Fasting is countercultural. It goes against the advice that 99% of us have received about weight loss. Whenever someone learns about intermittent fasting for the first time, there are so many questions.
How will I function without food? How will I be able to focus while I’m trying to work? Won’t intermittent fasting ruin my metabolism? Don’t only crazy people fast? Come on, this can’t be healthy? The list goes on and on.
I have to admit, I get excited when someone shows the slightest bit of interest or curiosity in intermittent fasting.
I want to start spewing information, left and right. It all seems so important and exciting. The subject of fasting makes me feel like a kid at Christmas. Let’s just stay I get a little excited. If you want to hear more about my journey go here.
A Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting
Before starting this blog, I was always on the hunt for something to share with others about intermittent fasting. I wanted something that covered all the key concepts with enough detail to back everything up. Most of what I found was either too shallow or went too deep into one topic.
Reading an entire book shouldn’t be an initial requirement either. Side note, if you are looking for that book, read The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung. It’s incredible.
To solve the good resource dilemma, I’ve decided to take into my own hands and write the guide myself. This will be the first of many posts, discussing the foundational concepts of intermittent fasting. Be sure to also check out my guide for picking the best intermittent fasting plan.
We will begin by discussing how intermittent fasting encourages fat loss.
And spoiler alert, it’s not just the simple calorie in, calorie out paradigm. There’s more to fat gain and loss, than just a simple explanation of calories.
How does intermittent fasting help you lose weight?
One Word. Insulin.
If you only take one thing from this post, understand insulin. Insulin is king when it comes to weight gain and weight loss. We need to stop blaming anyone who is overweight or obese by their lack of willpower or virtue. The surplus or lack of excess body fat is all triggered on a hormonal level, and insulin is the driving factor. Period, end of story.
High levels of insulin triggers the body to store fat. Low levels of insulin does the opposite and tells the body to burn fat.
For many, insulin remains in a perpetual heightened state.
The more insulin you have in your body, the more your becomes desensitized to it. In other words, you become “insulin resistant” and your body defaults to fat storage mode. It becomes an ugly, vicious cycle.
Insulin resistance can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Plus, individuals with high levels of body fat, also have higher levels of insulin. In other words, reducing body fat, reduces insulin. And increasing body fat, increases insulin.
While the above sounds doom and gloom, it’s not hopeless.
There is a solution – reduce insulin in the body and burn excess body fat.
There are two ways to reduce insulin – change your diet or fast. In other words, you can reduce insulin by changing WHAT you eat
Change WHAT You Eat to Reduce Insulin
Let’s start with diet. Insulin increases anytime we eat, but different foods have more of an impact than others.
Food is divided into three macronutrients – fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Each macronutrient has a different impact on insulin.
Fat is the lowest on the insulin scale. In fact, if you’re consuming something that is 100% pure fat, it will have zero impact on insulin. Unlike carbohydrates, fat skips the liver and goes straight into the bloodstream where it is either burned as fuel or stored as fat.
Protein is next on the scale and has a moderate impact on insulin. Proteins break down into amino acids. Amino acids build and rebuild the body’s tissues. Any excess protein that the body doesn’t need stores as body fat.
Carbohydrates are highest on the scale, although not all carbohydrates are equal. Different carbohydrates have different impacts on insulin.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex and refined or whole.
Broccoli for example is both complex and whole.
Processed Foods and Insulin Response
The worst offender to insulin comes from refined and simple carbohydrates. White flour and table sugar are classic examples.
The majority of processed food is high in both refined and simple carbohydrates. Sugar is an extra sneaky offender in so many pre-made foods. This goes for foods you wouldn’t even expect, like soup.
My intention for this article isn’t to recommend any diet in particular. Instead, I want you to know that many diets revolve around different macronutrients. The keto diet, for example, focuses on high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate.
What’s important to realize now, is the type of foods you eat will impact the amount of insulin released in the body. Avoiding or limiting refined carbohydrates can have the biggest impact on insulin, especially when combined with intermittent fasting.
Change WHEN You Eat to Reduce Insulin
Changing WHEN you eat (aka fasting) is one of the best ways to lower insulin levels.
Food is necessary for the body to release insulin, and when food is withheld so is insulin.
Unless you’re only eating 100% pure fat, all the time (not recommended!) any food you consume, even vegetables and protein, will create an insulin response in the body. Of course, the degree of the response is dependent on the type of food you eat.
Regardless of what you eat, fasting will limit the hours in the day insulin releases in the body.
Eating non-stop, throughout the day, has become such a normal part of life for so many of us.
A typical day might start with breakfast at 6:00 AM. You then have a snack at 9:00 AM, lunch at noon, another snack at 2:00 PM with your afternoon coffee. After work you go to happy hour at 5:00 PM and have drinks and appetizers. You get home at 8:00 PM and have dinner followed by a late night dessert at 10:00 PM.
You’ve now been eating for 16 hours. You get the idea. We are eating non-stop.
Give Your Body a Break
Your body can’t get a break, and the body continues to release insulin. A constant insulin stream results in fat storage mode being the default.
This makes fasting so powerful. Taking at least a 12-hour break from food will stop the constant stream of insulin.
Your fasting time should be boring and only composed of water, black coffee, or plain unflavored tea.
This will give your body a much-needed break. Insulin will then reduce and your body can shift from fat storage mode to fat burning mode.
When you do eat, you can now skip the calorie counting, and just keep your diet reasonable. And yes, for many that means dessert is okay sometimes (or every day for some).
Over time, you’ll be more in tune with what and how much to eat in your eating window.
Fasting is a beautiful thing because it allows you to better listen to your body and eat to satiation. You can finally break free from the oppressive diet mindset and replace it with a lifestyle.