Recently I posted an article asking the question Is There a Dark Side to Intermittent Fasting? In that article I covered why I initially used daily intermittent fasting, what I enjoyed about it, and then some of the not-so-wonderful things I discovered and why it no longer worked for me.
My friend, Brad Pilon, made some terrific remarks about intermittent fasting being a form of stress, and I asked him to elaborate on those thoughts in addition to some other important topics concerning IF.
As I’ve stated numerous times, there isn’t a single nutrition method that will work for everyone, and this includes any form of intermittent fasting. And I love Brad’s point of view on IF — he doesn’t claim it to be a “miracle” or mandatory for everyone. He simply presents it as an option that is meant to make the entire fat loss process much simpler.
My recent article revealing why I no longer practice daily intermittent fasting was not posted as an attempt to convince others to abandon IF. I was simply sharing my personal experience. Likewise, this article by Brad is not posted with the intention of trying to convince you to practice IF either.
My goal is to present you with the best information possible so YOU can make an informed decision for yourself. My suggestion — do whatever is the simplest and easiest that will allow you to achieve your goals. No one knows what that is except YOU.
Please enjoy this article by Brad.
Fasting — You’re doing it wrong.
There are very few people I like in this industry more than I like Nia, so when she asked me to write a post for her blog I happily agreed. Our idea was that since most people know of me as the Eat Stop Eat guy who advocates a 24 hour fast once or twice a week, it would be fun to explain my overall view of intermittent fasting, and why I think so many people are doing it wrong.
My thoughts on IF are as follows:
Firstly, there is no perfect method of intermittent fasting that feels right for everyone, but just about everyone can practice IF in some form.
I say ‘just about everyone’ because lets face it – fasting isn’t perfect for every single person on earth. For some people it’s just not a good fit. If you’re that person, don’t feel bad, just try something else. (Nia – remember, no single method will work for everyone whether we’re discussing IF, counting calories, sane and simple guidelines, or any other “diet” method).
Intermittent fasting should “feel right”. The whole point of adopting intermittent fasting is to create a convenient and easy way to reduce calories. I don’t care what method you’re using — if you notice something isn’t feeling right — stop and take a break. If after a break it still doesn’t feel right then try something new.
Secondly, my general rule is the longer the fast the longer the recovery time that’s needed before the next fast.
My rough template looks like this:
- 5-7 times per week – fasts should be between 12 and 16 hours long.
- 3-4 times per week – fasts should be between 16 and 20 hours long.
- 1-2 times per week – Fasts should be between 20 and 24 hours long.
- 1-2 times a month – Fasts should be between 24 and 72 hours long.
Any longer than this and you’re looking at something you should do every other month at the most, and if it’s much longer than 72 hours you should consider doing so under medical supervision.
Next, I think it’s important to realize that the benefits of fasting do not only come from the period of time you’re fasting. The time after the fast is just as important.
Exactly like how a weight-training workout is useless without the proper recovery time afterwards, fasting also needs a certain type of recovery time to get the full benefit. Only with fasting ‘recovery’ is time spent eating normally.
This all leads into perhaps the most important statement I have to make about IF – in my opinion IF is best used as a replacement for traditional dieting and excessive exercise for the purpose of weight loss, not an addition to it. (Nia – this is a terrific and important statement as many people practice IF in addition to other diet strategies and often very rigorous workout programs).
It makes me nervous to hear that people are fasting while also doing very low calorie diets for months on end. Yes, many people can get away with doing this for a couple of weeks, but after a while problems occur, especially if you’re already lean. And, I think these problems will come quicker and be more severe if you stack IF with very low calorie diets with obsessive amounts of strenuous exercise. (As Brad has stated before: “Diets and exercise are not building blocks – please don’t stack one on-top of the other.”).
I think it’s safe to say that every single person has a level they can hit that is simply ‘too much’.
This is because fasting, dieting and exercise are all forms of stress. (Excessive dieting can cause stress and damage). If you’re going to implement all three into your life it needs to be done with balance and a heightened level of stress-awareness.
As cliché as it sounds, please listen to your body.
As far as I’m concerned Martin Berkhan is the biggest name in daily intermittent fasting. From what I can tell of his program his recommendation of 16 hours of fasting every day comes with the recommendation of 3 workouts in a ten day cycle.
I recommend fasting once or twice a week for 24 hours combined with anywhere from 2 to 5 weight training workouts per week.
Neither one of us recommend fasting combined with an obsessive compulsive mish-mash of endurance running, tough mudder training, Olympic lifting, cross fit, powerlifting, intervals, metabolic training and super strict dieting where you avoid entire food groups.
That would be irresponsible.
You need to balance your stresses if you want the proper adaptation to those stresses.
Lowered levels of reproductive hormones, lethargy, exhaustion, metabolic disturbances all happen to both sexes when you abuse dieting and exercise.
This is not specific to fasting, nor is it specific to women (it’s just more easily identifiable in women since men don’t have a monthly ‘marker’ of reproductive health).
It can happen with normal dieting, or even when you’re not dieting on purpose but simply cannot meet the caloric demands of your activity level or when your body fat levels simply drop below healthy levels for the demands you are currently placing on your body (man or woman).
The stress is cumulative.
And this isn’t just your workout and diet stresses. Life stresses count too. Work stress, relationship stress, body image stress, kids stress… it all counts.
Exhaustion, lethargy, feeling tired all the time are all very strong signals from your body that you’re overdoing it. Not overdoing fasting, or dieting, or exercising, or work stress or life stress, but overdoing ALL of it.
If you’re going to make intermittent fasting work for you then you need to be aware of your stresses and not be afraid to admit when something doesn’t feel right.
As an example, we know that hunger and craving are associated with a women’s menstrual cycle and for many women there is 3-7 day period once per month were many women choose not to fast or diet. Simply because the stress during that time is too high — It’s just to hard — it doesn’t feel right.
There’s no shame in taking a couple days off, you’re adapting to the stresses of life — this is a good thing.
Finally, when it comes to intermittent fasting I think it’s time we reassess this whole trend of fasting and feasting. I’m all for the occasional ‘strategic overfeeding’ or whatever you want to call it, but remember, overeating is also a very large stress on the body. Cycling between one stress (fasting) to another (feasting) just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. (Nia – I very much agree with Brad on this. Too many people use intermittent fasting as an excuse to gorge themselves or eat a ton of junk food. If you’re an individual who can’t help but overeat after a fast, then IF most likely isn’t for you).
The bottom line is when used properly IF is flexible, can be tailored to your needs and becomes a rather easy way to lose weight and maintain weight. When used improperly it can be just another factor adding unneeded stress to your life.
Additional article by Brad: A Hidden Benefit to Intermittent Fasting
About Brad Pilon
Brad Pilon is the author of Eat Stop Eat and is one of the world’s most recognizable advocates of Intermittent Fasting. Brad is passionate about helping people lose weight without sacrificing their muscle and stands firm in his belief that many of today’s diet programs fail because of their extreme complication and high levels of dietary restraint.
Brad has recently released the new Expanded version of Eat Stop Eat with all new chapters on Fasting and Women, Exercising while Fasting, and his concerns with Longer Length Fasts. (Please note, that is an affiliate link. I proudly recommend Brad’s work for those interested in intermittent fasting).