Two men, two different goals, and two slight variations of intermittent fasting plans. With the many options available, how do you go about developing an intermittent fasting plan? I’ve started a deep dive into understanding the science behind this approach to health and weight loss and am impressed with what I’ve seen so far. It’s also a plan people often request and one of the easiest to begin.
Let’s look at the two plans I’ve recently designed. I will go over how I designed them and why I set them up the way I did. As far as the fad diets go, this is probably my favorite. I’ve listed my top reasons below.
Benefits of Following an Intermittent Fasting Plan
Here they are in random order. We each may prefer it for different reasons, but most of us can relate to a few of these.
I do want to note that the research available covers a variety of fasting methods. As of yet, we don’t have a pile of research looking at every variety of fasting in humans for each situation. As a result I’ve lumped everything into one group. Over time we may see different benefits and risks come from different periods of fasting. For brevity, and with the overall lack of data, we are looking at fasting in general (defined as choosing to go without eating for periods of 16-48 hours).
It Decreases Your Risk for Diabetes
Intermittent fasting lowers your insulin levels while also increasing your insulin sensitivity. The short explanation of type two diabetes is that the cells become resistant to insulin causing blood sugar levels to rise and more insulin to be secreted. Early on in type two diabetes, both insulin and blood sugar levels are high. Over time the body gets worn out from releasing so much insulin and the cells start to shut down, causing people to need insulin injections.
Since following an intermittent fasting plan improves the cell’s response to insulin and lowers insulin release, the progression of type two diabetes can stopped, or even reversed over time. These changes result in improved blood sugar control, and lowers your risk of developing type two diabetes, or improving your blood sugar control if you already have it.
Improved Heart Health
Intermittent fasting improves blood pressure, which reduces stress on your heart. It also can lower your levels of cholesterol. One of the neatest things about fasting is that your number of autophagosome cells increase! I know you’re wondering about this one… autophagy means self eating (this always makes me laugh a bit, but it’s a good thing in this context). Autophagosome cells are responsible for cleaning out the buildup of cells that are sick or dying. Just like us, our cells tend to have a lifespan. Once they start to break down, they need to be cleaned out. On the outside we do this by shedding our hair, skin cells, and growing our nails. On the inside, we depend on autophagy, among other things, to clean these out — hence autophagosome cells! Isn’t that cool?! To sum it up, intermittent fasting increases the cells that get rid of sick cells.
Lowers Alzheimers Risk
Like I’ve said before, this is one that always gets my attention. It is still being looked into, but I’ll go over the theories here. Overall intermittent fasting improves your body’s stress response, including your brain’s! Also, by decreasing inflammation, you reduce the damage inflammation can cause. Specifically, it blocks the inflammatory agents considered key players in the development of Alzheimers. Again, it is a lot of theory and there may be other forces at work causing the changes, but still, benefits are seen.
They’ve also seen that as much as you think the hunger may distract you, your brain actually works better. Improved brain function, who wouldn’t benefit from that?
Fights Inflammation and Aging
Blood markers of aging and inflammation are both improved when following an intermittent fasting plan. In theory, over time this will slow the signs of aging and lower the rates of inflammatory related diseases. There are a long, long list of diseases associated with inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer tend to be the most famous, but you also can see an entire bucket of other diseases fall into this category.
May Lower Cancer Risk
By clearing out the dead and injured cells and decreasing inflammation, over time, following an intermittent fasting plan may also lower your risk for developing cancer. This is believed to be from a combination of lowering cells damage, improving cell repair, increasing the clean up of ineffective cells, and improving the body’s stress tolerance. All of which are behind many of the lifestyle approaches to lowering your cancer risk.
Lowers Your Hunger
Hunger is the cross everyone successful at weight loss has to learn to manage. But, what if you could lower that pesky temptation? How awesome is that?!? With following an intermittent fasting plan, hunger is significantly reduced over time. This makes it easier to stick with the plan, and causes you to eat less during your eating periods.
Increases Growth Hormone Levels
Growth hormone is a great friend to anyone trying to build muscle. As a female I have spent hours, HOURS, lifting heavy weight in the effort to build strength. While I have gotten stronger, I have never looked strong.
Most women, no matter how hard we try, will never build an impressive amount of muscle mass (this is why I get so confused when women shy away from weightlifting). So, women, higher amounts of growth hormone really won’t cause us to put on much muscle mass, but will help us get stronger and still put on a little more calorie killing muscle.
As for men, this one usually doesn’t take any explaining. For you, you will get even more strength and power development from your workouts. Maximum efficiency!
May Increase Your Lifespan
This is what follows when all of the above effects are realized. Your body just functions better. The increased lifespan is known to be associated with calorie restriction, but is believed will likely be associated with intermittent fasting (we just need a few more decades to get information on this one). Biochemically, you see many similar responses. Also, intermittent fasting does result in lower calorie intake, so whether it is through the calorie restriction or through achieving similar physiological responses, it just may work.
Developing an Intermittent Fasting Plan
Now you are sold right? With so many benefits, why not give it a shot? There are a lot of different versions of intermittent fasting. I’m not a fan of people independently doing fasting periods longer than about 1-2 days without medical supervision, so I’m going to stick with going over the fasts of 36 hours or less here.
Here are 3 main options and the first question you have to ask yourself: how long do you want to starve?
Fast 16 hours/Eat during an 8 hour window
If you can have your eating period in the morning, it’s best. However most people with families or who go out with friends generally struggle to make that work. I usually see feeding times either 11 am – 7 pm or 12 pm – 8 pm. Usually you try to have 1 meal in the beginning of the time period and 1 meal at the end.
Ideally you eat healthy at each of the meals, but the fasting periods are the primary goal, healthy eating is second. If you struggle in the middle of the timeframe a snack is not preferred, but it is ok.
Eat every 24 Hours
This is the one meal a day plan. Usually people choose to have their meal in the evening. This one requires a lot of discipline, but can produce amazing results. Also, despite that one meal often being pretty big, people lose weight and put on muscle (at least in my experience).
Eat Every other Day (or Fast a Couple Days of the Week)
With this one you are going either without any caloric intake or with very little caloric intake for 2-3 days a week. This may work if you prefer to eat completely normally most of the time, and would be happier to give up eating a couple days a week and not have to worry about it most days.
Choosing What’s Right for You
When you look at these, what seems most doable to you? I prefer the 16 hour fast personally. The two guys I worked with recently also preferred not to go longer than that. I’ve seen others prefer the more extreme (and also more effective 24 hour route). I personally have not worked with anyone who chose the every other day or so option, but only you know what’s right for you.
The Intermittent Fasting Plan: What to Eat During Feeding Times?
This is Question #2, and the second thing to focus on with intermittent feeding plans. I prefer people to focus on protein, vegetables, unprocessed carbs, healthy fats, and fruit. I also know people have lives outside of diets, and generally say take 2 days off a week. These days aren’t feeding frenzies, just days to relax a bit. For some they will have breakfast on those days. For others, they just mix up their food choices (Ahem… eat the fun stuff). You know what you can’t live without; you can take up to 2 days for that.
So what does that plan actually mean? Here are two different examples:
- Fasting schedule: Eating only between 12 pm – 8 pm
- His response to the tough question – starve – after hearing the benefits was, “I want to eat”.
- Exercise: 5 days a week for decades, active weekends
- Higher than average muscle mass
- Goals: Decrease body fat, add more muscle
- Life: In a long term relationship, kids, family meals, some work lunches, most meals homemade (though not by him)
- Likes: Meat, veggies, salty foods, eating out (pizza, burritos, steakhouses), beer, not picky
- Labs: All markers of heart disease, diabetes, etc. are exceptional, no concerns
The basics of his meal plan:
- Two meals a day
- Lunch noon or later
- Dinner at 6
- Avoid eating outside meals
- Small snacks if needed
- Protein at each feeding opportunity (at least 6 ounces with meals)
- Veggies (aim for more than 1 cup a meal)
- Whole grains preferred, less use of processed grains
- Milk, cheese, fruit, ok
- Avoid sweeteners, sugary foods
- Limit eating out to 2-3 times a week
- When eating out, avoid the appetizers, chips, bread etc
- Otherwise, follow outline above or eat usual foods
- Fasting schedule: Eating only between 11 am – 7 pm
- His response: “You had me up to the not eating part”
- Exercise: Recreational sports team, moderate workouts 2-3 times a week
- Standard body composition
- Goals: Decrease body fat, lower diabetes risk, lower cholesterol levels in 12-16 weeks to avoid using medications
- Life: Bachelor, makes his own meals, has kids for some meals
- Likes: Meat, salty foods, not picky, eats at friends houses/parties, as for vegetables “the cow eats the veggies and I eat the cow”, also absolutely refuses to go vegetarian (his doctor’s recommendation)
- Labs: High bad cholesterol, low good cholesterol, blood sugar high normal range
The Basics of His Meal Plan
- Embrace the suck: Strict for 12-16 weeks
- Then add in other foods based on how he feels
- Recheck cholesterol levels every 12-16 weeks for 2-3 cycles
- Two meals a day
- One at 11am – 12 pm, the other at 6 pm
- No snacks (if really hungry, a handful of nuts, some olives, avocado, fiber drink, or veggies – hungry people eat veggies)
- At most 1 cheat day where meal is outside fasting times
- At most 2, max 3 meals outside guidelines (plan them out)
- Protein at each feeding opportunity (at least 5 ounces)
- Work to add salmon or fish when possible
- Veggies – aim for at least 1 cup at meals
- He did admit he likes salad, especially if he gets to pour olive oil on it
- Yeah, a lot of detail finding veggies that work
- No dairy: milk, cheese, etc.
- Healthy fats every meal
- Olive oil, avocado, nuts
- No fried foods
- Have carbs 3 – 4 meals per week
- Party nights, during time with kids, or with sports activities
- No processed foods (I admit I did compromise some – it needs to be doable for his lifestyle)
- Brown rice, oats, corn tortillas
- Corn, peas, yam or potato
- Can have 1 serving wine or beer per day
- Increase cardio frequency, and either time or intensity
- Avoid sweeteners
So, I Started My Intermittent Fasting Plan: Now How Do I Fight Hunger?
There are a few different ways to approach this. Some ideas sounded good to them, others less so. Here is a list of ideas:
- Drink water (lots), black coffee, or black tea
- Have a fiber supplement (unsweetened if you can)
- Chia seeds (neither would go for it)
- Broth (neither went for this idea either)
- Just wait – hunger comes in waves, and it passes too – whether or not you eat
- Go exercise, play a game, do something you can’t do while eating
- Drag your partner or friend along (its easier not to do it alone)
- Be accountable to someone (you’re working hard, accountability helps)
- Get enough sleep – preferably 8 hours or close to it
- Clear anything you shouldn’t eat out of the house
- Get your kids the types of snack foods you don’t like
- Keep a list of easy meals on the fridge
- Weigh yourself daily, especially on the days you don’t want to
Who Shouldn’t Follow an Intermittent Fasting Plan?
It is important to also note who is not a good candidate for fasting. If you fall into any of these, it may not be a good fit for you. As always, your doctor knows your personal situation. Be sure to check with them.
- Eating disorders, or disorders in body image
- High cortisol levels (these can increase during fasting)
- Liver or kidney disease
- If you are pregnant or nursing
- Kids and teens
- Advanced heart disease or Alzheimers
- Actively in cancer therapy
- Unstable diabetes or blood pressure
- Or… you really hate the idea of fasting
In these circumstances it’s best to check with your doctor first. And depending on your situation, your doctor may say it’s a good idea!
The Intermittent Fasting Plan
After learning more, do you wanna try it? Starting is pretty easy. Pick a regimen and stop eating for your specific time period. Not bad right? It’s easy. You can start today. You can work at cleaning up what you do eat as you go along. The reality is that tomorrow never comes. The neat thing about this plan is that you can just start. Today. Right now, even. Or at 8 PM, whatever works.
Fun Reading aka References
Berardi’s summary (I’ve read his stuff for years – originally recommended to me by a fellow Dietitian and power lifter)
James Clear’s information (great summary of fasting methods)
What the science currently says: (a bit of a spoiler: we don’t have enough info yet)
- Health effects of intermittent fasting: hormesis or harm? A systematic review, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.109553
- Intermittent versus continuous energy restriction on weight loss and cardiometabolic outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
- Short‐term intermittent energy restriction interventions for weight management: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12593