Intermittent fasting has gone from secret whispers in the corner of the gym to ‘somewhat mainstream’ in a fairly short amount of time. I wouldn’t say that it is fully mainstream just yet, like the ‘you must eat breakfast, stoke your metabolism dogmas’ but there is definitely a lot more talk and press, both online and offline, these days than there was even one or two years ago.
As with anything in the fitness industry there always seems be arguments over who ‘invented’ these things and which way is the best. Instead we should be looking at the similarities between the different ‘systems’ and learn which is the best fit for you. In my opinion there is no one ‘best’ system for everyone, but each of the methods are flexible enough that you can modify them to suit your lifestyle.
Brad Pilon – Eat Stop Eat
I first heard about Brad Pilon through the TT Fat Loss website a few years ago. The whole idea of fasting was completely foreign to me because of all the things I ‘knew’ about food, eating and weight loss. The thought of going more than a few hours without food was clearly going to create more problems than it solved, or so I thought….To be honest I didn’t pay much attention to it initially and it wasn’t until the before and afters came up on the blog that I became VERY interested. It was a bit of a ‘Pandoras box’ for me. I knew looking into the box might show me something I didn’t know but that would mean challenging everything I did ‘know’ and perhaps admitting that there is a better way and that I might have been wrong. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but one I’m glad I did.
In terms of keeping it simple for this article, Brad recommends doing a 24 hour fast once or twice per week. Many people might look at this and think “OMG a whole day without food, there’s no way I can do that” and no one is asking you to. The 24 hours is best done from dinner to dinner, or lunch to lunch, or (wait for it…..) whatever works best for you.
Best for you. Not someone else. Some people thrive on the lunch to lunch method, and really struggle with dinner to dinner. Same amount of time, completely different experience. The two most important things to remember when fasting is that
a) It’s a learning experience. The changes occur in your head, not in your stomach.
b) You can’t fail. If you eat, you eat, and ‘technically’ the fast is over. Get back to point ‘a’ and learn from it.
The biggest problem I had with 24 hour fasts is that I became so aware of what hunger actually was that I found I could fast more often than the recommended once or twice a week. Just like anything else, too much of a good thing is still too much. This is about the time I heard of…..
Mike O’Donnell – The IF Life
Mike is the author of the ’2 Meal Solution’ and his website ‘The IF Life’ is one of the best ‘easy to read’ intermittent fasting resources on the web.
My experience was that after doing some 24 hour fasts, I wasn’t hungry at breakfast time and didn’t see the point of just eating for the sake of eating. Without much of a plan or a system I actually felt more out of control. I like routine because it makes my life easier and without such a routine I felt a little lost. Luckily I found Mike’s blog and read the 2 Meal solution which basically recommends eating lunch and dinner, instead of the ‘regular’ 3 square meals. But Mikes approach doesn’t stress doing it everyday, perhaps starting with an alternating day approach works best for you. Make it easier, and make it work for you.
Not revolutionary by any means and not extreme like some people think fasting is. In fact there are plenty of people that follow a 2 meal type system without really knowing it. For me not having breakfast made my life simpler. I am always busy in the morning, and did all the things I recommended my clients do. Get up 5 minutes earlier, prepare the night before etc, but not having to worry about eating anything in the morning (and knowing there weren’t any negative or guilty consequences) made my mornings a breeze.
I get up, have a glass of water at home, a black coffee when I get to to work, see my clients, train around noon and then have lunch. That’s my typical day and this method works best for me.
It’s easy to do which is why I have been able to do it everyday since February 2011, and I have no plan on changing anything anytime soon.
Martin Berkhan – Leangains
The Leangains system is more than just about the fasting (and cheesecake…) in my opinion. The ‘eating window’ is much the same Mike recommends in that you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8. Not that you should be having an 8 hour sit down meal in this time, typically you would have ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner’ – see the similarities…..?
Martin also recommends the use of calorie and carbohydrate cycling which takes things to another level. Another level in terms of ‘difficulty’ and maybe another level of results. It all comes back to what is best for you. If you want to keep it simple and just do the 16/8 fast eating ‘real food’ then that’s cool. To take it up a level you can then put an emphasis on protein every day, more carbs/less fat on heavy training days, and lower carbs/higher fat on rest days.
If you want to take it up another level then you can track calories each day and exact macronutrients. Once again it s what works best for you. If counting calories does your head in, then it might not be the best method for you. If you have a ‘need’ or want to track everything, then not knowing might be just as hard. Find what works best for you…I typically track and measure to start with when I make changes, and then eat roughly the same foods everyday. This works for me, I like routine more than I like variety!
The Leangains system also recommends basic, heavy workouts using squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, dips. The idea is to get stronger with big compound exercises, force your body to keep its muscle and burn fat. Simple really, maybe that’s why it works…
John Romaniello – Fat Loss Forever
I first heard about John when he had his ‘Defence of Cheat Meals’ article on T-Nation and then his feast/fast series. The idea of having a massive feast followed by a 24-36 hour fast made a whole lot of sense. Get all of the benefits from ‘refeeding’ and then throw them straight into the fasting fire.
A massive calorie hit, followed by a massive calorie low.
Good in theory, but not great in practice….for me. I know plenty of people that have had good success using this method, because it allows for a great psychological edge when ‘dieting’ knowing that you can eat (literally) whatever you want come Saturday, or whatever day you choose.
Luckily John didn’t stop there and realised that there are benefits to the systems I have mentioned (plus some that I haven’t) and has put them together in a way that has had great results for himself and his clients. I like the information on intermittent fasting in Fat Loss Forever, and it is a great starting point for someone into IF.
For me it looks a little too complex and I would recommend people try the way he has structured things, take away what works, and get rid of what doesn’t. In a number of ways it is very similar to the ‘hybrid 2 Meal/Eat Stop Eat’ plan that I use, so I’ll do a full write up comparing the two very shortly.
Dr John Berardi – Precision Nutrition
John Berardi has been one of the go to guys for lean eating for as long as I can think back. The only problem I had with is Precision Nutrition system was that one of the rules was the ‘eat every 2-3 hours’ dogma. Just like I did all those years ago, John recently opened the Pandora’s box that is intermittent fasting.
This is a brave step for someone with such a reputation in the industry, and he totally stepped up to the plate, fully documenting his progress over 6 months of self experiments with IF. He has basically tried each of the above methods, and made tweaks and changes along the way.
You can read the whole thing here - John’s Experiments with Intermittent Fasting (there’s a quick read, medium read, and full on read options, pretty cool!)
Take Away Points
- Intermittent Fasting has been around forever (literally) and is starting to gain some mainstream press.
- There are many different methods and hybrid methods from each of these.
- They all involve some form of not eating for an ‘extended’ period.
- When you do eat, you should be eating ‘real’ and healthy foods, most of the time, everything in moderation, including moderation!
- The best method is the one you can fit easily into your lifestyle without adding stress.
- Each of the methods above reference about a gazillion studies because what they’re saying goes against the ‘regular’ advice given.
If you’ve had any experience with Intermittent Fasting, either one of the methods I’ve mentioned above, or a different one that didn’t make the list then leave a comment below. Fasting comes close to topics like religion and PC vs Mac when it comes to opinions, lets have at it!
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