It's no secret that there are some bold claims around Intermittent Fasting (IF). Much of it is bro-science, but there is also extensive research supporting it's use.
But the real question is, "Why on earth would you want to do it?"
Decades of research has high-lighted that sustained calorie under consumption (60 - 80% of daily intake) can have significant health benefits and can delay the onset of many age related diseases.
According to Harvard Education, prolonged very low calorie diets can cause physiological changes within your body that causes it to adapt to the reduction in calories, and preventing further weight loss from happening, so you'll want to use it intelligently.
How it works
Common methods consist of fasting on alternate days for the whole day (with a specific frequency per week), or during a set time frame (I chose the latter). Here are some examples,
How I did it
I opted for Time Restricted Feeding (TRF), simply because it is simple, easy to execute and fitted in with my lifestyle. I find the common mistake is people choose a version of IF that doesn't quite match their lifestyle, so they give up before achieving any of the benefits.
Initially my window for eating was 4pm - 9pm, I struggled to get my calorie intake of 3,170kcal - 3,635kcal, so I adjusted my time frame to
3pm - 9pm
Here's What I found..
Before I had started (IF) I had noticed my weight had crept up to 107kg, and I was not happy with the changes in my body, especially as the additional weight hadn't materialised into improvement in performance.
At competition I come in at 105kg and my usual walking around weight is 100kg - 103kg (a weight I naturally sit at when eating healthy and staying active).
I found the first 3 - 4 days extremely challenging, both mentally and physically. The hunger pangs were strong, and brain fog ensued as my body began to regulate my blood sugar levels through different mechanisms.
But I began to enjoy the mental challenge, feeling a sense of achievement knowing I had the discipline to do it despite the mental and physical discomfort. Also the physical hunger reminded me of my boxing days, and tapped into that mentality. My mind soon became sharper and as the days went on, it was these times of fasting that were my most productive work wise.
I adjusted my eating window so that I could get sufficient calories in, as prior to that it was a struggle. Unlike most forms of IF I didn't aim to restrict my calories (as essentially that's how the weight loss happens), it happened as a natural process of becoming full prior to going to sleep and having a shorter time frame to get the calories in.
My weight began to drop a bit too rapidly, so after the first week I began to track my calorie intake and ensure that I was at least hitting the 2,900kcal - 3,200kcal mark. So far, as of writing this article my weight has stabilised at 104.5kg, with no decrease in strength - which is pretty cool.
I'm no stranger to Intermittent Fasting. I first did it many years ago when I was full on carnivore, and I decided to try The Warrior Diet. This time around was the first time I had done IF on a plant based diet, this means zero animal products, and to be honest this time was a lot more nutrient dense, so I'm guessing that's partially why my energy levels were not as depleted
I did make adjustments to optimise my training though. Strength sessions were either the first part of the day, or in the afternoon, just prior to breaking my fast, and I kept all MetCon or HIIT training in the afternoon (so I could break my fast just after and optimise nutrient uptake).
I'm pleased with results so far, both physically and mentally, and intend to continue with this experiment for three months, providing no negative effects occur.
What the research says
According to a systematic review of over forty studies, IF is effective for weight loss, with a typical drop in 7 - 11lbs over ten weeks. The size of participants groups in the studies varied, as too did the IF protocol that was used.
While drop out rates were 0 - 65%, when compared to calorie restriction group there was no significant difference. So it's worth considering the IF protocol you use and making sure it's sustainable for you.
A randomised control trial (RCT) that followed 100 obese participants for one year did not find any significant weight loss to those that were on a calorie restriction diet.
In this trail, for the first 6 months, groups were divided into alternating days of fasting at 25% of calorie intake then 125% of of baseline calories split over 3 meals.
The other groups was set a calorie restriction of 75% split over 3 meals. Then at 6 months, a maintenance phase was introduced, with calories increased by 25% in both groups.
There was no significance in differences achieved in weight loss or body composition. Nor was their significant differences in fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin, or blood pressure.
But what the study did find however, was that there was a 38% drop out rate in the fasting group versus 29% in the calorie restriction group.
Pitfalls of IF
While there are numerous benefits from IF, Harvard Education suggests that it is not appropriate for everyone, as it can cause complications for
those with certain medical conditions or disordered eating.
So who is it not appropriate for?
IF in a Nutshell...
Ultimately the benefits of weight loss achieved through IF are the results of a calorie deficit, which can have subsequent metabolic, and hormonal benefits. IF hasn't been shown to be that much more significant or effective than simple calorie restriction over time.
That said, IF is a great way for some people to structure their nutrition and achieve similar results as standard calorie restriction, with bonus affects not necessarily captured in the research (which I have outlined in my experience).
I for one will be continuing with IF as and when it suits me. When it stops working for me, I'll no longer do it - and that's the important lesson, whatever you do, you have to make sure that is is sustainable and safe for you.
If you don't know who Rachel Thompson is, you need to get to know.
She is the UK Queen of Animal Flow, my coach and training buddy.
In the latest podcast episode of Cj Sends Word I get up close and personal with Rachel, A former professional dancer, now elite Animal flow coach, athlete and personal trainer. Rachel shares her personal journey, and the back ground behind her philosophy, "Do it with passion. Do it with discipline." which has led her to become one of the leading Animal Flow pioneers, and respected coaches in the UK.
Packed with pearls of wisdom, and powerful insights, this exciting thirty minute podcast will have you both entertained and give you pause for thought. You can listen [HERE]
Have you noticed the shift recently?
The emphasis has previously always been on fitness, how fast or far you can run, how much you can lift, those ripped abs, how much you weigh, how big your guns are, all partnered with a peach of a booty.
This is the world of fitness. Where runners competing in marathons can drop down dead in a heart beat. Bodybuilders and figure athletes with close to less than five percent body fat can wreck their hormones, with their organs packing up on them.
The shift has been from fitness to health. Too often we pursue fitness goals at the expense of our health. Heck, I'll put my hand up to that one, I've certainly been guilty of that in the past. But while there is a significant amount of overlap between health and fitness, when it comes to measuring our health, we are often missing it out completely until that check up at the doctors, or when we are suddenly struck down with that life changing illness. So what am I getting at?
It's this. On a regular basis we measure
We focus on either the way we look, or on performance parameters. Now there is nothing wrong with this, but if this is all we look at, we are missing a huge piece of the puzzle. We are analysing incomplete data.
So what other information should we be looking at if we want to take care of our health?
Here are some really simple ways to track different aspects of health, that are not too intrusive and you can do them at home.
What is it?
Blood pressure, put simply is the pressure of the blood within your blood vessels. There are two numbers. Your Systolic Blood Pressure (SBP) which is pressure in the vessels when your heart contracts and pushes blood around your vessels, and your Diastolic Blood Pressure (DBP) which is the pressure in the vessels after the contraction.
How can I measure it?
Your blood pressure can be taken by your doctor, suitably trained professional or even at home with a blood pressure device. Often these electronic devices are attached to cuff, placed around your arm (or your wrist). They then inflate, and measure the pressure of the blood flow.
What does it tell me?/ Why is it important?
Your blood pressure can give a good idea if we are prone or have cardiovascular disease, or other sickness. Remember very low blood pressure can also be indicative of potential illness.
High blood pressure doesn't automatically mean that we will have an incident like a heart attack or a stroke. It gives us an indicator if there maybe lifestyle factors that we need to address or medication that we may need to prevent disease from happening or getting worse.
What is it?
Your body needs these lipids known as cholesterol, it plays an important role in your body, from cell membrane support to producing hormones. It only becomes a problem if there is the wrong amount and ratio circulating in your blood.
As cholesterol is not water soluble so it carried around the blood in different types of protein and fat packages. These are
One of these help to return cholesterol from the cells (HDL) back to the liver where is is broken down and processed to be eliminated from the body.
The other (LDL) carries cholesterol to your cells for use, but when there is an excess floating about it has been shown to be in part responsible for plaque formation in your blood vessels.
How can I measure it?
A blood test (needle or prick test) can tell you your total cholesterol, and the break down of both HDL and LDL cholesterol. The ratio is also important as outlined above. The test can be done by your doctor, home-kits are usually available too, from companies such as Boots or medichecks
What does it tell me? / Why is it important?
In healthy individuals <5mmol with a HDL ratio of less than 4 is considered optimal. Managing your cholesterol is important as if not controlled it is can increase the risk of,
What is it?
Oxygen saturation is a measure of how much oxygen your red blood cells are carrying.
How can I measure it?
You can take an Arterial Blood Gas (ABG) test which is usually issued by your doctor. Blood is taken from an artery rather than a vein (blood in your arteries is oxygenated - blood in your veins isn't).
An ABG test can also detect other levels of gases in your blood and the pH Level (acid /base).
The most common way for the average person at home, and the way that I do it, is with a Pulse Oximeter. This device is placed over the finger tip and infrared light is passed through the capillaries. It measures how much light is reflected off the gases and will tell you your oxygen levels as a percentage (there is a 2% error window on this test). You can also get similar devices which are placed on your ear lobe or toe.
What does it tell me? / Why is it important?
For otherwise healthy individuals, an ABG test oxygen level for functioning lungs is between 80 - 100 mm/hg. If using a pulse oximeter a healthy reading is considered between 95 - 100%.
There are specific ranges for other medical conditions which your doctor will tell you.
Low blood oxygen levels is known as hypoxemia. Hypoxemia is a cause for concern. The lower your oxygen levels the more severe the condition, and potential damage to tissues and organs. It can also be indicative of other undiagnosed medical conditions.
Symptoms typically include
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
What is it?
In a nut shell, Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the a measurement of the space between each heart beat. A healthy heart has a variance in this.
How can I measure it?
In healthcare settings hospitals will often give you a special unit to track your HRV. Specialist Wellness clinics often have packs you wear for 24 - 48 hours to get an idea of your HRV in that period.
A simple, inexpensive way is to do it yourself. There are various apps you can use to measure your HRV two of the best and most accurate currently on the market that I have personally tested are,
Download the app. Then you simply connect your heart rate monitor to your phone app and it will transmit your HRV over a period of time. According to research the minimal recommend time is 5 minutes for it to be more accurate. The app will then give you a score.
What does it tell me? /Why is it important?
Within a certain measurement, a healthy heart has great HRV. If you think about it, at the extreme end when you flatline (clinically dead) there is no variability. Also, when your heart is stressed variability is reduced, when you exercise (which is a physical stressor) your heart beats at a certain rate and frequency and the space between each heart beat is reduced.
Also if there is too much variability, it can be indicative of problems with your heart.
Essentially, HRV measures the interplay of two components of your nervous system.
We need both for optimal health. By measuring HRV we can see if there is a healthy balance, or if one part of the nervous system is consistently dominant - which has potential health consequences.
Measuring your HRV can also be used as a diagnostic tool, telling us if we need to adjust everyday life stressors such as
So what now?
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a useful statistical tool to group people together and stratify those at risk, and those who are not. But what it doesn't tell you is the quality of your immediate health, the same is true of just weighing yourself.
The four markers that I have outlined, when tracked over time, and even as a snap shot of a single day will give you a far better indicator as to how your health is doing.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't weight yourself, but what I am saying is that it is not as important as some of the other markers, if you are already leading or beginning an active lifestyle.
" You don't have to be a wreck, you don't have to be sick. One's aim in life should be to die in good health. Just like a candle that burns out.
"If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.
In the best selling book, "Code of the Extraordinary Mind" Vishen Lakhaini talks about BRules (BS rules). Brules are rules we tell ourselves, either directly or ones that have been fed to us through peers, family, or our culture.
These are rules that constrict our true potential, but are taken as true, yet once we begin to examine them fall apart like a cheap flat-packed wardrobe.
I'm sure you've heard of "Once you hit a certain age it's hard to lose weight" or "You can't have a social life if you want to keep fit." You get the idea, and god forbid if you are a stay at home dad. No doubt you'll have come head on against a certain set of BRules too, which judge your entire "manhood" - it's ridiculous right? Whether you stay at home or work doesn't mean you are any more or less of a man (or a human being). But this is the nature of BRules. They are archaic. They used to work, but no longer serve us.
As a coach, I've watched as many of my clients have transitioned into fatherhood. Often more than once. Each time brings with it its own unique set of challenges, but the first time is usually the biggest shock, as they attempt to hold on to habits they enjoyed in the past, while juggling their new commitments. Time is now even more at a premium.
To meet the needs of their family, the first thing that often goes in the first year is their fitness. If you are someone who hasn't been active most of your life then this aspect makes no real difference to you. But for those who were used to being physically active it can be a painful transition. Changes in energy, body image, sleeplessness, and mood can come as a shock. For many dads working out is as much about channelling tension, aggression, release form daily pressure and "me time" for their mental well being. When you remove this, you take block the pressure valve, that can leak out in other ways - often showing up in the relationship or at work.
If you are a dad that can relate to this then my 10 day online challenge is for you.
But what if you are a dad that hasn't really worked out before, but you recognise that if you don't take care of your health now, you won't be around to enjoy your family in later years?
Maybe you're starting to notice just bending over to pick your socks up off the floor is an effort. That you can't get out of the sofa without making strange noises. Lower back pain has gone from being occasional to a familiar friend (you know it well).
You get out of breath easily. You don't so much as seize the day, but grab it with a limp grip, then let it slip away.
I'm not going to make outrageous promises about results you can get in 10 days. But what I am going to tell you is that most people think what that they need is the latest diet or workout - when what they really need is behaviour change. In Vishen Lakhaini makes an important point
Often we can spend too much time in one area, such as our beliefs, without adequately developing new approaches to what we do through habit change. That's what this 10 day challenge will focus on. Small habits, the when worked on consistently will take on a compound effect for greater wins. It all starts November 15th and its the last online challenge for this year. Register [here] to get involved.
See you on the other side.