This post is not going to be a scientific debate about the pros and cons of intermittent fasting. Over the years I’ve grown increasingly cynical of “scientific studies” either supporting or contesting common theories. Everything and everyone seems to have an agenda, and objectivity has gone completely out of the window. Government guidelines, university research, clinical studies, newspaper articles, and TV documentaries are all influenced in some way by funding, political influence, or advertising. Anything that contradicts the mainstream train of thought is immediately debunked as pseudoscience or broscience, mocked and ridiculed, and “proven” to be wrong. The problem with the current degree of accessibility to information is that for every peer reviewed study that supports a theory, you’ll find one that doesn’t. They each sit on a sliding scale of reliability, but unless you’re an academic in that particular field of research, you’re not really in a position to judge them. Even if you are, I bet you have your own prejudices that will result in you seeking out a confirmation bias in order to reaffirm your own theories. This is why I’m such an advocate of trial and error.
Trial and Error
We are all unique. Our hormonal reactions, our biochemical make up, even our external influences, all add up to make a universal recommendation impossible. What works for me to reach my goals may never work for you, even if our goals are exactly the same. Sure you can make general sweeping statements that may have an increased likelihood of similar reactions amongst a percentage of the general population, but no two people will have exactly the same response in all aspects of their physiology from the same stimulus. So regardless of what studies say, regardless of what people recommend, I like to try things out for myself and if they work I try to keep doing them. When they don’t work, I’ll adjust and try something new until I find a variation that does. And this is where my version of intermittent fasting comes in.
An Odd Combination
The first thing to note in my version of intermittent fasting is that I’m never really in a fasted state. According to a post by UP Fitness, it takes around 12 hours after your last meal to enter a truly fasted state. If I ever do enter this state, it’s only temporary and you’ll see why later.
In order to have an informed opinion on diets, I’ve done them. I have first hand experience of how sustainable a particular diet is for my lifestyle, rather than just a theory of how my body should react based on what’s said in a book. During adulthood, I’ve spent 10 weeks on each of The Dukan Diet, Slimming World, The 5:2 Diet, Paleo Diet, Atkins, SlimFast, and If It Fits Your Macros, and I’ve picked the bits that I found worked well for me on each of them and combined them to fit into an intermittent fasting schedule.
Intermittent Fasting Schedules
There are a few intermittent fasting schedules that you can follow, primarily the leangains, the day on day off, and the 5:2 methods. There are many more, and these may not be the official names for the methods as defined by their creators, but you’ll probably recognise them from their descriptions.
Leangains. The most recognised version of intermittent fasting. You spend a period of the day fasting, and you have a defined window of time in which you can eat. A typical example is 16 hours fasting and 8 hours eating. So you eat all of your calories only between the hours of 1pm and 9pm, for example. The rest of the time you can only consume water, or non-calorific beverages like coffee, green tea, or diet sodas. I found this to be the most sustainable version.
Day On Day Off. You fast for 24 hours, then eat for 24 hours (not literally). So, for example, your last meal ends at 1pm. You then fast until 1pm the following day. You’re then able to eat your allocated calories until 1pm the following day, and repeat. This is really hard work and not really sustainable for me over a long period.
5:2. This is probably the most commercially recognisable variation of intermittent fasting. I think it was first coined by Dr Michael Mosley, and is under the category of ketogenic diets that I find the most often misinterpreted dieting method around. The principle is that you consume a calorie neutral amount of food for 5 days (i.e. you only eat what you burn), then consume only 500-600 calories on 2 non-consecutive fasting days thereby creating an overall calorie defecit. I’ve seen people think you have to do the 2 days in a row, and others think that you can pig out on the 5 eating days, and then complain it’s not working or sustainable. I really like this one, but often fall into the trap of eating way more than a calorie neutral amount.
This is an example of a week on my version of intermittent fasting, that I know works and is sustainable for me. It might not be for you, but you could always try it and see for yourself.
Sunday to Thursday:
On waking: A double espresso with 1 teaspoon of coconut oil. There are many people who heavily criticise this as a fad because of the Bulletproof Coffee saga. Others say it’s a complete waste of calories because the oil is extremely calorie dense. All I know is that for me, the caffeine seems to encourage lipolysis (body fat cells releasing stored fat for energy) and the easily metabolised saturated fat of the oil encourages the use of glycerol in the fat for energy rather than breaking down protein from the muscles. This is also why I’m never in a truly fasted state.
Exercise: I either train before breaking my fast or in the middle of my eating window. I have no real preference, but I have found that training beforehand burns more fat on me than training during. If I want to gain more muscle mass, training during my eating window tends to work better for me, probably because I’m more fuelled to work harder during the session. For beforehand, I’ll have an espresso with cinnamon in, for during I’ll not have a preworkout. If you’re struggling to find a workout, checkout Uncle_Muscle who will give you a variety of workouts for free. I try to train at least 4 days a week.
Post Exercise: I’ll just have a protein shake. I find that this is enough for breaking my fast; I get around 45g of protein from Genetic Supplements Optima Advanced, and a high protein low carb fast breaking snack seems to help me sustain energy levels until my first meal if training before my eating window, or it acts as a great mid-window snack when training during the eating window. I’ll try to train at 11:30am until 12:00pm have my post exercise protein shake straight away, then my Meal 1 at 1pm. If I train during the eating window, it will be about 3:00pm until 3:30pm, have my shake, and ready to eat my final meal at about 5 or 6:00pm.
Meal 1: This meal is either at 1pm regardless of when I train. This will be a high protein, high fibre meal. I’ll have fish or chicken with a load of greens like watercress, spinach, broccoli; high fibre veg like sweetcorn; and a full fat blue cheese dressing.
Snack: If I’m training during the eating window, my post workout shake will be the snack. If I’m training beforehand, my snack will be at about 3:00pm and will be a Skyr or Total yoghurt with 30g walnuts and a half pint of whole milk.
Meal 2: This is the last meal of the day and will be at about 5 or 6:00pm. It will be anything I want within reason. If I fancy a pizza, I’ll have pizza but I’ll choose an individual portion Italian based one with any topping I fancy. If I fancy a burger, I’ll have any burger I fancy but I will have a diet soda and no chips.
One thing to note, I give myself an 8 hour window to eat. The beauty of this is that I don’t need to fill it, and I don’t have to stick rigidly to the timings above. If colleagues from work are going out for a meal after work at 7:00pm, I’ll go with them. I have between 12 and 8 to eat. As long as all my calories are consumed within that window, I have complete flexibility.
#FreeFriday baby. I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. But with the flexibility and the routine of Sunday to Thursday, I find I don’t binge and portion sizes are a lot smaller than I expect them to be. It’s just a great opportunity to replenish those carbohydrates that I will have depleted through the week, satisfy any cravings of foods that I’ve fancied through the week, and keep me motivated to sustain this programme long term.
I’ll have the espresso and coconut oil first thing, but I will only have one meal in the entire day and it will be within an hour of training. One meal that is up to 1500 calories within an hour after training.
In summary, this is what seems to be working for me; I’m not saying it will work for you. Your goals and needs are as unique to you as your fingerprints. But if you do find something that works, please don’t stop doing it just because some study published in a tabloid newspaper says you should.