Intermittent fasting is the new fad in the health and fitness industries. An increasing number of people are practicing time-restricted eating in order to be healthier and get in the best shape of their lives. But intermittent fasting is far from a modern phenomenon. Human beings have practiced time-restricted feeding for the majority of our history. Pre-modern humsns lived in hunter-gatherer societies. They would feast when the getting was good and fast when it was not. As Doctor Peter Attia quipped in a conversation with Joe Rogan on the benefits of fasting. “If our ancestors couldn’t function when they were hungry, we wouldn’t be here.” It wasn’t until the relatively recent invention of agriculture (10,000 BC) that this system evolved. And today food is far more abundant than it was at any other time in history. While people now live longer than ever due to modern technology, chronic health outcomes are increasingly poor. How much and how often we consume is partially to blame.
A quick review for beginners. Intermittent fasting consists of eating during a limited time period each day. The 16-8 protocol is the most common. It allows for 8 hours of consumption. An intermittent faster on a 16-8 protocol might fast from 10 PM one day to 2 PM the following day and eat from 2 PM to 10 PM. Most people limit food intake and calorie drinks only, so you can drink as much water as you want. If you’re just getting started, you might begin with a 14-10 protocol, and slowly increase the hours of fasting from 14 to 16 — or even greater than 16 if you find that’s what works best for you. Dr. Attia practices a 22-2 protocol. For the majority of the last year, my fasting window was around 18 to 20 hours.
I started occasionally intermittent fasting in April of 2018, more than a year and a half ago. I was working out 4-5 times a week, and I knew a lot of bodybuilders who swore by the protocol. Since then, I’ve progressed to fasting on most days, but I’m flexible with the parameters. For example, if I know I will be attending a social event organized around food, I will time my feeding window to ensure I’ll be in a feeding state. That way I get to enjoy good food and don’t have to think up a lame excuse for why I can’t participate in the festivities. Convenience, as I will elaborate on below, is one of the biggest benefits of intermittent fasting. The more it harmonizes with your lifestyle, the longer you are likely to stay the course. Without further ado, I present to you the 7 fascinating benefits I have enjoyed while intermittent fasting during the last year and a half.
Benefit #1: Increased Productivity
Food is a time-consuming process, both in the making and in the eating. When I intermittent fast, I usually eat one or two large meals in the afternoon and evening. By thinking less about food and spending less time in the kitchen, I save at least an hour a day. My first thought in the morning is “How can I be productive?” not “What’s for breakfast?” or “Oops, we’re out of milk.” Intermittent fasting saves me time early in the day that I can invest in my other hobbies and routines. Some people eat in the morning and fast later in the day, and this works for them. But the one thing all intermittent fasters have in common is more time to be productive.
Benefit #2: Save Money
Unless you are one of the rare breeds that enjoys eating leftovers every day, this benefit will apply to you. The average American eats 3 or 4 meals a day. And one of those meals is typically dine-in or take-out. Portions in the US are notoriously large, and so that amounts to a lot of wasted money on food. Intermittent fasters, on the other hand, are ravenous when it comes time to eat. One large meal is enough for most of us to power through the day–and sometimes the day after as well. Intermittent fasters are why buffets keep increasing prices and restaurants are cautious with their all-you-can-eat policies. We get our money’s worth whenever we go out to eat or cook a large meal at home.
There’s fascinating data out on the cost of food for the average American household: “According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 the average American household spent about 10% of its total budget on food. The average food cost for a U.S. household was $6,602 in 2013. . . That’s roughly $2,641 annually per person based on the average 2.5 people in each household.” (Source: Value Penguin). Saving money should never be the primary motivation of intermittent fasting but it is definitely a benefit worth noting.
Benefit #3: Greater Energy
Energy is an asset. The more energy I have, the better I can achieve my goals and create the life I want. There is also a thing called addition by subtraction. By reducing the meals I eat in a day, I increase the amount of energy I have. This has to do with the temporary decline in energy that people experience after eating, technically known as a food coma (or “the itis” in the urban vernacular). If you’ve ever eaten a Big Mac at McDonalds, you know exactly what I mean. More interestingly, it has to do with the human body’s natural adaptation to food scarcity. For most of human history, obtaining food was an energy-intensive process. Instead of walking to the cupboard, you had to literally hunt or gather something, and success was never a guarantee. When the body first experiences hunger, energy levels increase to maximize the probability of survival. This translates into a greater capacity to get things done.
Benefit #4: Bigger Gains in the Gym
This was one of my biggest motivations for intermittent fasting early on–and I was not disappointed. There’s a saying, “Hungry wolves run faster.” Building on #3 above, I had more energy to hit the weights with a vengeance. And I partially attribute my high serum testosterone levels to intermittent fasting. But I didn’t need a needle and lab to tell me I was making big gains in the gym. A mirror was sufficient.
Benefit #5: Better Emotional Health
How often do we use food as an emotional crutch? When we’re stressed or bored, we reach into a bag of Doritos or order a shake from McDonalds. Intermittent fasting limits the time an individual has to self-medicate with food. To be sure, my body adapted to the protocol and I rarely experienced hunger. If I do experience hunger, it is usually close to fasting hour 20 when I’m on one of my more intense protocols. But stress-eating isn’t about hunger, it’s about stress. Intermittent fasting can give people prone to stress-eating the added dose of discipline they need to live a healthier, more emotionally wholesome life.
Benefit #6: Food Tastes Better
Ironically, I’ve enjoyed food more than ever during the last year and a half. I typically schedule an hour or two each day during which I do the majority of the day’s feasting. This is something I look forward to, and the food always tastes amazing. In contrast, when I’m not intermittent fasting, food doesn’t taste nearly as good and feels like a chore to digest. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. When it comes to consumption, they are spot on.
Benefit #7: Weight Loss Comes Easy
I almost didn’t include this one because I don’t always see it as a benefit. My goal for most of the year is to put on a small amount of muscle weight each month. When intermittent fasting, my body naturally turns into a fat burning machine. I have to take care to ensure I am eating enough during my feeding window to maintain or gain weight. And when my feeding window was only 2-6 hours, this left me very little time to consume. This protocol is great for getting shredded or losing weight, but people who want to bulk up may need a bigger feeding window. Counting calories (or at least approximating them) is highly recommended. Each pound is 3,500 calories. If you want to know exactly how many calories you need to consume in an day to gain or lose weight X amount of weight per week, there are calculators online designed for this specific purpose. They take into account height, weight, gender, and lifestyle (click here, for example).
Have you any experience with the ancient discipline of intermittent fasting?