a regular meal.
- It’s effective – I have tried it, many of my clients have done it, and those who use Brad’s Eat Stop Eat and get phenomenal results are way too many to list. It works.
- It’s flexible – For those who prefer this method of intermittent fasting, it is recommended that they fast on their busiest days. This way you don’t focus on not eating food and potential hunger, but instead you can be very productive. Also, if you know you have a family event or other social gathering planned, you can adjust your fasting days accordingly.
- Numerous health benefits – Brad discusses these in his book, so I won’t go over them here. Simply put, fasting provides numerous health benefits beyond fat loss, and that is always a good thing.
- Did I mention it’s really simple? I am all about keeping things as simple as possible, especially when it comes to eating and losing body fat. With Brad’s method of fasting you don’t have to count calories, weigh food, or even restrict your favorite foods.
- Brad’s system in particular is very “freeing” for many people who use it. They are no longer required to count calories or even restrict their favorite foods. Many people who have been OCD with dieting in the past can’t believe how easy this method is and the amazing results it produces without any stress.
- This method may be too difficult for some people – some individuals simply struggle with going extended periods of time without eating. Some people get headaches, fatigued, cranky, or just too anxious. In my experience, however, many people “grow out” of this after a few fasts.
- For some people following a 24 hour fast leads to binge eating – even though you should eat a normal meal after the fast, some people think they are entitled to eat anything and everything they want as a “reward” for fasting for 24 hours. This can be remedied with some self control, but some people are just apt to binging after abstaining from food for too long.
Daily 14 – 16 Hour Fast
This form of intermittent fasting is used and promoted by Martin Berkhan. He has done an incredible amount of research on the topic as well, and his results and those of his clients speak the truth of his system.
- Men fast for 16 hours each day and women for 14 hours.
- Oversimplified explanation – if your last meal is at 8pm tonight, you wouldn’t eat again until 10am (women) or 12pm (men) tomorrow. Personally, I have no issues going the whole 16 hours and occasionally go to even 19 hours depending on my work and training schedule.
- As with the previously discussed method of intermittent fasting, you don’t consume any food or caloric beverages during the fasting period. Water, sugar free gum, and other non-caloric beverages are okay.
- This method, in my experience, is incredibly easy to sustain long term and to follow every day as it’s very simple to implement.
- This form generally means you’ll be skipping breakfast. For some people this could be quite difficult at first, especially if they buy into the whole “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” mindset.
- Martin suggests eating three meals a day without any snacks in between. Since you’ll only be eating three times per day, you’ll be eating larger meals, and that means you’ll actually feel full. This is a huge plus for me.
- Having a social life is much easier than with other dieting methods (as was the case for me with eating 5-6 small meals each day). Because you can eat larger meals, it’s easier to go to restaurants and social gatherings without having to stress about what you’re going to eat.
- This type of intermittent fasting can be used for fat loss, building muscle, and even maintenance
Daily 20ish Hour Partial Fast
This style of intermittent fasting is known as The Warrior Diet and was created by Ori Hofmekler. Basically you perform a 20-ish hour partial fast every day, and then have one large meal at night.
- During the fasting part of the day, you can consume a few servings of raw fruits and vegetables, fresh fruit/veggie juices, and a few servings of protein (protein shake, some nuts, boiled eggs, etc) if desired. These are kept quite small.
- You eat your main meal at night. Ori has guidelines for what to eat, and in what order to eat certain foods (veggies first, then meat, etc).
- Some of his recommendations are quite rigid and can be difficult to follow long term
- I don’t personally believe this is the best method for someone who is very physically active; especially one who participates in heavy weight lifting.
- Having to eat such a large meal at night doesn’t work for everyone. For example, I personally don’t like how full I feel after eating such a large meal. Then again, some people absolutely love it.
- It can be difficult to get in all of your fruits, veggies, and protein with just one large meal
- It can lead to binging on the wrong foods. Some people will inevitably think, “Well, I haven’t eaten hardly anything all day, so I can eat anything I want”. Then they end up eating nothing but pizza, wings, and cookies every night.
- You don’t have to worry about food all day. For many people, this is the greatest benefit of the Warrior Diet. Since you do the vast majority of your eating at night, you don’t have to worry about preparing food during the day.
- It saves money. You won’t be eating as much as you usually do, so you’ll likely save some money on your food bill.
- Increased energy levels – many people, myself included, tend to experience greater energy levels when fasting. This was the case, for me personally, with all three of the intermittent fasting methods I’ve used.
- This method is probably best suited for fat loss and not building muscle mass. Again, others may have a different experience.
- Can be difficult to work around social gatherings that take place during the day.
I should also mention that my friend, Molly Galbraith, is part of the force behind the Modified Warrior Diet approach. This won’t be available for a while (the author of the original Warrior Diet is not involved), but I think this is much more manageable for most people who prefer the “warrior” style of intermittent fasting, and definitely more effective for individuals who engage in serious strength training. I’ll share more about this approach in the future.
So Which Method Should You Try?
I think it all comes down to some personal experimentation. You may prefer one method over the other, or you may prefer to use each method at different times just for the sake of variety and to change things up (I’ve done this).
And, please, don’t think you have to “convert” to intermittent fasting just because it’s potentially the next big thing. Intermittent fasting works, no doubt about it, but I still suggest you do whatever works for you and your lifestyle. Whether that means eating 5-6 small meals per day or adopting a form of intermittent fasting – just do what works for you.
No method/nutrition approach will produce the results you want if you’re constantly stressed out and miserable. You need to find a method you enjoy and that you can sustain long term. In my experience and opinion, intermittent fasting is an excellent method that you can tailor to your life.
I’m Interested . . . Now What?
If you are interested in trying one of the methods of intermittent fasting discussed above, I strongly advise you to read the author’s own words and apply the method in the way he provides. The information above is based on my experience and only scratches the surface of each author’s method. All too often people half-ass apply what they read or tweak things from the beginning, and then after they don’t get results they write the program/method off as a complete failure.
Don’t do that. Do what the author says and apply as written.
- Brad Pilon’s method (once or twice a week 24 hour fast) can be found here.
- Martin Berkhan’s method (daily 14-16 hour fast) can be found here.
- Ori Hofmekler’s method (daily 20ish hour partial fast) can be found here:
Nia Shanks is a personal trainer and author of Fat Loss Detour and Beautiful Badass.