“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”- Siddartha, Herman Hesse
Intermittent fasting, like every subject related to self-improvement/health, is over-complicated on the internet. People either love it or they hate it. Why the hate? Because it comes off as an extreme measure, requires discipline, and yields results-all things that drive average people insane. If you don’t care about working hard, getting down to business, and have an impressive body and mind, turn back now.
INTERMITTENT FASTING: WHAT IT IS, ISN’T, AND SHOULD BE
WHAT IT IS: Intermittent fasting is when you consume zero calories for a minimum of 12 hours. The remaining 8 hours of your day is known as your eating “window”. IF comes in several divisions: 12/8 (Leangains), 20/4 (Warrior Diet), and 5/2. Another common variance is to do a complete 24 hour fast, then resume your normal eating habits.
WHAT IT ISN’T: Anorexia or starvation. In the West in the 21st century, our bodies are constantly in a fed state. Most Americans don’t go 6 or so hours without something to eat. This is terrible for a bunch of reasons:
- the energy required for digestion takes up 10% of your daily energy expenditure. When you force your digestive system to be constantly working, your body has less incentive to divert energy for other activities.
- You become less insulin-sensitive. Insulin insensitivity is a major factor in poor body-composition, and traps you in a cycle of gaining body-fat.
- Over-eating quickly becomes a habit. By indulging yourself every time you think you’re hungry, you will quickly enter caloric surplus. You really aren’t hungry-you’re addicted to eating and to the seratonin boost that comes from ingesting carbs. Too much of a good thing might not kill you, but it will make you fat-and being fat can kill you. If you graze like a cow, you’ll look like a cow.
WHAT IT SHOULD BE: Like an impressive body, Intermittent Fasting should complement your life, not run it. While fasting, you will experience:
- increased energy, mental clarity and focus.
- an overall reduction in calories.
- a natural increase in Growth Hormone production, and insulin reduction-making it easier to build muscle and burn fat
- an increase in time available to you to do work.
Short-term fasting (12-48 hours) increases your norepinephrine levels. A common norepinephrine disorder is ADHD, with low levels causing inattention and distractability. Fasting raises your norepinephrine, making it a natural Adderall. When paired with fasted exercise, this effect is intensified. Fasted workouts also boost fat-burning, increase insulin sensitivity, and make your first meal much more efficient for your body. Fasting depletes your glycogen (stored energy from carbohydrates) levels, which means on empty stomach, your body is primarily fueled by fat stores.
It is important to eat after a workout in order to spike your insulin to drive nutrients to your muscles. Since fasting increases your insulin sensitivity, this nutrient delivery can be amplified by training prior to breaking the fast.
The only way to lose fat is to be in sustained caloric deficit. Fasting makes caloric deficit easy. It also makes every meal you eat extremely enjoyable. Suppose your caloric target is 2000 calories-a tiny amount for an active and muscled person. However, if you have only two meals per day, one of those meals must be at least 1,000 calories-an absolute feast if you eat nutrient-dense foods. Oftentimes, “cheat meal” is conflated with “re-feed”. A cheat meal exists only for your sanity while restricting calories; a re-feed is designed to strategically re-fuel your body with (most often) carbs and increase leptin (a fat-burning hormone) levels. Through intermittent fasting, you get the satisfaction of a giant meal without the psychological torture of having to eat like a bird. Fasting is also most easily accomplished on a ketogenic diet. Therefore, you can pair your carb re-feed and feast together, and get leaner than you were before.
Growth Hormone is the Fountain of Youth for homo sapiens. Pro athletes take it to aid in recovery; movie stars take it to get-and stay-jacked and full of vitality into their senior years; fitness competitors use it to ramp up muscle growth and speed fat loss. Basically, GH puts a sheen on every aspect of your life you’d ever want to improve: improves appearance of your skin, hair, nails, and other tissues, helps you get jacked, and increases bone density and formation.
By eliminating the burden of food, you free yourself up to get shit done. When I first experimented with fasting, I was amazed at how much brain power I devoted to food. Previously, I thought about what I was going to eat, when I was going to eat, and how I was going to get it. Of course, I’d have to deal with preparation and clean-up. When work must be done, food gets in the way. Removing food from your mind makes space for what counts. Additionally, when you’re fasting, you’re not digesting-therefore, you have more energy, since you aren’t slowed down by digestion.
In our modern world, everything is easy. We can be driven anywhere for cheap and have food delivered to our doorstep. The offended party is always right. Work ethic and grit are consistently de-valued. Fasting is a tangible test of will-power, if nothing else. Force yourself to do without for 12, 16, 24, or 48 hours, and you will be stronger for it.
Intermittent fasting helps you reduce overall calories and allows you to have big, satisfying meals. This makes cutting calories to get lean a breeze.
Intermittent fasting boosts Growth Hormone, which aids in building muscle and burning fat.
IF boosts norepinephrine, which is a natural focus agent for your body. Low levels of norepinephrine are the cause of ADHD.
IF gives you extra time in your day to get down to business.
IF is harder than going to McDonald’s and stuffing your face with soy-laden garbage food at the first pangs of hunger. This is good. This develops discipline, and a strong mind.
“Discipline equals freedom.”-Jocko Willink, from Extreme Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin